Please NEVER Use These Phrases in Customer Service

customer service phrases to avoid
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When talking to your customers, these are the customer service phrases to avoid at all costs.

I’ll never forget the first time I got rightfully chewed out by my boss.

I was sixteen, and of course, as sixteen year-olds tend to be, a complete idiot.

A young mom and her two kids had wandered into the sporting goods store where I worked. They were clearly coming from soccer practice, the kids were whining and the mom was exasperated, eager to get this nuisance of an errand over with and go on with her day.

She walked up to me and wearily asked: “I’m looking for [particular type of shin guard], please.”

“Oh,” I confidently responded, “we don’t carry those.”

I knew everything (as I mentioned, I was sixteen), and I knew that we didn’t carry that brand of guards.

She got serious. “Are you sure? I know I’ve bought them here before.”

“Nope,” I told her, pointing to the far wall. “All we have is right over there.”

She took a look at the wall, and, frustrated, herded up her kids and left.

When I walked in for my next shift, the owner of the store called me into his office.

That woman, it turned out, was the wife of the head of a local rec soccer league, responsible for tens of thousands of dollars of team orders each year.

And she had called my boss, very unhappy, about her visit to the store when I was working.

Those shin guards? We did sell them, but they were a special order item.

I had no idea, but not knowing wasn’t my mistake; it was not asking, and instead simply assuming that we didn’t carry them, and confidently giving the customer the wrong answer.

If I had bothered to pick up the phone and call a manager—or really, anyone who had been working there longer than I had—the customer’s experience would have been very, very different.

I never made that mistake again, but more importantly, I learned that there are things that, in customer service, you should simply never say. Phrases that can only make an interaction worse.

Here are five more of those phrases, and alternatives that you can use next time you find these on the tip of your tongue:

1) “I Don’t Know. You Need to Call [Another Department/company]”

In 2011, American Express ran a survey that asked respondents which common customer service phrases annoyed them most.

The winner?

The most annoying customer service phrase

Good customer service isn’t always about knowing the right answer. Often, it’s about finding the right answer so that your customer doesn’t have to.

What to say instead: “I don’t know, but I’d be happy to find out for you,” or “I don’t know, but let me loop in [another department/company] and we’ll get to the bottom of this for you.”

2) “Nope”

We all hate it when people are rude to us, but what we rarely think about is that sometimes, the way that we say things might come off as rude, even if we don’t mean it that way.

That’s why using the right tone in customer service is so, so important.

For example, a Software Advice survey tested various customer service scenarios on respondents, comparing a formal tone to a casual one.

While 65% of online customers — across all ages and genders — prefer a casual tone in customer service over a formal one, the numbers change significantly when the customer is being denied a request.

78% of respondents said that an overly casual tone (like using slang or emoticons) has a negative impact on their experience when the agent is denying a request.

By being too casual when you have to say no to a customer, you imply that you’re not taking their request seriously.

And that’s just rude.

What to say instead: “I’m sorry, that’s not something that we can do. However, what we can do is…” (For more tips on saying “no” to your customers, see this post)

3) “Please Calm Down”

There’s plenty of research on the importance of empathy in customer service, but the topic is best summed up by Seth Godin in a one-line blog post:

The simplest customer service frustration question of all: “Why isn’t this as important to you as it is to me?”

We’ve all been there, whether it’s in a customer support setting or an argument with a friend or family member: it doesn’t feel good to talk to someone when you don’t think the person “gets” why you’re mad, upset or disappointed.

And whether you’re arguing with a spouse or friend, or trying to handle an upset customer, it’s never a good idea to tell them to calm down, because all it signals is that the problem isn’t as important to you* *as it is to them.

What to say instead: “I’m really sorry about that. It’s annoying to [have to deal with whatever they’re dealing with], and I’d be frustrated too.”

Caveat: this applies when the customer is not actually being abusive or mean. In those cases, all bets are off.

4) “It’s Not Our Fault”

If your customer is upset, and you want to keep them a happy customer, then remember this: it doesn’t matter whose fault it was. It’s tempting to pass the buck, I know, but it truly. does. not. matter.

They’re your customer. They’re under your protection. And regardless of who is responsible for how they’re feeling, now your job is to make things right.

In this case, the first order of business is to apologize.

Even if you didn’t do whatever made them upset, you can still genuinely be apologetic for the way your customer feels (e.g., I’m always sorry that a customer feels upset).

Once you apologize, work on making things right.

What to say instead: “I’m really sorry for how frustrating this situation is, but I’m going to do everything I can to make things right.”

5) “Sorry, But It’s Policy”

Policies can be helpful. The right policies can empower your support team to build better relationships with your customers, and ultimately grow your business.

But policies are not excuses.

They are not walls to hide behind when you won’t give your customers what they want.

Of course, there are times when you can’t grant your customer’s wishes. But “it’s policy” is not an excuse.

Instead, have enough respect for your customer’s intelligence to explain why a policy is as it is.

Take a look at this brilliant example, Tweeted by Wistia’s Brendan Schwartz, of how a motel explains its policies to its customers:

A great example of how you can use policies for the benefit of your business, without hiding behind them and confusing and upsetting your customers.

What to say instead: “Sorry about the frustration, but here’s why this policy exists.”

Customer Service Isn’t About Walking on Eggshells

You don’t have to watch every word.

You don’t need to be scared of saying the wrong thing. Customers appreciate the fact that you’re human, as long as you treat them with empathy and kindness.

But by understanding the kinds of things that people really don’t want to hear, you can transform the way you think—and talk—when it comes to support, and ultimately build better relationships with your customers.

Len Markidan
Len Markidan Len used to head up marketing at Groove. Though he has now moved on to other adventures, he still likes popping in and saying hi every now and then.