Yupp and Hipp: One Moment, Please, for Solutions and Good Feelings

(Originally published on Sunday, June 27, 2010)


A popular Philippine innovation is the phrase “for a while,” often heard on the phone. And I’m not proud of that as a Filipino. The PCOS-machine-backed national elections, yes, but rampant destruction of standard native English?  If you’re used to world-class English, or if you know that business is as global as can be, then “for a moment” jars your cochlea, and you either swear or…well, write an article like this.

Let’s expand this to a broader perspective like customer service, where the above questionable phrases are used in this age of call centers.

I shall zero in then on my two commandments: customers want their problems solved, and they want to feel good.

As service providers—which we all are even if we sell tangible products, or even if you don’t sell—we should focus on those two reasons why people buy… and buy again.  Provide solutions and good feelings.

So where does English come in here?

First, you can’t solve problems well if you use a word that means something else or if you pronounce a word so differently it means something else.

Second, you can’t make your customer feel good if you murder English.

The first reason people buy is that they need solutions to their problems. I must assume that you have meticulously mastered your technical product details.

Add to this your English communication skills on the phone.

Let’s start with language adaptation. My golden rule is to speak your customer’s  language. If s/he speaks English, then you must speak English. It does pay to learn the language of the customer and be consistent in your language use. Instead of “Yes po,” say “Yes sir.” Or instead of “The lines are so long, sir, as in so long,” say “The lines are extremely long; it might take one more day.”

If you end with that thought, you leave the customer hanging. Provide a remedy or an alternative. Say instead: “It might take one more day. I suggest however that you…”

One of the best examples is the Mandarin Oriental Hotel staff. Initiating my feeling of customer delight is the phone operator. No English errors. Excellent modulation.  You ask for the front desk, or any person, and she acknowledges first with “I’ll connect you now,” unlike other call center operators who simply connect you without your knowing if they heard you.

A few days ago I spoke on the phone with a cake shop staffer, wanting to know if I could order fruitcakes (that’s like buying thick jackets in summer!). The staffer politely said that she would have to confirm with the chef and asked for my contact number for her to return my call (certainly lots better than being made to wait). A few hours after (this is the wonder—the Mandarin staff’s coordination is seamless) someone else called to say yes. And the friend to whom I owed one is now enjoying his fruit cakes, ecstatic with his “Yehey, it’s Christmas!”

Then there’s directness to the point. Have you ever asked for something and the answer is for something else? I ask, “May I know what amount is available for me to spend?” and the credit card operator says, “As of May xx, your overdue amount is xx.”

So I butt in and say, “Please answer my question, I’m just asking how much can I still spend,” and he says, “I’m getting there sir.” So now I say, “Cut it out…I don’t care for the background, just tell me how much,” and I don’t even hear an “I’m sorry.”

And I don’t feel good.

Which leads us to the second reason people buy…and buy again. The first turn off is, I am made to wait without any proviso before the waiting time. Like you’re left hanging all of a sudden.

Or there’s no tact at all.  When I’m told, “You did not provide the details in the form,” I feel like I’m being accused.

Enter the passive voice, about which I have written an article, plus of course the alert sense of remedy. Say instead, “Although we don’t have the details, sir, we would be happy to encode them so that we can serve you right away.

And then of course—finally—there’s basic English.

When the person who takes my call has to check if the person I’m looking for is around, you hear not just nonstandard but atrocious English. The most notorious—nay, shameful—phrase from this side of the world is, “For a while, or “A moment.” And I swear I cannot stomach either.

“For a while” is standard when it usually ends a sentence, but not as a single stand-alone phrase.  You can say “I was in the office for a while,” or “He spoke with me only for a moment,” or “A moment is precious so don’t waste time.”

Use instead: “just a while, please” or “just a moment, please,” or “one moment, please,” or “please hold on.”

As long as you don’t say, “He’s out of the country for a few days…would you like to wait?”

How about prepositions? Do you say “speak with” or “speak to”?  You hear “speak to” from the British more often, and “speak with” from Americans. I prefer using “speak with”; it sounds polite (“speak to” sounds condescending). Your choice. Just be consistent.

And then there’s pronunciation. Above all, say “please” with a “pleeeez” sound, technically, the long “e” sound. Not “pliz hold on.” And it’s a long “o” sound for “hold,” as in “howld on.” And not “hold on” as in “called on.”

A final suggestion for world-class English. Instead of responding with “Speaking” or “Yes,” try the most standard there is: “This is she.” Or if you’re a guy, make sure you’re careful with your articulation and pause between “is” and “he.” “This is…he.” Otherwise you could sound saying “this-is-she.”

Customer service is gender-free and gender sensitive. Male or female—oops, I should have said female or male (chivalry isn’t dead yet)—stick to standard native English if you must use English on the phone.

“One moment, please,” or “Just a while, please.” Provide solutions and good feelings… “pleeeez”!

(All rights reserved. Copyright Manila Bulletin and Dr. Dups delos Reyes. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.)


Posted on June 27, 2010, in Business Agenda Classifieds Columns, Yuppy and Hip and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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