The 7 deadly customer service phrases (and what to say instead)

As customer service increasingly fields self-service options and call center software becomes more modern, human interaction or live support has become all the more valuable and crucial to nurturing customer relations. A phone call can be the culmination of several exchanges over social media, email and/or chat. Any prior interactions with customer service are no longer water under the bridge but contribute to a customer’s frame of mind when they dial into your helpline.

At such a crucial juncture, a customer service agent assumes several roles at once — a spokesperson for the business, a product specialist and most importantly, a sympathetic ear. And the language you use becomes your primary instrument. Positive language goes a long way in mitigating such interactions but the impact of negative language may be as far-reaching as losing a customer.

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7 crucial scenarios — what phrases to avoid, and some excellent alternatives

The best thing about language is that it can be picked up easily, and there are rules which make it, even more, easier to put it into practice. So, here are some crucial junctures at which you can commonly end up with your foot in your mouth, and each of the scenarios is paired with some excellent customer service phrases you can say instead.

1) “You’re the first one to complain about this.”

No customer wants the credit for being the first one to report a problem, even though that may not have been not your intention while bringing it up. It is understandable that, since this problem has not occurred before, you may be taken by surprise or need more time to understand it.

But this particular piece of information — that this customer is the first to experience the reported issue — need not be verbally communicated to the customer unless it contributes to reaching the solution faster.

What to say instead: “Thank you for letting us know.”

If a customer is the first person to report a bug or raise a particular complaint, thank your stars and the customer for bringing the issue to your personal attention before it blew up. This puts a positive spin to “You’re the first one to complain about this” and helps you express your genuine appreciation to the customer for speaking up on something which could have gone unnoticed otherwise.

You can also explain to the customer that you have not faced this issue before and would want to understand more about the situation. This will help you in working out a faster solution as well as engage the customer in the problem-solving process.

2) “I’m sorry.”

Businesses use ‘sorry’ profusely and unnecessarily so much so that it is meaningless in most situations. Furthermore, customers call in to get a problem solved by an expert or someone who knows the product or service better than they do. A standalone ‘sorry’ without any supporting solution or alternative puts a dent on your credibility. It puts the customer in the driver’s seat even when they are not asking for it — at most times all they want is a smart and quick solution.

Of course, none of this holds true when they are demanding an apology from you. You should say sorry when the situation calls for it.

What to say instead: “I’m sorry but this is what I can do instead.”

A standalone ‘sorry’ is not enough anymore to communicate your empathy. However, you can pair it with a couple of options — a solution if you have one, an alternative if you do not have the solution your customer is looking for, or a request for more details from the caller so that you can better understand their problem.

Replying with a solution is, of course, the best-case scenario. However, at times, you may not be empowered to offer it to your customers. This is when Plan B comes to play.

Alternately, you can easily replace ‘sorry’ with a ‘thank you. ‘Thank you for the heads up. Let me look into this right away.’

3) “It’s working fine for me.”

There are many variables that can lead to your customer experiencing your product or service in a manner that differs from your own. Yes, it is tough when you are unable to replicate the problem at your end. However, the onus to find a common ground or identify the variables is on you, and not the customer.

What to say instead: “Could you share some more details?”

The burden of proving the existence of a problem should not lie on the customer. However, you will still require some information from your caller if you are unable to replicate the problem at your end. While “It’s working fine for me” sounds like you are questioning the customer’s credibility, “Could you share some more details?” indicates that you are invested in solving their problem.

4) “Can I put you on hold for a second?”

Nothing gets done in a second. This particular customer service phrase has several problems attached to it. First, it does not give the customer an exact idea of how much time they will have to be on hold. Second, it doesn’t tell them why they are being put on hold.

What to say instead: “I need X minutes to ABC. Would you mind if I put you on hold while I’m ABCing?”

This solves both the problems associated with ‘Can I put you on hold for a second?’ — it gives the customer a close estimate of how much time they’ll have to wait, and it tells them what exactly are the measures you are taking to solve their problem!

5) “I will…”

Customer service is expected to be more action-oriented than promise-driven. ‘I will..’ indicates a promise. However, the customer has no reason to believe in your word. They need to see action and tangible proof, even if it is an email acknowledging that a ticket has been raised.

What to say instead: “I am…”

Replacing ‘I will…’ with ‘I am…’ not only highlights how proactive you are but also communicates that you take accountability very seriously. “I am going through your records as we speak” is manifold effective than “I will go through your records and see what can be done.”

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6) “It’s company policy.”

This is one customer service phrase that can easily get under anyone’s skin. While it may be an honest and valid response, it is often used as an excuse to dismiss customers in a jiffy. It neither offers any sort of closure to the customer nor does it leave anyone any wiser towards resolving a problem.

What to say instead: “This is why the policy exists.”

If ‘company policy’ is not just an excuse you are hiding behind, then there is definitely a reason behind why the policy exists in the first place. Policies, ideally, exist to empower agents to take decisions themselves. This means that the power to exercise it is with you rather than the policy driving your decisions. Communicate to your customers ‘the why’ behind a policy. Offer them an alternative. In case of exceptional situations, transfer your call to a manager or supervisor who can take a call on what the right course of action is.

7) “I’m not able to access your information.”

This statement is a clear indication of sloppiness from your end. It projects to your customers that you are not equipped with the right tools to assist them, your customer data is in disarray or even worse, not secure.

Customer service phrases and what to avoidWhat to say instead: There is no alternative!

There are some scenarios where even the most positive language cannot come to your rescue. The inability to access information is quite debilitating. The best solution is to ensure that the software you are using is powerful enough to organize your data and retrieve it on demand. It could be your call center software, your helpdesk software, or a combination of both.

The common denominator of all these bad customer service phrases is that none of them offer a solution or an understanding of what the caller is going through. They acknowledge what is wrong and they leave it at that. These are exactly what the proposed alternatives solve as well.

A quick summary of bad vs. good customer service phrases

As we wrap up, let’s do a quick rewind. If at all you need a reference to the dos and don’ts, this will always be here!

Customer service phrases to avoidWhat to say instead
“You’re the first one to complain about this.” “Thank you for letting us know.”
“I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry but this is what I can do instead.”
“It’s working fine for me.”“Could you share some more details?”
“Can I put you on hold for a second?” “I need X minutes to ABC. Would you mind if I put you on hold while I’m ABCing?”
“I will…”“I am…”
“It’s company policy.”“This is why the policy exists.”
“I’m not able to access your information.”No alternative. Get a better call center software!

If you would like to add to this list and how you usually tackle the situation, do share your insights in the comments section below!

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