phrases that upset customers

How to Avoid These 9 Phrases That Upset Customers

Lola BarbierLast updated on September 27, 2023
9 min

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Why do we use phrases that upset customers?

Customer service can be a difficult field of work. Call center agents repeatedly find themselves wedged between irate customers and prickly issues. Being a successful customer service representative requires certain skills which include patience, attentiveness, and empathy. Nevertheless, even the most qualified agent has found themselves uttering unfortunate phrases that upset customers.

When faced with an angry customer’s tricky problem, it’s easy to get flustered. Some defensive justifications will sometimes slip out against our better judgment. They won’t solve anything and will, in fact, erode a business’ relationship with their customer. Let’s look at some of these phrases that upset customers and how to avoid them.

phrases that upset customers

1. “Calm down!”

When on the phone with an angry customer, you might find that their hostility becomes an obstacle to a happy resolution. If the customer remains agitated, they probably aren’t giving you the information and cooperation you need to solve their issue.

Nevertheless, telling a them to calm down is definitely a phrase that upsets customers. By letting the customer’s exasperation get the better of you, you will only escalate the situation and make them more combative.

What to do instead:

The trick to defusing a tense situation with a customer is to bring them down to your level, not rise to theirs. Don’t respond to the caller’s indignation in kind. Keep your voice level, your inflection calm, and stay on course to finding a solution to their issue. Lower the volume of your voice, thus forcing the customer to quiet down to listen.

Once the customer starts to deflate, affirm their new, more cooperative demeanor. Say, “thank you for your patience”, or “I realize this is inconvenient, so thank you for bearing with me”. This should help the conversation change gears and get off on a better foot.

2. “That’s not my responsibility.”

It may be that you take a call with a customer that doesn’t pertain to your area of expertise. If a customer calls in with a problem due to another person or another department, don’t pass the buck, and don’t throw the culprit under the bus. It will make the customer lose faith in your abilities as a representative, and in the company a you represent.

This kind of response will make the customer aware of a lack of cooperation between the different departments in your company. Moreover, refusing to take ownership of the customer’s issue will make them feel like a burden for even getting in touch. Phrases that upset customers are no way to build customer happiness, nor will they encourage customer success.

What to do instead:

Part of being a great customer service agent is representing a shining image of your employer to the customer. If the latter gets in touch, especially with something on their mind, they’ll want to be met with a unified and competent service department.

No matter the subject of the call, put your best foot forward, and don’t sell out another member of the team. Tell the customer, “I can see what went wrong, let’s fix that for you right away.”
Empathise with the customer’s pain, and do your best to replace their memory of the initial problem with one of stellar customer service. It can be rankling to assume responsibility for someone else’s blunder, but at the end of the day, when the customer is impressed and satisfied with your service, the whole team wins anyway.

3. “I don’t know.”

This is one of the phrases that upset customers and will make them immediately lose faith in your abilities. Unfortunately, not knowing the answer to a problem happens to the best of us. For customer service agents, this is often due to insufficient initial training.

Managers are responsible for empowering their agents to perform to the best of their ability, and that includes providing adequate training. Agents must know the product or service they handle well enough to understand customers’ issues and get them out of a bind. Onboarding training and regular updates are both incredibly important to agents’ confidence and efficiency, so it isn’t wise to skimp in that area.

What to do instead:

If you truly find yourself stumped, let the customer know that you’re not trying to get out of helping them. Be honest and say, “That’s not something I know off the top of my head, but let me find out for you right away!”. Make them feel like you’re their ally in fixing their problem. When you admit that you cannot answer a customer’s question right away, show that you are confident that the answer is out there and that you’ll find it. Customers will appreciate you fixing their issue on the first try, even if you need an extra few minutes to collect your bearings.

4. “Let me put you on hold.”

It is extremely off-putting for a customer to go through the potentially gruelling process of calling customer support, only to be met with indifference and a lack of accountability on the rep’s end. Putting a customer on hold without asking them first is sure to frustrate them, and make them less likely to have a good experience dealing with your company.

What to do instead:

First, businesses can configure their phone systems to be more efficient, and thus let agents avoid putting customers on hold. Adequate training to be prepared and knowledgeable on the fly, for one. Automatic call back and click-to-call buttons to shorten wait times and save customer’s patience, for two. Intelligent call routing to make sure each demand is directed to the most competent agent, for three. And last but not least, self-service support resources to take a load off your agents and let customers get a dopamine bump from solving a problem on their own.

Sometimes, you’ll have to put people on hold. It’s an unpleasant but unavoidable part of customer service. If that’s the case, make sure to explain to the customer why you’re doing it, and how long it’ll take, so they don’t feel abandoned and unsupported.

5. “We can’t help with that right now.”

There are plenty of times in a customer service agent’s career when they will have to deliver bad news to a customer. You might think that it’s better to deliver the bad news first, then cushion them with good news. You’d be wrong. This will put the customer in a sour, defeatist mood, and hinder the subsequent success of your conversation with them.

What to do instead:

When you simply cannot avoid breaking bad news to them, you can avoid saying phrases that upset customers. Try to frame it in a way that won’t crush their spirits or their confidence in you.

“This is what I can do to help you in this situation…”
“Here’s what we can do in this context which has worked before…”
“In order to fix this, I’ll need you do do the following…”

If you frame the bad news as a mere step towards a happy resolution, you’ll give the customer an incentive to keep working with you.

6. “First, let me get your information.”

When a customer calls up with a pressing issue, they’ll tend to want to explain it to the customer service agent right off the bat. Being interrupted mid-flow so that you can get their name and information down only to have to repeat themselves afterwards is sure to irritate customers.

What to do instead:

You can eliminate the need to have customers repeat themselves every time they call in by investing in a CRM solution which integrates with your phone system, live chat, and email. This is easier than you think, a good number of providers offer software to suit every business. If your CRM software integrates with your phone system, for instance, when a customer calls, their information will flash up on the agent’s screen.

The benefit of this technology is twofold: first, agents will be on top of things before they even pick up, and have access to the customer’s intel, orders, and past interaction with your business. Second, this will give customers a chance to vent when they get on the line, further filling in the agent while blowing off steam themselves. It’s a win-win!

7. “If you keep shouting, I’ll have to terminate this call.”

It’s neither helpful nor productive to play this kind of game of chicken with a customer. Not only will it irk them even more (remember the first bullet point?) but if you make a threat like that, you might have to follow through on it.

This means that when the customer does call back, they’ll be beside themselves with anger, and it’ll turn into another agent on the team’s problem. This is one of those phrases that upset customers and are sure to make for a lousy service experience.

What to do instead:

Perhaps the tricks in the first bullet point didn’t help defuse a conflictual situation with a customer. Perhaps they were impervious to subtle changes in tone, and refused to be brought down a notch. If you need to explicitly ask a customer to be more civil, you need a gentler way to phrase that sort of ultimatum.

Try saying, “I can help you fix this problem, but we need to discuss it calmly.” to enjoin the customer to be more courteous.

8. “What do you want us to do?”

Some customers can be particularly picky, and refuse every solution you throw at their problem. In that case, you might be tempted to ask them what they want out of you. Unfortunately, this isn’t the wisest course of action.

Phrases that upset customers are the ones that deflect responsibility. It’s important that the customer service agent remain in charge of the conversation; it makes the customer feel that they are in good hands. Moreover, this particular sentence just sounds surly. Don’t give the reins to the customer, stay in charge even when the going gets tough.

What to do instead:

When a customer is being difficult, it’s up to you to step up and bring the customer to a happy resolution. They may be churlish and temperamental, but no customer will begrudge you taking charge if it fixes their problem.

It will even be a relief to a capricious customer to see that you’re willing to take responsibility for their issue. Say, “Here’s what we’re going to do.” or “This is what will work for you.” Project confidence and competence and the customer will respond accordingly.

9. “Would you like to speak to a supervisor?”

It’s the mark of a good manager that they can be relied upon to take over for you if you need help. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in a complete stalemate with a customer, and it seems inevitable that they’ll ask to speak to a superior. However, don’t offer that alternative of your own accord.

First, it makes the customer feel like you’re passing them off. Second, your superior might not be available, it’s only common courtesy to check with them before transferring a call. And third, if you do this too often, you’ll seem like a mere gatekeeper to callers and lose confidence in your own abilities.

What to do instead:

Try your hardest to handle the resolution of a complaint or problem on your own. The more people have to be involved in a call, the less the customer will be impressed.

Nevertheless, it’s sometimes unavoidable to bump an irate customer to a superior. In this case, it’s important that the manager have your back. In a well-run call center, managers will back up their agents when they come under fire, and everyone, regardless of rank, should embody the same values and present a unified front.

What steps has your team taken to avoid using these phrases that upset customers? Let us know in the comments. And if you’re wondering how to improve your call center’s phone system,

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Published on January 3, 2017.

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