3 Words to Swap in Your Customer Support Conversation & Why They Matter

Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper · 4 min read

Even something as small as swapping a single word, like “feedback”, out can change the whole tone of an email.

Language, as we know as support people, is incredibly important. Even the smallest tweak can make a huge impact on how your customer feels.

There are a few words that have become so commonplace that you probably don’t even notice them when you use them but, if you switched them out, it would be as different as night and day between your two conversations.

The three most impactful words that you can swap out when talking to a customer are: “feedback,” “unfortunately,” and “actually.” And we’re going to break ‘em down for you.

Remember: the way that you talk about things is the way that you perceive them; write with intention.

Feedback <> Insights

Getting responses from your customers on how they feel about your product, or if something isn’t working for them, is the bread and butter of most product and support teams. How do you make an amazing product that people love if you aren’t listening to them when they talk to you about it, right?

Right. So, as Sarah Hatter in her book The Customer Support Handbook would say, why would you refer to this valuable information in the same way that you refer to the screeching sounds that a microphone makes? Everyone covers their ears and heads to the hills as soon as a hint of microphone feedback starts to show up. Do you want your customers to think you feel that way about what they have to say?

While it’s ingrained in us to say feedback because of things like Steve Jobs’ “Fearless Feedback” and other business rubrics built for better communication, we can do better when we are talking to our customers. Instead of “positive feedback” say “positive insight” or instead of “negative feedback” say “constructive insight.”

Notice, also, the shift from “negative” to “constructive” in that phrasing: while what the customer is saying might be hard for you to hear, it’s never negative if it’s going to help you be better.

Here’s an example of a time when you might have said something using “feedback” and how you can shift it.

This feels a little dismissive, right? If I received it, I’d probably feel brushed off. Instead, you could write:

support conversations

This encourages the user, makes them feel heard, and lets them know that something is being done about what they’re concerned about.

Unfortunately <> While I understand you might be interested in that…

As soon as you say “unfortunately” to a customer, it signals that something bad is coming—even if what you aren’t saying isn’t even bad, but just offering something different from what they might have expected. Because normally “unfortunately” is followed up with “we can’t do that for you.”

So, if a customer reaches out asking for something and you start your response with “unfortunately,” they are automatically preparing themselves for the worst, even if you’re going to offer them a workaround or something else that will allow them to accomplish their goals.

Do not put your own biases on your customers or assume how they’ll feel about whatever you’re offering. It’s possible that the option you are offering will actually be better for them than what they were originally asking for, or make them happier.

Here’s an example of how that can be swapped out from your support conversation:

This is not a terrible email, and it does help the customer get their answer, but you could write the same thing to a much more positive effect, using positive positioning and other experience engineering skills:

Doesn’t that sound a bit more positive? Cassie will likely leave that interaction feeling like it’s not such a big deal, even though it’s certainly a bummer to not get something you were expecting.

But, because the second support conversation doesn’t focus so much on the negative aspects, it will likely keep the customer happier than the first would have.

Actually/Must’ve been a miscommunication <> I’m sorry, you’re right

Apologizing is one of the hardest things to do. Furthermore, a recent study uncovered that it’s not just apologizing that is important as it is that it includes an acknowledgment of responsibility — “the apologizer’s awareness of this social norm of recognizing harm and caring to rectify it”.

When talking to a customer, if you’ve left out a key bit of information, or given a wrong answer, it can feel embarrassing to admit that you were wrong. It’s certainly easier to say “Actually,” and try to play it off as an error on the customer’s part.

That being said, while it feels easier to do that, it creates a much worse customer interaction. It’s braver and better to admit when you were wrong, and normally the customer will be much more appreciative of it.

Here’s an example of what a bad response might look like in a support conversation:

Yikes. This is pretty condescending and doesn’t really address the issue at all. If I were Brad, I’d feel snubbed and angry at support right now. Here’s something that’s a little bit better:

With the acceptance of fault, this email catches Brad off guard and acknowledges that the support person knows that they’ve messed up. Admitting and owning that fault is one of the best things that that team member could have done.


As you can see, language and the intention behind it can be incredibly powerful.

Even something as small as swapping a single word, like “feedback”, out can change the whole tone of an email. If it’s that small a thing to make such a big impact on your customers, what’s the harm in trying to replace some of the casual everyday words with other ones that empower and make customers feel good, rather than placing blame on them?

Try these three words to start your support conversation, and then challenge your team to see what other ones they can think up.

How did you like this blog?


Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper

Mercer is the Head of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter at @mercenator.

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