Customer Service Phrases: 9 You Should Never Use and 12 You Should

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The quality of your customer service can make or break your business.

According to American Express, one-third of Americans would consider switching providers after just one bad customer service experience.

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That’s right. One bad customer service conversation can be fatal to your business.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Chances are, you’ve been on the receiving end of awful customer service at least once in your life. Traumatic experience, right?

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The opposite of poor customer experience is customer success. Sixteen Ventures CEO and customer service expert Lincoln Murphy defines customer service as “the moment when your customer achieves their Desired Outcome through their interactions with your company.”

Murphy emphasizes “interactions with your company” to raise a critical point. Your customer experience is not just the use of your product or service. It’s every engagement they have with your company, product and employees included.

What dictates customer experience? Your employees.

As CX Journey CEO Annette Franz points out, “the employee experience drives the customer experience. It’s called the spillover effect, or ‘the tendency of one person’s emotions to affect how other people around him feel.’”

Pro-Tip: We recently published 100 stats on customer service for 2019 you definitely need to check out after reading this article.

Customer Service Phrases You Should NEVER Say

The quality of your customer service depends on your customer service team having great communication with your client base.

A lot of lip service gets paid to teaching reps what to say on a customer service call. But it’s equally important to know what not to say.

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Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit author Michael Solomon calls out an excellent customer service practice in his book.

“Great companies develop a set of key phrases to use — and not use — in talking to customers. Solomon reports that Ritz-Carlton hotel employees carry pocket-sized cards with reminders of recommended and discouraged phrases to use in common scenarios.”

Which is where this article comes in — submitted below are 9 awful phrases you should NEVER say on a customer service call under any circumstances and 12 excellent customer service phrases that you should use frequently.

1. “I’m Not Sure.”

There are a million better ways to respond to a customer question you’re uncertain of than the outright omission, “I’m not sure.”

This phrase is the verbally equivalent of throwing your hands in the air – it signifies helplessness and lack of competence. Responding with “I’m not sure” threatens to send the conversation in a bad direction. You’re better off pushing for more information to get a better idea of what they are saying.

2. “Let Me Check.”

“Let me check” is a vague phrase that leaves your customer in limbo. Be. More. Specific.

Adding specifics such as “with my manager” or “your latest account activity” or something to that effect signals clear, direct action on your part and gives the customer a better idea of the process you’re following to resolve the issue. Don’t use “let me check” in isolation unless you want to raise your customer’s blood pressure unnecessarily.

3. “I Can’t Help You.”

This should be a no-brainer, but we’ve all been on the receiving end of this phrase with a customer service rep at one time or another.

ChurnZero Director of Marketing Cori Pearce cites “declining help with no context” as an easy-to-miss customer service blunder you should avoid at all costs.

The standalone phrase “I can’t help you” does not belong in the customer service lexicon. It is inherently rude, and there are a multitude of less combative ways to tell a customer service should be banished to a netherworld of rude words and phrases your customer service reps have no business using on the phone.

Also: Per Dimensional Research, 72 percent of consumers see having to explain their problem to multiple people as poor customer service. Therefore – it’s best to set up your customer service process to keep the conversation with one rep as often as possible.

4. “Visit our Help Center Instead.”

It’s okay to advise customers to visit your Help Center after completing their customer service request (i.e. in cases where the Help Center has the information they need).

It’s not okay to use the Help Center as a way to get the customer off the call. Telling a customer to reference the Help Center while you’re on the phone with them is like someone you ask for directions handing you a map and saying, “figure it out.” Rude, unprofessional, and a huge turnoff to all.

5. “Calm Down.”

Would you wave a red flag in front of a charging bull? Telling a customer to “Calm down” might as well be the same thing.

If a customer is angry or upset, it is your job as the customer service rep to calm them down by solving their issue, not by telling them how they should be feeling.

To be fair, this is often much easier said than done and can require a great deal of self-control on the part of the customer service agent.

People get irrationally upset, jump to negative conclusions, displace their anger or frustration with something else towards you, et cetera.

But it’s pivotal to maintain control even when your customer is a raging torrent of hate and anguish. Just don’t tell them to calm down.

6. “You’re Mistaken.”

Any variation of “You’re mistaken” is disastrous. “You’re wrong.” “That’s wrong.” “Incorrect.” All off limits.

Let’s double-check the first rule of business. Yep. It’s still “The customer is always right.”

Telling a customer that he or she is wrong is committing a cardinal sin. You’re breaking the first commandment of good business.

According to CX czar Blake Morgan, starting in the 1900s, “retailers knew the power of customers. They believed it’s better to trust customers and risk getting taken advantage of occasionally than to get a reputation of being mean or disrespectful.”

The customer can be as wrong as the day is long. The phrase, “You’re mistaken” should never be uttered from your mouth.

Shy away from any language that smacks of correction or direct contradiction to what the customer is saying.

7. “I’m Having a Bad Day.”

We all have bad days. Negative external forces and events are a reality of life, and it’s up to each and every customer service professional to make sure their customers never hear about them or how they are affecting us.

Your coworkers? Yes.

Your friends and family? Absolutely.

Your customers? Never.

Important tip for customer service managers – if you have a rep who is going through a difficult time and is clearly emotional and struggling to maintain composure on the floor, it’s okay to give that person a quick break to regain his or her composure before interfacing with customers.

As CX expert Colin Shaw astutely asserts on his blog, “Employees are just like Customers in that they are at their best at work when they are Happy and Pleased.”

The bottom line: your employees are a reflection of your business. If they are clearly struggling on the phone with clients, in the mind of the customer, so is your business.

8. “We’ve Never had this Issue Before.”

This futile attempt at reassurance makes no difference in the mind of the customer, who is currently experiencing the issue and now feels more alarmed upon hearing that it’s a new problem your company has never had to solve before.

There are other ways to reassure customers that an issue they may be experiencing is rare and almost certain never to happen again. Whatever you do, do not use the “We’ve never had this issue before” approach.

9. “Let Me Call you Back.”

Our 9th and final awful phrase should be another no-brainer. Yet, many companies fail to realize that no customer is willing to hang up mid-call and wait for you to call them back to finish resolving their issue.

If you need to do some serious research or consulting with your team prior to resolving their issue, let the customer know. Under no circumstances should you blindside a customer with a request to call them back.

Excellent Customer Service Phrases You SHOULD Say

Looking to get ahead of the curve?

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Use these 12 excellent customer service phrases to delight and excite your customers while they are on the phone with you.

10. “Thank You.”

Customers love to feel valued. Thanking them throughout the call – from its initial opening to the final sign-off, will dramatically increase the feelings of goodwill from the interaction.

Telling a customer “thank you” can occur at a variety of points throughout the conversation. Thank them for calling in, for being a customer, for raising an issue, for going through a troubleshooting scenario, and for their ongoing business.

11. “I can Absolutely Help You with That.”

CX expert Ian Golding defines customer service as, “the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services.”

The customer service phrase, “I can absolutely help you with that,” signals your willingness and ability to help the customer address whatever issue he or she is facing.

Remember – customers are often calling you in a state of anxiety. This customer service phrase immediately dials that down.

12. “Great Question.”

You have heard the phrase: “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.”

Guess what? That’s doubly true in customer service.

When a customer hits you with a reasonable query, this phrase affirms the validity of their call and signals that the conversation is heading down a good path.

Customer Experience consultant and expert Jeannie Bliss captures the integral importance of communication to the customer experience on her blog. “Two-way trust, open and honest communication and fearless sharing are cornerstones of the relationships that come to mean the most to us.”

13. “I Understand.”

Another response that alleviates customer anxiety and signals your own competency and ability to help. “I understand” is a great customer service phrase that reassures your customer that they’re on track to solving their problem.

14. “What Else can I Help You With?”

The best customer service experience knocks out all customer concerns and issues in one fell swoop. Solving for the main customer query is great – but solving for ancillary questions and issues that prevent future callbacks is better.

Your customer will appreciate it and so will your boss.

15. “How is Your Day Going?”

Showing an interest in your customer as a person is a great way to build rapport and demonstrate your ability to help. This customer service phrase is the inverse of complaining about your day. It shows empathy and curiosity about your customer’s state of mind outside of merely solving their problem.

As further proof, customer success influencer and Forbes Coaches Council author Jeannie Walters lists empathetic and engaging behavior as a trait of customer service superstars.

16. “I Appreciate You Bringing this to our Attention.”

If a customer raises an issue, it’s wise to thank them for surfacing the problem in the first place. Doing so shows that your company is committed to serving customer needs and views troubleshooting conversations as an opportunity versus an annoyance.

17. “We Appreciate your Feedback.”

Similar to the previous customer service phrase, thanking a customer for feedback is a basic move you can execute that signals to your customer that your company is genuinely committed to problem-solving and improving the overall customer experience.

Using the inclusive “we” instead of “I” signals to your customer that you are speaking on behalf of the entire company when you thank them for their feedback.

Pro-Tip: Customer Service consultant and author Shep Hyken recommends using a single-question survey to determine the quality of a customer’s interaction with your business.“The next time you call us, would you want the same person to take care of you? Push 1 for yes and 2 for no.”

18. “I can Do that for You.”

When a customer requests something that is within your scope of execution, let him or her know. Again, this customer service phrase quickly signals that the conversation is heading towards a positive resolution of the customer’s problems.

The goal is to mitigate customer anxiety as fast as possible. Use this phrase to get customers to let their guards down.

19. “Your Business Means a Lot to Us.”

Every customer is important, regardless of how much they are paying your business. Treat them as such.

20. “I’m Sending an Update/Confirmation.”

Making changes to a customer account? Rebooting his or her service? If your company sends a standard confirmation alert upon doing so, let the customer know you’ll be doing so while they are on the call.

Customers always appreciate written verification of issue resolution or account updates. Confirm they will receive one and push the conversation in the right direction.

21. “Did you Know about our Additional Service?”

When the right opportunity to upsell or cross-sell presents itself, use it. If a call has gone well, you can always reference additional products or services that your customer may need but is not aware you provide. Used in the right situations, this phrase can generate more revenue and surprise and delight your customers.

What are the Most Memorable Customer Service Phrases You’ve Heard?

The right or wrong customer service phrase can steer the entire direction of your call.

If there are two takeaways from this article, they are:

  • Choose your words carefully with customers.
  • Use a script if need be.

Remember — the Golden Rule, Karma, and the Law of Nature apply in business just as much as they do in life.

  • You should treat your clients the way you would want to be treated.
  • What goes around comes around.
  • The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

As the folks who put on Fyre Festival are finding out the hard way, these laws are very real. And they hold major implications for your business based on the customer experience you provide.

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Pictured: Fyre Festival CEO Billy McFarland using every bad customer service phrase in this article.


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2 Reactions
  1. Agreed that variations of “I can’t help you” are frustrating. It’s kind of your job as customer service to help me.

  2. Thanks for the tips. There are always new and fresher ways to approach your customers.

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