10 Things Not to Say to Customers

Customer service agents can ruin a company’s reputation simply by the words they choose.

Most businesses train their customer support team how to respond to all kinds of problems. Saying “I’m sorry” is lesson No. 1 in the customer service handbook.

But scripted responses don’t always do the job. In reality, 76 percent of consumers want to be spoken to in everyday language.

Inevitably, at some point, agents will go off-script in an email, chat, or phone call. And that’s when things can go terribly wrong.

Words matter. Learning how to communicate effectively with the people who buy your products and services is critical. Teaching your staff what not to say is at least as important as giving them canned responses to follow.

10 Phrases Customer Service Agents Should Not Say

Patience is at an all-time low these days. Customer service centers are getting a workout due to employee and product shortages. It’s more important than ever to make sure your staff is providing a positive customer experience.

Share these “bad words” with your customer service team and be crystal clear that you oppose their usage.

1. “We can’t do that.”

A blunt, negative response like this is certain to stoke the fire.

Maybe you can’t give the customer a full refund or fix their appliance that day, but there’s a better way to say it.

Briefly explain your policy and procedures — and by all means apologize — then offer a few solutions. This puts the customer in the driver’s seat with the power to choose the outcome.

2. “You’ll have to call back.”

Never tell an unhappy consumer they must call back at another time or try a different number.

Clients want immediate satisfaction, even if it’s just a promise to investigate the problem or get the right person on the case.

Most businesses today use phone trees, those automated systems that give callers a menu with options. They often lead to long hold times and transfers from one person to another. According to research, 33 percent of customers get most frustrated when put on hold.

Another 33 percent are highly annoyed when forced to repeat themselves to multiple people. Asking a customer to call back after they’ve finally reached a live voice will only increase their rage. At the very least, develop a system that takes the caller’s name and contact information and returns their call ASAP.

3. “It’s not our fault.”

Talk about starting off on the wrong foot!

This response immediately shifts the blame onto the customer…whether you meant to or not. He or she will rightfully feel attacked and get defensive. Good luck mending that mess.

Customer service personnel aren’t hired to defend the company or make excuses. Their job is to find solutions that leave customers satisfied and ready to do business with them again.

Pointing out fault — either your company’s or the customer’s — is never a good idea. Focus on fixing the problem.

4. “Well, that’s our customer service policy.”

Customers see this as a shove-off move. It’s a rude way of saying “I can’t and won’t help you.”

It gives no options and ends the discussion. It also paints your company as a bully who is not willing to budge or consider alternatives.

Companies create policies to protect themselves and their clients, not to be used as excuses.

You may not be able to violate the company policy but you can look for a middle ground that makes everyone happy. Make the effort!

5. “You should have…”

This is just another poorly executed phrase that shifts blame onto the customer.

Maybe he should have read the directions before putting his kid’s playhouse together. Maybe she should have tried on the pants before washing them.

Think it, but don’t say it.

We’re all human; we all make mistakes. This is where empathy comes in. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.

A better response: “It happens. Let me see if there is something I can do to help you.”

6. “Read the manual (email, letter, etc.).”

You might as well tell your valued clients to hit the road. That’s how they’ll take it.

It’s OK to direct customers elsewhere for details on the information they need. But first, offer to answer their questions. This gives them the opportunity to choose how to proceed.

It’s always best to give options.

7. “I’m not sure when we’ll have time.”

This tells customers that your schedule and convenience are more important than theirs.

Sure, you’re busy. Your clients probably know this and expect to wait for service. But your words need to reflect your gratitude for their business and willingness to serve them.

A better approach would be to give them a choice: “We can fix your car next week on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday…which day works best for you?”

8. “#@&%!”

Swearing, expletives, cuss words. Never use them, even if customers aren’t in short supply. It’s crude and unprofessional.

You may be comfortable letting an expletive slip at home or when you’re out with friends. But that doesn’t make it appropriate at work or when communicating with clients.

Foul language should never be used when representing your company. Period.

9. “I don’t know.”

This may very well be a true statement but not the one a customer wants to hear. They need to feel confident in you and your company.

Instead of sounding like a dead-end source, explain how you will contact the experts on your staff to get the answer needed.

Always follow through with a callback or email. As the initial contact person, it’s up to you to make sure the customer’s questions are answered.

10. “My boss won’t let me do that.”

Don’t make someone else the bad guy when you can’t give a customer what they want.

Shifting blame to a supervisor makes your company seem dysfunctional. It also shows a lack of teamwork, which will prompt a customer to lose trust in your business.

Say it right the first time for the company’s sake. We don’t always get a second chance to make a good impression.

When customer service reps leave a bad impression on clients, the company pays the price.

Quality Customer Service Builds Brand Loyalty

Great customer service is key to branding and creating loyal clients. Proper training should be a priority for every company.

If an agent is frequently bad-mouthed in customer reviews, work with them on improving their skills. If it’s obvious they aren’t “people persons,” transfer them to another department or let them go. It’s that important. Here’s why:

  • 68% of consumers said they are willing to pay more for products and services from a brand known to offer good customer service experiences. (Hubspot)
  • It’s easier than ever today to harm a business by posting a negative customer service experience on social media sites, particularly Facebook. (Consumer Reports)
  • 87% of consumers said customer service was one of the key factors in their decision whether to buy from a company. (Zendesk)
  • 56% of people around the world have stopped patronizing a business due to poor customer service experience. (Microsoft)

Consider Long-Term Solutions for Great Customer Service

Getting to know your customers and their expectations is a major benefit to your company’s bottom line. It can help you anticipate problems before they happen.

Using client tracking tools can help you monitor interactions such as website visits, customer service conversations, and buying preferences. This makes it easier and more efficient to meet and exceed your customers’ needs.

Wrapping It Up

We all try to put our best foot forward. But fielding problems and requests day after day from not-so-happy people can take its toll. The wrong thing can easily roll out of your mouth or off your keyboard without proper training.

Make sure your customer support team is aware of how harmful some phrases like the ones above can be. Teach them to keep a positive, friendly, and helpful attitude.

You can’t take that first impression back.