How can I speak more politely to customers?

Do you have to use English to speak to customers at work?  

Like many other languages, when speaking English to customers, we usually use more polite or formal language.  This becomes more important when talking to customers for the first time, especially on the telephone.  Luckily, making your English more polite is not as difficult as some other languages (eg. Japanese).  Also, in English, the language often becomes more informal after you know the customer well. 

Generally speaking, making your English more polite is often as simple as using excuse me’, ‘please’ , and ‘thank you.’  But when speaking to customers, you can also add some other language to improve your level of politeness.  Below are a few simple ideas.

Instead of saying ‘no’, say ‘I’m sorry but…’ or ‘Unfortunately,…’
It’s always difficult to say no to requests, especially from customers.  Try adding ‘I’m sorry…’ or ‘Unfortunately…’ to the beginning of the sentence to soften your speech.  Here are some examples: ‘I’m sorry, but Mr.Jones is not available now’, ‘Unfortunately, we no longer offer this product.’

Avoid informal words like ‘yeah’
Try not to use informal  words like ‘yeah’, ‘hey’ or even ‘okay.’   You can replace ‘okay’ with language like ‘certainly’ or ‘that’s fine.’   Also, avoid informal contractions such as ‘gonna’, ‘wanna’, or ‘coz.’  Instead, use their longer versions ie. going to’, ‘want to’, and ‘because.’

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Use titles like ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ correctly
Make your language polite by using the customer’s family name together with their correct title, for example ‘Mr. Smith’, ‘Ms. Smith’, or ‘Dr. Smith.’  It’s a good idea to use titles and family names only until the customer asks you to use their first name.  Also, remember not to use titles with first names (this would sound strange).

Use words like ‘could’ and ‘please’ for questions and requests
Starting your questions and requests with words like ‘could’ will make them sound less direct.  It’s also a good idea to add ‘please’ to the end of the sentence. Here are some examples: ‘Could I have your name, please? ‘ ,’Could you take a seat, please?’

Start recommendations with ‘May I…’
Being able to make an effective recommendation to a customer is an important part of business, but be careful not to make your language too direct.  Try to avoid starting your sentences with ‘You should…’ or ‘It’s better to…’  Instead, use starters like ‘May I suggest…’ or ‘May I recommend…’, for example, ‘May I suggest trying our free trial service?’


Extra tip!! Super-formal English:  If you work as a hotel staff or flight attendant (or in another job needing a higher level of customer service) you may need to use very polite English.  One way to make English even more polite is to use ‘madam when talking to females and ‘sir’ when talking to males.  For example, ‘I’m terribly sorry sir, but you cannot smoke in this area.’


Related links:
How can I disagree politely?

Three tips for improving your speech delivery