The Magic Phrase That Will Get You Better Service

As customers, we sometimes run into a wall.

That wall is a customer service employee who either can't or won't solve our problem. It's clear they want us to just accept defeat and go away. They try to end the conversation by quoting policy, citing impossibilities, or simply saying "No."

I've discovered a magic phrase that cuts through this obstacle.

At a restaurant, it helped convince a server to remove an improperly prepared entree from the bill. I used it to get a cable company representative to credit my account after a service interruption. The phrase helped me talk a customer service agent into manually delaying an online order so a shipment wouldn't arrive while I was traveling.

Even when this phrase doesn't work, it still helps. More on that in a moment.


Here's the phrase:

Is that something you're empowered to do?

The phrase does two things. First, it requires you to be specific about what you want the employee to do for you.

If you're being tactical about it, you'll make sure your request is reasonable. Asking a restaurant to comp a poorly prepared meal that you can't eat is reasonable. Asking them to comp your dinner companion's meal too may not be.

The second thing this phrase does is it eliminates any confusion about empowerment. As I noted in a blog post earlier this year, one reason employees aren't empowered is they don't stop and think about what they really can and cannot do.

Asking this closed-ended question lets you know where you stand.

If an employee replies, "Yes, I am empowered," then the only reason they would refuse a reasonable request is because they don't want to do it. I've found that most try to help when they suddenly realize they can help.

If the employee replies, "No, I'm not empowered," then you're wasting your time arguing with the employee. In fact, it's a little unfair to continue badgering them about something they have no control over.

This is where the phrase works even when it doesn't. Here's a recent example:

I had purchased a couple of wine refrigerators. After completing the sale over the phone, I received an email from the sales rep asking me to sign a lengthy terms and conditions sheet. Many of the terms and conditions were contrary to the terms she had described to me when she booked the sale.

It felt like a classic bait and switch. For example, the sale rep told me the cost of shipping was included in the price of the refrigerators. The terms and conditions sheet clearly stated that shipping was not included.

I emailed and asked her to change the written terms and conditions. She replied and told me they couldn't be changed. So, I called the company and spoke to her manager. He told me the same thing -- the written terms of sale couldn't be changed.

That's when I asked him my magic question. "I'd like to purchase these refrigerators, but only if the written terms match what your sales rep quoted me over the phone. Is that something you're empowered to do?"

The sales manager told me no, he was not empowered to do that.

Further discussion was now pointless. The magic phrase had saved me the continued aggravation of getting stonewalled by a sales manager who couldn't help me. Instead of arguing, I politely ended the call and then called another company that sold the same products. 

This time, I encountered a sales rep who was able to sell me the same refrigerators under favorable terms for a lower price.