contingency design: what not to say, on the phone and on the web

Ian refers to it as contingency design: “Good contingency design means always having to say your sorry, but never having to say ‘see you later’.”

Service Untitled calls it The Big List of Things Not To Say: “I’ve taken the time to go through quite a few posts, organize, and add to a long list of things that bloggers and their readers suggested that customer service representatives not say.”

Whether you are talking about phone communication or a website, there is a right way and a wrong way to talk with clients.

Service Untitled’s #3 thing not to say is [silence]. As in, always have some kind of answer.

Amen. If you have someone’s attention, and you stop responding, they will go away. This is what Ian says about contingency design- if someone looks for a page that does not exist on your website, great! This is your chance to take care of them and continue the conversation.

Take a look at the Search page for CASSIN Collections for an example of basic contingency design. Type in ‘boots,’ and click Search. CASSIN does not sell boots, so you get a result saying

Sorry, we didn’t find what you were looking for. Before you try your search again, you might want to look at these four hot items.

And then it shows you 4 items that CASSIN wants to showcase. (Disclosure- CASSIN is a client of ours, and I wrote that ‘no results found’ page.)

Sorry, we didn’t find what you were looking for.
First, I (the company) take responsibility for the user not finding what they want. You aren’t wrong, I am, and I am sorry. When on the phone, Service Untitled suggests “I don’t think that is 100% correct.” A tack I take is saying “I don’t get it” (making the language as formal as appropriate). It is not that you have explained your idea poorly, it is that I do not understand.

Before you try your search again,
Call to action. Of course the user wants to search again.

you might want to look at these four hot items.
Call to action. This part could be better if it was more specific. Like, “if you are passionate about fur coats, check out the Melissa. And if winter finds you lusting for color, take a closer look at the Beverly.”

Read Service Untitled’s Things Not To Say, read Ian’s article on Contingency Design, and help people keep the conversation going with your company.

And if you are serious about improving communication skills, then check out George Walther’s Power Talking.

4 Responses to “contingency design: what not to say, on the phone and on the web”

  1. 1 Service Untitled - Douglas December 18, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for the link!

    Silence can kill. It is a big mistake that CSRs make, but on the other hand, some are too quick to put customers on hold. The best solution is simply to let them know what you are doing and how it is relevant.

  2. 2 brianatportent December 19, 2006 at 9:07 am

    Do you have any posts that list all of your tips and tricks for CSRs? I am building a client services team that has some of the same needs as CSRs, and seeing all of your best posts in one place would be a great help.

  3. 3 Andres Narvaez December 20, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Yes, silence is bad, but producing irrelevant information (products) just to cover up the silence is worse (B.S.). So A. you can accept you don’t know something but will find out immediately or b. Ask an open-ended question.

    Works great for face to face conversations with prospects and for your website scenario after typing in “boots”…

    Search result>>

    Did you mean?
    Fur boots


    A help link
    Contact us form
    AJAX powered chat box

    And finally…

    You might want to see our other products

  4. 4 brianatportent December 20, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    Andres, you are very right. In this case, I think a ‘contact us’ box with the subject filled in with the search query could be just the thing.

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I'm now blogging about internet marketing at

Red Beard Consulting

At Red Beard Consulting I work on internet marketing primarily for speakers. I also work with Infusionsoft.

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