While there are many ways to appropriately say "thank you," the phrase "thanks a lot" should be avoided like the plague. Why? Well, it's often taken in a sarcastic way. The unsaid meaning is, "You did nothing for me. You wasted my time. Thanks for nothing!"
When English as second language (ESL) speakers say this to a native American English speaker, it may not have the correct tone, yet, most Americans will interpret it as noted above. To learn a little more about this phrase, and learn some replacement phrases, check out the video below.
"Thanks a lot!" Sarcastic or Serious? - Real Deal English
So, now that we spoke about how to avoid this phrase, how should you respond if someone says this to you?
Responding to "Thanks a lot"
Responding to "thanks a lot" while maintaining good customer service relations or client relationships can be tricky, but it is important. While the response can widely vary based on the millions of situations and relationships that exist, I will share two examples that may help build context.
Hearing "Thanks a lot" During a Meeting
Here the client or customer has not ended the conversation, but continues talking or wants you to speak after saying 'thanks a lot." To answer appropriately, it's crucial that we have listened to what all was said in the conversation up until this point, so we can respond reflectively to what has been said. For instance, let's say a colleague was discussing how you or your teammates were solving a problem by researching the internet for solutions, but he or she sounds frustrated that these solutions are not viable. In this case, it's important to acknowledge that he or she is probably frustrated, irritated, impatient or feeling hopeless. To his or her 'thanks a lot' we can say, "It sounds like the research we have done til now while it partly helps to solve the problem, we still have more work to do before we can fully solve this problem. I can understand your frustration as I know this application is set to launch only in a few days time, but I can assure you we are working on it. Is there anything else you know about this problem that you can share with us to help us direct our research in a better way?"
There are no standard set of phrases to respond to 'thanks a lot' because the response depends on the situation. What we can assume in most cases is that it is being said out of frustration, irritation, or feeling hopeless. Never, never remain silent if the call continues, something must be said to pacify the situation.
Hearing "Thanks a lot" at the End of A Meeting
Sometimes if a client is frustrated they may say 'thanks a lot' then hang up the phone abruptly without even saying goodbye. This is a situation that none of us want because the person is so irritated or frustrated they have ended the conversation prematurely. Ending the call with "thanks a lot" could be considered the exact opposite of ending the call saying, "Sounds good." In this case, it's probably good to let the person have time to destress. Depending on the type of interaction with the client or customer a call back or email may be a good platform to apologize, acknowledge the problem, and try to continue the conversation. In some cases, depending on the situation, another colleague may have to step in to help out, as maybe another person's opinion or viewpoint may be enough to calm the customer or client down.
Jennifer Kumar is a business strategy communication coach that will help you virtually (online) or face to face, as an expat career professional working with Americans to communicate more comfortably with your US counterparts. Contact her for more information.
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