To be honest with you.

I was looking at a service the other day and had some questions about it. I called the company and was connected to a sales representative fairly quickly. The guy was friendly and seemed to know what he was talking about. I was fairly impressed by the company I continued asking some questions.

Then, he said the words that customer service representatives should not say “To be honest, .” While most people (including me usually) don’t mind hearing these words, they should not be said during a conversation with a customer, co-worker, partner, or anyone.

The reason being is that when someone says “to be honest” it can be interpreted as “I wasn’t being honest with you before, but I will be honest with you now.” This may be taking it a bit extreme, but some people do think this way (and it is okay to think like that) and representatives shouldn’t say it.

It is kind of like asking how are you? (discussed here). The potential benefits are minimal, but the possible downsides are high.

Here are some alternative phrases:

  • Don’t use it. Just say what you are going to say. Instead of: To be honest, I think that plan may be too big for your needs. Say: I think that plan may be too big for your needs. Maybe you should consider plan b.
  • To be frank.
  • I believe.
  • Etc.

If you don’t use anything, customers will assume (hopefully rightly) that you always tell the truth and tell them what they need. This has benefits in more ways than one.

Upselling is often misinterpreted. Sales people define it generally as adding to additional things (i. e. upgrades, extra products, etc.) to an order. Customer service people often define it as companies selling customers more than what they need. Downselling is usually thought of as telling customers they don’t need as much as they are ordering (also known as being honest).

I’m not sure if I read it or if Mike Faith (CEO of told me, but they often try to downsell customers. What the company works to do is point the customer in the direction of the headset that is right for them. This may involve upselling, it may involve downselling. He wrote (or told me) that this is beneficial, because the customers appreciate being honest with them. They will come back later and refer friends, which is the desired result.

You can probably rip someone off once, but that doesn’t work in the long-term. Remember the culture of trust that Craig Newmark of Craigslist talked about? Try and build that in and around your company. Make it so your company’s representatives never have to say “to be honest” – have them be honest all the time.

One Response to “To be honest with you.”

  1. Service Untitled » Close the sale on a good note. - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Apr 18, 07 at 5:01 pm

    […] Don’t upsell. I talked briefly about upselling here. If you are in any sort of business where you want repeat customers, loyalty, and referrals (most businesses), don’t try to upsell customers. Suggest what you think is right for them and what you think will meet their needs. […]