Need Customer Compliance? Avoid these Phrases!

In order to gain customer compliance without creating unnecessary conflict, avoid these confrontational phrases.

Earlier this year while standing in the TSA security line at Orlando International Airport, my family and I witnessed two distinct approaches to gaining customer compliance: one effective, and the other horribly counterproductive.

That summer morning, the airport security lines were overwhelmed with passengers. As our line inched forward, a TSA agent shouted curt commands to passengers. The TSA agent’s demeanor become a topic of discussion in our line, as many of us mumbled comments such as “How rude!” and “Can you believe this guy?” Some passengers even began mimicking the agent. It was obvious that the TSA agent’s authoritarian strategy to gain customer compliance was alienating passengers.

And then something amazing happened. Another TSA agent approached our portion of the line and asked – yes asked – if we would be willing to walk a short distance to another security line. A unison of “Yes!” erupted from the group of passengers, so the TSA agent replied, “Thank you. Just follow me.” And we did.

The second line, although not necessarily faster, was friendlier: the TSA agents didn’t yell, and instead of barking commands like a sergeant at boot camp, they actually asked passengers to comply with the screening rules: for example, “Say, would you mind removing the laptop from your bag so we can screen it?” as opposed to “Didn’t you see the sign? Take your computer out of your bag!”

The starkly different approach used in the second line actually made passengers want to comply with the tedious TSA screening processes. Although both security lines had to gain customer compliance, the first line relied on a confrontational – as opposed to a gently persuasive – strategy.

Indeed, as Dr. George J. Thompson explains in his book Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, gentle persuasiveness is the key to gaining compliance. Even though the book’s primary audience is law enforcement officers, businesses and organizations like yours can use Dr. Thompson’s strategies to gain customer compliance without creating unnecessary conflict.

With that in mind, here are seven all-too-common confrontational phrases that your business or organization should avoid if it desires to gain compliance without needlessly angering customers:

  • “What’s your problem?”
  • “Be more reasonable!”
  • “I’m not going to tell you again!”
  • “Hey, you! Come here!”
  • “Calm down!”
  • “What do you want me to do about it?”
  • “Because those are the rules!”

Wonderful, you’re thinking, but what should we say instead? Stay tuned. Next week, we’ll offer alternative – that is, “gently persuasive” – phrases to use in place of these particularly confrontational commands.

In the meantime, consider reading Dr. Thompson’s book, and, as always, have a “customerific” week!