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Words & Phrases to Avoid in Your Customer Service Communication

This month, we’re focusing our efforts on the two words that make every business owner cringe: customer service. From customers losing their cool to those who ask 27 random questions that have nothing to do with your business, knowing what to say in customer service communications can be tricky at best (and insanely frustrating at worst). As business owners, we tend to be no-holds-barred, lean-the-heck-in kind-of people—but customer service requires something completely different from us: it requires we bite our tongues, swallow our pride, and—more often than not—accept responsibility for things that aren’t really our fault. Today, then, we’re talking our top tips for words and phrases to avoid in your customer service communication….and offering up some suggestions for things you can say instead. Read on, and get ready to channel all of the precious patience you can muster.

When you don’t know the answer:

Don’t Say: “That’s not something I can do,” or, “I can’t help with that.”

Do Say:  “I’d be happy to look into that for you.”

There are countless times where you’ll get an odd request or a random question you don’t know the answer to—it’s the name of the customer-service game. The three worst words you can say in that situation? I don’t know. Avoid telling the customer that what they’re asking isn’t something you can do or something you can help with. Instead, reassure them by letting them know you’ll look into the issue and either get back to them with an answer or have someone else reach out. 

When you aren’t the one to blame, but they’re blaming you.

Don’t Say: “It’s not my fault.”

Do Say:  “I apologize.”

Being a business owner has its pros and cons—you get credit for the good, but, along with that, you also have to take responsibility for the bad…even when the screw-up wasn’t yours. Getting defensive is a natural human reaction to being blamed for something we had no part in—but, when it comes to customer service communications, there’s no room for defense. Understand that, as a baseline rule, everything is your fault. (Yeah—it’s no fun.) Their shoddy WiFi connection isn’t allowing your website to load? Your fault. They entered the wrong contact information on your website and missed your email reminders? Your fault. They knocked over their coffee mug while on the phone with you? Your fault. Even when the issue the customer is complaining about isn’t directly your fault, skirting blame or getting defensive will only serve to upset them more. Instead, simply apologize (you don’t have to mean it—you just have to say it), and work to steer the conversation away from the problem and toward a solution.

When they’re being irate:

Don’t Say: “Calm down.”

Do Say:  “I’m going to help you through this.”

The quickest way to ensure someone doesn’t, indeed, calm down? Telling them to calm down. Anyone who’s ever been told to “calm down” knows just how infuriating and condescending it can be. In customer service communications, you’re bound to get an angry customer or two (…or three) who are taking out their bad day on you. Understand that, while the way they’re acting might be uncalled for, the only way you can help them through it (and get yourself out of the situation faster) is by being understanding and helpful—rather than condescending or snappy. As much as you want to tell them to calm down, take a second, swallow your pride (we know—it’s hard!), and let them know you’re going to help them through the issue they’re having. Apologize for what they’re going through and reassure them that you’ll do everything you can to ensure there’s a positive resolution. Again, drive the conversation toward a solution rather than escalating the problem.

When they’re misunderstanding or not listening:

Don’t Say: “You misunderstood me.”

Do Say:  “I probably didn’t explain that clearly—my fault.”

If you’re noticing taking responsibility even when you don’t want to is a common theme throughout this article, you’re right on the money. Whether it’s a poor phone connection or an irate customer who isn’t listening, there’s nothing more frustrating than having a customer misunderstand or not hear you clearly…especially if that misunderstanding then adds to their anger or frustration. Avoid saying things like, “You didn’t hear me” or “You misunderstood me,” and, instead, offer up a clarifying statement like, “I probably didn’t explain that clearly. What I meant was…” Remember, it’s not about being right—it’s about lessening the tension as quickly and clearly as you can, which often means taking responsibility for things you aren’t actually responsible for.

About the Author

Gillian Griffith
Gillian Griffith

As Aisle Planner’s Associate Editor, Gillian knows there’s nothing as deadly as a woman with good grammar, great nails and a strong backhand (think: tennis). She is based out of Las Vegas, Nevada, where she spends the sunny days with her family, her Louisiana Catahoula pup and, her ultimate love, a 1939 typewriter. Follow Gillian on Instagram @gigi_the_girl

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