How To Use Labeling To Win At Customer Service

March 15, 2021
Customer Service Labeling " alt="" />
There’s never been a better time to be a Canadian business owner thanks to the American Express® Aeroplan®* Business Reserve Card, a premium card that offers incredible value. For a limited time, earn up to 150,000 Aeroplan points*. Offer ends August 3, 2021.

The American Express® Aeroplan®* Business Reserve Card is made from precision cut and engraved 13 g metal. Enjoy access to select Maple Leaf Lounges™* and the Air Canada Café™*. If you’re a business owner that travels at least once per year, we highly recommend the American Express® Aeroplan®* Business Reserve Card.

*Conditions and caps apply.

Research shows that while a satisfied customer may never tell anyone about the quality of service they receive, a dissatisfied one is likely to tell up to eight people. This makes it essential that small and large business owners alike design excellent customer service experiences that will make their customers smile.

In practice, of course, this is far from the reality. And while many of us gripe about the long holds and unhelpful staff manning the phones for U.S.-based companies, trust me when I say that customer service gets a whole lot worse across the pond.

So who can we turn to to learn how to turn customer service experiences in our favor? I can't think of anyone better than Chris Voss.

Who Is Chris Voss?

Chris Voss is a renowned former hostage negotiator for the FBI. He's worked on plenty of high-profile cases, and has used cutting-edge persuasion techniques to save countless lives.

But he's a master at dealing with customer service reps, too.

In his Masterclass, Voss suggests using a technique he calls “labeling” to get customer service reps to do exactly what you want. Here's the example Voss gives, with the labeling in bold:

You: “I'd like you to waive the $100 fee on my account.”

Customer Service Rep: “I'm sorry, I'm not able to do that. But I can give you $25 back as a gesture of goodwill.”

You: “Thank you. It feels like you're being really generous with me. I wonder if you'd be able to just quickly ask your supervisor if you're somehow able to remove the entire $100 fee.”

Customer Service Rep: “Sure, just a minute. [disappears for a minute] OK, I was able to do it. The $100 fee has been removed.”

The key here is that by labeling the customer service rep as generous, you're subconsciously telling them to be generous. The reasoning is simple: all of us want to live up to the standards our peers have set for us, even when those peers are total strangers. By thanking the rep for being generous, then, you're actually pushing them to be more generous, which results in them giving you what you want.

This may seem like an exaggeration, but it's not: ever since I learned about labeling from Voss, I've used it in every customer service experience I've been in. Here's an example of an email I sent just a few hours ago:

I've bolded the two instances of labeling in this email:

  1. “and for your excellent customer service”: This is an explicit label, but the great thing about labeling is that the other side doesn't see it as a label. They see it as a compliment, but they don't see it as a label.
  2. “and they always tell me how helpful you are in solving their issues”: Again, another explicit label, but it just comes across as a compliment.

The magic in all this is that I'm basically forcing them to provide excellent customer service because I've set the bar extremely high. And all this through compliments! By telling them that my friends who use their service are always very happy with the way they respond to requests like mine, I'm also saying so I expect you to treat me with the same level of care.

Don't believe me? I just counted and the email I got in return was more than 500 words. And best of all, it solved my problem completely.

That's the power of labeling.

Bonus Tip: Take Notes

This one comes courtesy of Ramit Sethi, who has taken notes on every customer service call he's been on for years.


Because taking notes shows that you're a serious customer who's not going to walk away without getting what you want. Any rep on the other end of the line is going to be extra careful about what they say if they know you're taking notes, and they're much more likely to bend to your will to avoid being on the wrong end of those notes the next time you call in.

On top of that, it's fun to show a rep that you've been meticulously documenting every call. When you say something like, “On February 22, Sarah told me X, and when I called again three days later, on February 25, Mark told me Y,” the line is bound to go silent for a second. That's the rep collecting themselves, because they know you're not one to be messed with.

Customer Service For Entrepreneurs

If you're a business owner, you also need to be thoughtful about customer service to ensure your customers keep coming back. To help, I've assembled thirteen tips designed to give small business owners a head start in dealing with customer feedback, whether it's positive or negative.

Preparation is key

  1. Track all complaints and feedback with a spreadsheet. This helps to keep feedback orderly and easy to find.
  2. Ensure staff are trained and well-versed in telephone etiquette. Keep a consistent approach across the business
  3. Put effective policies into place that promote a positive approach to customer complaints. Remember, it's an opportunity to keep a customer, not lose one.
  4. Make sure the business has the means to tackle complaints promptly. If you can return the call the same day, do so.
  5. Draw up an email or letter template but don't feel the need to stick to it vigorously. This can save time but make sure it emanates a personal approach.

Keep a positive attitude

  1. The right words will help enormously when a customer makes a complaint. A simple ‘sorry' and acknowledgement of the customer's anger can make all the difference.
  2. Reassure the customer that their complaint will be dealt with swiftly and effectively. Explain to them clearly exactly what you're going to do.
  3. Empathize with the customer and allow them to vent their feelings. Business  owners should ask themselves: “What would I want if I were in their shoes?”
  4. Improve your business based on the feedback received. If a complaint has revealed a weak point in the business, use it as an opportunity to improve.
  5. Always thank the customer for their feedback, be it positive or negative. If appropriate, send them a gift.

Forward thinking

  1. Give the customer a choice of how to complain. Make it easy to speak to a real person, but don't be afraid of branching out into social media.
  2. Always review and adapt your complaints policy. If a customer's query was not resolved to their satisfaction, work out why this was the case.
  3. Invite customers to give you feedback. The vast majority will simply go to a competitor without warning, but this number can be limited if a small business  owner actively promotes and encourages feedback.

If you're an entrepreneur, keep these tips in mind as you build out the customer service side of your growing team.

Canada's Best Credit Cards

Our #1-Rated Card Of 2021

Earn up to 75,000 Aeroplan Miles (valued at $1,500 - $2,250) with the American Express Aeroplan Card, our #1-rated card in Canada in 2021.

Offer expires August 3, 2021.

For Business Owners

Earn up to 150,000 Aeroplan Miles (valued at $3,000 - $4,500) with the American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve Card, plus 10x the points on gas and restaurant spending.

Offer expires August 3, 2021.

Low Fee, High Value

Earn up to 50,000 MR points (valued at $1,000 - $1,500) with the American Express Cobalt Card, a low-fee card that offers 5x the points on all food and drinks.

Offer expires August 16, 2021.