Phrases to Avoid During Service Interactions

A Reader’s Question:

I unconsciously offended a few customers over the past month. I think the problem may be my choice of words. Can you suggest a list of phrases to avoid during service interactions?

Response from the Editors:

You have a limited amount of time to make an impression on customers, so choose your words wisely: Say the wrong thing—or the right thing in the wrong way—and you could drive customers to your competitors. Post this list of phrases and statements that you should avoid at all costs:

  • “Why didn’t you call us sooner?” Never blame customers for problems, even if they didn’t handle the situation well.


Better: “It appears the purchase date is not within our return policy, but I will speak to my supervisor. We want to resolve this problem for you to the best of our ability.”

  • “No.” You can’t fulfill every customer request. However, you should qualify your inability to be of service with an explanation or another option.


Better: “We can’t accommodate a reservation for six people at 7 p.m., although we have availability at 8 p.m. You can enjoy an appetizer in our lounge if you arrive before 8 p.m.

  • “I already told you …” Don’t remind customers that they have forgotten information. It doesn’t serve a purpose, and pointing out their shortcomings fosters negative feelings.

Better: “As a reminder, we don’t have staff available to process orders on the weekends, and I am glad to handle your request first thing on Monday morning.”

  • “You didn’t do what you were supposed to do.” Treat customers with respect. Never chastise them for their actions.

Better: “Let’s review the steps to logging into our system. Do you have our home page open on your computer screen?”

  • “Calm down.” Allow angry customers to finish talking. Respond with a statement that acknowledges their frustration.

Better: “I understand” or “You have been through a lot.”

  • “That’s not my job/department.” Customers experiencing problems do not care whether the necessary solution falls under your responsibilities.

Better: “Our accounting department can assist in checking to see if your credit card has been processed yet. I will transfer you to Joe in accounting. When you have a pen and paper available, I will give you Joe’s direct number as well as my own, just in case you get disconnected or you want to call back.”

  • “You’re wrong.” Proving that you are correct won’t solve customers’ problems. In addition, arguing will increase their anger.

Better: Ignore the customer’s incorrect statement. Say: “I am sorry that this unfortunate situation happened to you. Here is a three-step plan on how I plan to rectify the problem.”

  • “Like I said… .” Be patient if customers don’t comprehend everything you say. Your organization’s policies and jargon are not familiar to them. If they are confused, explain the information using different wording.

Better: “Another way of explaining our refund policy is that we don’t offer cash refunds.”

Quote of the Week:

“Well done is better than well said.”

—Benjamin Franklin

Tip of the Week:

Enhance customer communications
Repeat customer requests to ensure you are on the same page. That practice is critical when you handle a complex problem or an angry customer. Start your statement with one of the following phrases:

  • “To be sure I have it right …”
  • “I hear you saying …”
  • “As a summary, your main concern is …”

—From the editors.

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Each issue of the First-Rate Customer Service Forum offers you tips for improving your customer service skills. Plus, you have the opportunity to request advice on your most vexing customer service problems—and receive feedback from your peers and our panel of editors!

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