The words we choose have a big impact the people who read them. And slight tweaks can completely change the way people interpret and react to what we say.

There’s a small band of words that take away from our message. And “actually” and “but” are the ring-leaders. Attempting to remove these two words from our vocabulary will make a world of difference in how customers experience our messages.

What’s the problem with “actually”?

It almost doesn’t matter how good the news is. If it comes after “actually,” we feel like we were somehow wrong about something.

Consider these two sentences:

  • Good: Actually, you can do this under “Settings.”
  • Better: Sure thing, you can do this under “Settings!” 😊

There are certainly other differences between those two sentences besides the word “actually.” And there are several reasons to aim for the second one.

Bottom line is, if customers take time out of their lives to ask us a question (thus teaching us about areas of confusion in our app/product/service) we’d love it if they never have any occasion to feel stupid, or wrong, or corrected.

It’s amazing how much brighter our support team’s writing (and speaking) gets when we go through and lose the “actuallies.”

Any other words to avoid?

But.

While we’re at it, we try to get rid of the “buts” too.

  • Good: I really appreciate you writing in, but unfortunately we don’t have this feature available.
  • Better: I really appreciate you writing in! Unfortunately, we don’t have this feature available.

Feel different? When we substitute our “buts” for exclamation points, we feel so much happier with our message.

Final thoughts

The main principle is this: to the customer, our language and tone say, “I am grateful for you. I have great respect for you. I am listening. I am open. I am here.”

Working on getting rid of words like “actually” and “but” — in emails, on Twitter, with product messages, and anywhere else we might interact with our customers — helps us get closer to living that principle every day.