Ban These Words From Your Service Vocabulary

A Reader’s Question:

It is so easy to upset a customer with an unintended slight. I am developing a list of words and phrases that service professionals should never use. Can you suggest some that tend to agitate customers or make them feel that a rep doesn’t care about the service provided?

A Reader’s Response:

Certain words can drive angry customers to reject even a satisfactory solution to their problems and take their business elsewhere. In addition to losing existing customers, your organization will limit future sales as angry customers tell friends and family about their poor service experience.

When you shut off an angry customer with a curt answer, you deny that person the satisfaction of voicing complaints and receiving a solution. Avoid slipups by keeping this list of forbidden words and phrases within view in your work area:

  • This is the company policy.
  • You do not understand the issue.
  • Your contract forbids us from doing that.
  • It is your mistake.
  • I (We) can’t do anything about that.
  • This is a fair deal.
  • You missed the deadline to solve this problem.
  • I cannot make any exceptions.
  • Take your case to our headquarters.
  • Come again when the boss is here.
  • I do not see why you are upset.
  • It is only a petty amount of money.
  • You should read the small print carefully
  • I have to go. Anything else?

Customers are human beings. We tend to forget the details of the problem but remember how well our complaint was addressed and solved.

—Magdy Fayed, Consultant, Planning & Business Development

Response from the Editors:

Some statements may seem innocent, but in a service situation, they can throw a stressed customer into a tailspin. Avoid these service killers at all costs:

  • “The system says … .” Although it may be true that the information in your database is unfavorable to the customer’s situation, don’t phrase it that way. Customers feel out of control when they perceive that a machine is managing their problem rather than a human being. Instead say “I see that you have been a loyal customer. You missed the deadline for a cash refund, but allow me to review the options available to you.”
  • “Call back for an answer.” When customers are angry or frustrated, the worst thing you can do is make them responsible for the solutions. Instead say “I will call you back within 24 hours and let you know the status of your problem. I may not have an answer at that time, but I will update you on the actions taken to find a solution.” Caution: No matter what time frame you set to follow up with the customer, make sure you meet that deadline.
  • “You should have called us earlier.” That statement can easily slip out when a customer misses a warranty deadline or doesn’t alert you that an order came late. However, never blame customers for the problems. Even if they are at fault, you won’t come closer to finding a solution or making customers happy by blaming them.

Quote of the Week:

“Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer.”

—Macy’s motto


Tip of the Week:

Look for small victories

When you’re feeling fed up with your work, you may categorize everything as pointless or boring. Raise your spirits by taking the time to recognize the positive aspects of each day. Count the customers you’ve helped or the problems you’ve solved. You’ll see how important your role as a customer service rep 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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