In my workshops I talk about the words that can create obstacles in your customer’s mind and trigger negativity towards you. There’s one word in particular that just won’t go away. I hear it every day, in just about every service interaction I encounter and it’s increasing in popularity. I’d like to share a short story about this word.
On the last day of a recent trip to Melbourne my partner Mark and I were looking for somewhere nice for breakfast to celebrate the end of fabulous holiday.
Just around the corner from our hotel we found a lovely cafe – very stylish, very Melbourne. Upon entering, we were very impressed with the clean white decor.
As we perused the minimalist menu, Mark gleefully exclaimed ‘Ooh, I’m having the field mushrooms on sourdough!’ Excited for the sensation he was about to savour, Mark started to imagine the tasty mushrooms on his plate as he eagerly waited for our waiter to return.
The waiter eventually returned to the table to take our order and without even a glance at us, uttered one word…a long drawn out Unfoooortunately…followed by a lingering pause as he scanned down the menu. ‘What could be wrong?’ we wondered. ‘It couldn’t be the mushrooms could it? Please don’t tell me!’
We were right! Our worst fears were realized as he followed up with ‘We are out of mushrooms today’
From that moment on he lost us, never to return. The news of the mushrooms had been delivered so badly that there was nothing could make up for the way it made us feel. We started to get picky about everything and did not stay too much longer as we were not enjoying the experience anymore.
This is what the word does to the receiver. It triggers disappointment and frustration.
The dictionary definition of unfortunately is; unluckily, sadly, regrettably, unhappily, woefully, lamentably, alas, sad to say, sad to relate, worse luck.
So not only does the word unfortunately frame the sentence with ‘bad news is about to follow’, it implies ‘worse luck – to YOU!’ It therefore puts the receiver into a negative state of mind, waiting to hear the bad luck that is about to inflict them.
You may be thinking, but that was bad news! He really wanted the mushrooms and they were out of stock! Agreed, it was bad news but why make the bad news even worse by framing it with such a negative word?
So, how could this situation have been handled differently? Well there are three things he could have done, and I have listed them in order of priority. He could have:
- Made sure he had mushrooms in stock by sourcing them from another supplier (even the local supermarket), so as not to disappoint.
- Managed our expectations by informing us of the situation when he gave us the menus.
- Just stated the facts followed by a proposed solution or positive statement to take our mind off the bad news, e.g, ‘We are out of mushrooms today…we do have a yummy vegetable frittata though. Or I can offer you bruschetta on sourdough.
Many people use this word because they assume that what they are about to say is terrible news. It may not be though. For example, a common response I hear is ‘Unfortunately, Bill’s on holidays’ or ‘Unfortunately, we don’t have any appointments until tomorrow. Don’t assume your customer was going to order the mushrooms. Maybe they didn’t want the appointment tomorrow anyway. And if Bill’s on holidays perhaps someone else can help them just as well and they will be fine with that.