There are certain phrases that carry meaning far beyond the literal definition of their component words. Some of those phrases are about status: “Don’t you know who I am?” Others are about protecting dignity: “It’s not you, it’s me.” In the world of customer service, such overused phrases are legion, and they can be rightly infuriating to customers.
Terrible customer service phrases usually involve three things:
- They’re cliché. For some reason, we all have things we think we should say because they’ve been said so many times to us before. Customer service phrases that might have meant something at some point become overused and trite.
- They’re tone-deaf. Great customer service agents are adept at using empathy and reading the situation. Using the wrong customer service phrase makes it seem like you don’t understand the customer’s problem and you’re not really that interested in helping.
- They’re not genuine. Customers want to feel like they matter to the company they are choosing to do business with. Too often, customer service agents aren’t empowered to provide great customer service. This leads to disingenuous service and customers feeling like they aren’t being heard.
8 things you shouldn’t say to customers
Here are eight common yet frustrating phrases that you might be using unwittingly. Even though many of them are well-intentioned, they can come across poorly to your customers, and they’d be better left in the past.
1. “Your call is important to us.”
Just like in other relationships, actions mean more than words. You can say that your customers’ business is important to you, but if you aren’t doing anything to keep that business, they know you don’t mean it.
Most people know that businesses only care about them to the point they can get money from them. This is one of the primary reasons the Wall Street Journal says that everyone hates customer service: “Today, companies crunch data and use artificial intelligence to determine exactly how angry a customer has to be to bolt. Many are walking right up to that line.” Platitudes about the importance of your call are simply in place to sound polite.
If you’re one of the companies that is consistently trying to make customer support better and truly do care about your customers’ business, show it — don’t just say it.
2. “Our apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.”
Somewhere in the history of customer service, it became mandatory to apologize for any inconvenience, or even the possibility of inconvenience. And because this phrase became so overused by companies who didn’t really seem to mean it (or even do anything to prevent the inconvenience) it became one of the most hated expressions.
Claire Littell, a member of the Support Driven community, says: “I specifically hate ‘I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause’ because it completely fails to acknowledge that there is an actual problem that is affecting you and causing trouble for you.”
“Of course this problem is inconvenient,” agrees Johnathan Lyman, another member of Support Driven. His solution: “Take ownership instead.”
Maybe this common phrase came from a genuine desire to minimize the problem and apologize at the same time. But instead of resorting to an overused, disingenuous expression, be specific and direct. Say exactly what you are apologizing for and what you’re doing to solve the issue.
3. “Thank you for the feedback.”
“‘Thank you for your feedback’ is by far my least favorite customer support platitude. It’s such an empty, copy/paste phrase that shows no real human touch, and it’s pervasive in the #cx industry now more than ever,” says Sarah. But many of us use it to respond to customers on a daily basis and often, we say it without taking any further action.
The biggest problem, according to Sarah? “Feedback is that shrieking sound we all duck from when we hear it blare through a speaker. Is that what you’re using to equate the real thoughts and experiences your customers took the time to share with you?” Yikes.
As an alternative, Sarah says to “try replacing customer feedback with customer insight to put a more positive, authentic spin to your support interactions. It’s such a simple tweak that dramatically changes the tone and intent of your message.”
4. “Unfortunately, I can’t do that for you.”
A few years ago, Apple’s training manual of “forbidden customer service words” was leaked to Gizmodo. Within the Genius Training Student Workbook, Apple’s legal team suggests alternatives to common customer service phrases that might rub customers the wrong way… or lead to a legal issue.
- “Unfortunately” becomes “as it turns out”
- “Bug” becomes “condition”
- “Running hot” becomes “a bit warm”
Apple Geniuses are trained to take something that might sound negative (like a replacement part being out of stock) and turn it into something positive (as it turns out, they can order that part for you! It will be here on Wednesday!).
It might sound like the ramblings of a cult, but there are studies that support the use of positive language in customer service.
Instead of focusing on what you can’t do for a customer, focus on what you can do. No one likes to be told no. As Nicereply explains in their article on Experience Engineering, “experiencing rejection leads to an immediate 30% drop in reasoning skills and increases aggression. By saying “no” you’re making frustrated customers more difficult to deal with.”
5. “Can you send a fax?”
Nobody wants to jump through hoops to accomplish a small task. So when customer service agents tell me to download and print a PDF, sign it, and then scan or even — the horror — fax it back to a different department, I feel my frustration is justified.
Even if you aren’t being directed to an ancient fax line to contact the right department, being shuffled around through other companies’ bureaucratic processes is infuriating. From being told to call a 1-800 number on Twitter to a brick-and-mortar cell phone store saying you need to call to cancel, unfortunately, it’s commonplace.
Microsoft found that most customers have used more than three different communication channels to get service. Instead of sending your customers back and forth between conversations and channels, make every effort to help customers on the channel through which they contacted you.
6. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Humans are pretty good at picking up on social cues. When someone apologizes and seems insincere, we can sense that. Because an apology is meant to repair a relationship, a bad apology can actually do more harm than no apology at all.
Beth Nelson, from Support Driven, shared her least favorite apology: “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Oof. We can all identify with the frustration of receiving this traditional non-apology. It doesn’t take ownership and it doesn’t admit fault.
It takes time to formulate a genuine apology that can heal your relationship with the customer. But it’s worth it. As Helps Scout’s Mat Patterson says, “Acknowledgement of fault is a powerful act; it tells the customer: You are right, I see your perspective, and I understand it.” By going beyond the typical non-apology, you can win back a customer who you might have otherwise lost.
7. “Can I help you with anything else today?”
At first glance, this might seem like a super helpful customer service phrase that you should definitely use. But if it gets pulled out at the wrong time, it can infuriate customers who don’t feel like they got any help in the first place.
“My personal pet peeve is ‘Can I help you with anything else today?’ when the person was unable to help me with the thing I first contacted them about,” says Brian Levine, another member of the Support Driven community.
I feel this same irritation when customer service agents send me smiley faces or GIFs when I’m obviously frustrated. Being able to read the room and react appropriately to a customer’s mood is important for a good customer service interaction.
8. “I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize that request.”
As Chatbots and AI are becoming more commonplace in customer service, it’s important to take into account how they are communicating, as well. Even robots aren’t immune from dropping a frustrating phrase into a conversation. Whether it’s by a voice-operated call center menu or a chatbot helper, customers hate being told that they aren’t asking their question quite right.
Forrester predicts that customers are becoming increasingly frustrated with bad chatbot service. In their 2019 services and sales predictions, they reported: “Human resistance against ineffective chatbots is on the way, and a groundswell of jaded customers will crowdsource tips for end runs around chatty chatbots.”
If you’re using chatbots for customer service, ensure that they are able to interact with human communication and that their automated responses are well thought out.
A better way to communicate
Often we default to a cliché customer service phrase when we don’t know what else to say. We’re struggling to convey what we want to the customer, or maybe we aren’t empowered to say anything else.
Instead of pulling out one of the terrible, non-helpful phrases above, think carefully about what you actually want to tell the customer. Consider the following questions:
- Is it necessary to say?
- Does this phrase provide help or convey a genuine message?
- Can I choose something more personalized to the situation?
- What specific message am I trying to communicate?
Rather than pulling from a bucket of meaningless phrases, be authentic and speak to your customers as if they are a person sitting across from you. If it sounds weird to say it out loud, it’s probably weird to write it in an email, a chat, or a status page.
Did we miss anything?
The thing about unhelpful phrases is that everyone has their own lurking in their closet, ready to pull out when they don’t know what else to say. While the phrases above are pretty much guaranteed to make customers frustrated, there are a bunch we might have missed. Which customer service phrase really gets you going? Is there one that you use often that’s on this list? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.