How to Own the Customer Service Conversation

Do you take responsibility for your communication? Do you really think about what you want to communicate before stating a single word? Or do you just state the first thing that comes to mind?

Talking with customers

Walking the talk is so important in customer service. Do we not owe it to ourselves and to each other to own the words that we communicate to potential customers, colleagues, and loved ones?

I recently gave a speech on “owning the conversation.” I asked members in my audience how many were in customer service roles. Only a handful of people raised their hands. I asked again with more intent. It was then when they became aware that we are all in a customer service role at one point or another while interacting with others.

Customer Service

Customer service is all around us, whether it is in our professional or in our personal lives. We all as human beings serve one another in some type of capacity. What is clear is that the quality of customer service has slowly decreased over the years. It seems that now it is not how to take care of the customer; it is about how much money business (or we) can make in the shortest time.

Am I a bit critical, because of my many years in customer service? Maybe. Look around where you see customer service. Are they really serving? Today’s world is fast-paced, electronic filled and driven by instant gratification. Where does that leave communication skills? I challenge you to visit a local retail store and ask a salesperson or stock-person a question about a product. Most likely, you will receive a response, “Um, I don’t know” or “I’m sorry, I’m not the one to ask,” “That’s a good question” or the individual shrugs his or her shoulders. You get the feeling that they are only there to pass by the time or for the pay check.

I was working with a student recently on speaking to customers. I was “the customer” and I felt that the student was just saying anything that came to her mind or was stating something that would please me as a customer. Why? Because her words were empty. She talked fast and in short sentences. There wasn’t any intent or focus in her message to me. In my conversation with the student, I asked her to “own the conversation” by talking with conviction, intent and meaning.


Talking with conviction can be challenging not only in business but also in our personal lives. We need to take personal responsibility for what we say to each other. I can admit, there are times when I have not “owned the conversation” and have regretted it. Those are the teaching/learning moments that I came to terms with and decided that I was not going to do it again.

It seems that in today’s world, everything revolves around who is to blame for the mess that we are in. It’s always someone else’s fault. This is where the attack word “you” comes into play. Once defensiveness comes into the conversation, the words just fly out of our mouths without realizing what we have said until after we have said it. By then, it is usually too late to salvage anything and it damages the relationship. By taking responsibility or “owning” the words that we communicate, we would make our relationships better. There would be less of the “you” attack words. Less “I don’t know” or “I don’t care” or I’m sorry” phrases.

As individuals, if we own the conversation, the “you” attack word would diminish. Taking ownership of the words spoken brings about a richness of not only the words but also in the relationships that we are in. It would eliminate the meaningless words into better, more cohesive conversations.

How to Own the Customer Service Conversation

Owning the conversation is a process of “system checks” that can occur before, during or after the conversation. First, you can prepare mentally to make sure that your tone of voice, possible questions or responses, spatial cues and non-verbal gestures are what you want them to be. Second, right there in the moment when you are in a conversation with someone, pause and think about what you want to state and how to state it. Thirdly, reflect on the conversation you’ve had. Could you have said it differently? Could you have conveyed the same message in a different manner?

Owning the conversation can also incorporate the utilization of “I” when needed. For example, the phrase: “I understand that.” The alternative of not stating the “I” statement, is the accusatory “you” statement. This sets off a wide range of tempers and words and we forget how to communicate effectively. Accusations and negative actions cannot be reversed and can hinder not only the individual but also the group or the organization.

Sometimes, we use the useless words of “I don’t know” as a truthful and owned response because we simply do not know. But how you say it can make a difference. Are you just stating the words, or are you stating those words with conviction? Sometimes, it may be because we may not want to face the real issue.

Why This Is Important

Owning the conversation is not a new concept, but it is a concept that has been lost over the past several years. What would happen if we all owned our conversations? We would eliminate the useless and meaningless “I don’t know” words from our actions and vocabulary.

Owning the conversation is important in any kind of customer service or personal relationship. It is important to you as an individual and as an employee or boss. It builds character, trust, relationships, confidence and knowledge. All of these make up the foundation of our individual selves. We are all unique. We all have our own talents and dreams. By owning the conversation, we can make everything we have in our power much more valuable.

About the Author

Rosemary Evers is a freelance writer living in Minnesota. She has 20 plus years of experience in retail, banking, medical and education. Rosemary is also an adjunct instructor for Rochester Community & Technical College.

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