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Companies: Stop thanking us for our patience

Posted on Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Over the past three days, an organization has said to me — not once, not twice, but FIVE times — "Thank you for your patience."

On the phone. In person. Even on a phone APP, for goodness sakes.

So, I am now officially rankled by what appears to be the latest "trendy" corporate catchphrase. But apparently, I am not alone in my exasperation. Today at my gym, an exerciser near me clicked off a call and spat out, "If one more company thanks me for my patience, I'm going to let them have it!"

That's a glaring neon sign that companies need to ditch the ditzy phrase, ASAP.

'But why?' you might wonder. 'Isn't it nice to thank people for being patient in a trying business situation?'

Not really. Here are three big reasons the line threatens to do more harm than good to your organization's reputation:

1. It's controlling.  When an organization thanks people for patience before they've actually demonstrated it, what they're actually doing is trying to control upfront how the customer responds to the situation. The same way our mothers-in-law try to control how we will respond to the fruitcake they're handing us by saying, "I really hope you like it. I only spent seven hours in the kitchen making it for you."

In either instance, if the situation goes south, it's your fault. In the first case, because you're not as patient as you should be (no matter how ridiculously bad the service you're getting actually is), and in the second case, because you are an insensitive jerk (no matter how nasty that fruitcake actually tasted).

2. It's inauthentic. Your customers are fuming. She is beginning to raise her voice. Or maybe he is tapping his foot and shooting laser darts with his eyes. And you THANK THEM FOR THEIR PATIENCE?!  Now, on top of having delivered bad service, you've just told your customers they can't believe a single thing you tell them. Because, you see, they aren't really being patient. They just haven't yet expressed their impatience. Get it?

3. It's rote. Customers want to believe they are dealing with human beings who are listening to them, not robots on auto-pilot. But, "Thank you for your patience" ranks right up there with, "I'm sorry for your loss" and, "I hope you feel better soon," in the knee-jerk-response-to-a-bad-situation department. All the good intentions that accompany the phrase vanish with a poof if the person on the other end is thinking, "You know,  you're only the 47th person to say that to me this week."

And these days, unfortunately, you very likely are.

So what SHOULD an organization say when the system is down, the payment is two weeks late, or the stained glass window is now laying in shattered shards all over the driveway?

Something fresh. Something authentic. Something that strives to honor the customer's honest reaction rather than control it. Like, "I'll bet you had higher expectations of us, but I promise we'll match those soon." Or perhaps, "We can understand your frustration, but we're working 90 miles an hour to get things back on track." A phrase that also works nicely is, "Here's a 10 percent discount for what you've just experienced."

Whatever you do, DON'T thank me, yet again, for my patience. Otherwise this time, I might REALLY lose it.