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Customer Experience Management, Global Response Blog

Say This Not That: Customer Service Phrases To Avoid

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When talking to customers, it’s easy to know what you should say to make a good impression.

But what are the customer service phrases and language you might use that inadvertently make a negative impression?

Some are obvious, of course (never tell a customer no).

Some, however, are more insidious.

Communicating effectively with customers is more about saying the right words, of course—it’s also about keeping the right principles of communication in mind. And knowing how to do both is key for making customers feel heard, understood and valued—leading to long-term customer loyalty, satisfaction and trust.

If your customer service team needs to boost your communication efficiency, our team of customer experience experts put together our four key principles of effective customer communication along with ten specific customer service phrases to avoid—and what to say instead.

Avoiding Negative Language and Phrases

While difficult to achieve, a key principle of effective customer service language and communication is avoiding negative phrasing. Even if the solution ends up being positive for the consumer, framing it in a negative way typically leaves customers with a negative experience.

This becomes even more important if the solution isn’t what the customer asked for. In this case, it’s essential to frame the solution as positive so that the customer interprets it as such. Even if the end result is the same for the customer, their experience of that result can be very different—and your agents can help shape that customer perception with their language.

At the end of the day, the agent needs to control the narrative, and using positive language and framing is one effective way to do so.

For example, if a customer is asking for a refund on their product, but your company only offers returns or exchanges, instead of saying:

❌ “Sorry, we can’t give you a refund for that.” 

Try saying:

✔️ “Sorry to hear that product wasn’t a good fit for you! We’d love to find you something that’s a better fit. Would you prefer to start your return as an exchange for a new item or a store credit?” 

Keep the focus on what can be done for the customer, and not what you can’t do.

Using Empathetic Language and Phrases

When it comes to creating loyalty and trust among customers, using empathetic language and creating relational connections in your conversations is key.

As such, take care that your agents avoid dismissive language like, “no one else has had that problem,” or “I don’t see what the problem is.” Even if the customer’s issues seem unreasonable, too small, or irrelevant to what you can help with, don’t shut down the conversation or negate the customer’s concerns.

Instead, empathize with their frustration and express your willingness to help them find a solution, while being careful to not make promises you can’t keep.

Another big component of adding empathy to your customer service communication is asking good questions of customers. Clarifying questions, for example, can be an empathetic way of better understanding the customer’s concern. Instead of stating that the problem doesn’t make sense, train agents to ask open-ended and clarifying questions that allow them to communicate more effectively about what the concern actually is. Not only will the customer feel listened to and cared for, but your agents will be able to offer more effective and satisfactory solutions.

Offering Solutions and Alternatives

Perhaps most importantly, effective customer service communication requires agents to provide solutions—and alternatives—for any customer problems. While this may sound obvious, it’s easy for agents to get stuck in a single solution for a given problem and avoid seeking additional solutions.

Presenting alternative solutions shows customers that you’re willing to do what it takes to solve their concerns, even if it takes some additional time. If an agent can’t do something individually or in their department, they should always state what they can do or will do to get an answer for the customer.

For example, instead of saying:

❌ “Sorry, I can’t help with that.” 

Try saying:

✔️  “I know just who can help you with that, and I’ll transfer you to them right now, if that’s ok with you.” 


✔️  “That makes sense, I can think of a few solutions we can try right now.” 

Provide the customer with options, as relevant, not only to demonstrate goodwill, but also to provide them with some agency in the solution. You don’t always know which solution would work best for a customer—and customers don’t always know what solutions are available. Providing options helps customers understand what’s on the table, and allows them to choose the solution that works best for them.

Personalizing Communication and Building Rapport

The fourth principle to keep in mind is the importance of personalization in effective customer communication. While having scripts for calls and customer communication is helpful in keeping customer service consistent and providing accurate and high-quality interactions, a little personalization goes a long way.

Personalized communication can be as simple as addressing the customer by name, referencing the customer’s purchase, or simply allowing agents to speak in a natural way based on the scripts, without having to follow them exactly.

In addition, personalized solutions can make a customer feel valued and seen. These also don’t need to be extravagant, but allowing agents to “go out of their way” for customers can build a strong rapport and develop customers for life. Creating small exceptions in some cases can be one way to personalize solutions for customers. For example, you may offer something like:

✔️ “Typically, we have a two-week return policy, but I’m happy to make an exception for you since it was your first time purchasing. Would you like to do a return or exchange?” 

In order to make this a reality, you’ll of course need to give agents some freedom and flexibility to make exceptions, go “off-script” and personalize as relevant. When agents have the ability to do so, they can take more ownership over customer issues and deliver more satisfactory solutions.

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10 Customer Service Phrases To Avoid (and what you can say instead)

With those basic principles in mind, what are some key customer service phrases to avoid? These 10 phrases can help you avoid customer service snafus and perfect your customer satisfaction.

1. “I can’t help with that.”

This statement is a common one—after all, there may be many problems someone calls with that a particular agent, or even your company in general, can’t help with—and yet, saying so directly is negative phrasing and creates a dead end in the conversation.

Instead, say what you can do. For example:

“I’d love to help with that, let me _______” 

You may need to transfer them to a different department, check with your manager on possible solutions, or run some reports first, but finding a next step you can complete to get them the answers they need is better than simply stating that you’re not the right person to ask.

If it’s a problem you really can’t help with, for example, their warranty is expired or you no longer offer the product they need, offer advice, empathy or a suggestion of how to move forward. For example, instead of saying:

❌ “Sorry, your warranty is expired, so I can’t help with that.”


✔️ “We have the part you need and would be happy to fix it for you! It doesn’t look like that’s covered under your warranty but I can let you know what the cost will be to replace it.”

If you’re finding your agents saying this frequently in phone calls, you may need to review your policies and provide agents with more empowerment and agency. The more that agents are empowered to make decisions and take action on their own, the less frequently they’ll have to pass on difficult questions or situations to someone else.

2. “You misheard me.”

Avoid directly blaming the customer for any miscommunications or problems. While you might feel the customer is at fault, they are almost certainly less knowledgeable and familiar with the product or service than you are, which means they are at a disadvantage when it comes to communicating about the situation.

Instead, clarify both what the customer is saying and what the correct information is, for example:

“Let me be sure I understand you correctly. What I’m hearing is [restate the customer problem]. Is that correct?” 

Once you’ve clarified the problem at hand, you can then clarify the solutions available.  

3. “I don’t know.”

While agents can’t know the answer to every question immediately, saying so directly can make agents seem untrustworthy. Instead, build up customer confidence and trust by demonstrating that you’re committed to getting customers accurate facts and double-checking solutions.

For example, instead of just saying, “I don’t know,” you could say:

“Let me confirm that” or “I believe the solution is [solution], but let me double-check that for you.” 

If agents are really unsure of the solution or where to find it, try saying:

“I need to double-check with my team on that before giving you an answer. I don’t want to waste your time while I check into that, though—when’s a good time for me to call you back?”

Either way, you’re respecting the customer’s time and developing trust.

4. “I don’t see your account information in our database.”

If you have a modern CRM and call center software, this shouldn’t be happening often. If it is happening frequently, it’s time to consider upgrading your call center software so you can keep customer information and data updated and easily accessible to all agents. An outsourcing team like Global Response can take care of this migration for you so that everything transfers smoothly and without the need for increased internal resources!

In any case, if an agent really can’t find a customer, try saying:

“Thanks for that [information provided]. To verify your account, can you also please provide [additional account information]. 

Then you can look them up by the additional identifying information. If you still really can’t find a customer in your database, ensure that they really have an account and perhaps offer to help them create one.

5. “Calm down.”

Telling someone to calm down rarely has the intended effect. Similarly with phrases like, “No need to get so worked up about it,” or “I don’t understand why you’re so frustrated.” These customer service phrases shut down the connection between you and the customer, and demonstrate to them that your brand doesn’t care about how they feel.

Instead, lead with empathy and let the customer know you’re willing to find a solution for them immediately. Try saying something like:

“I can totally understand your frustration, and I’m happy to help you right away.” 

You don’t have to agree with or apologize for the customer’s emotions (unless it’s warranted.) But by empathizing with the customer, you can help diffuse the situation and work toward a favorable solution.

6. “Uhh,” “Umm,” and the like

These normal vocal pauses are common in everyday speech, but in customer service, they can insinuate a lack of confidence. When speaking with customers, agents should be careful to avoid these types of pauses and instead speak confidently and clearly.

If agents need to pause to collect their thoughts, simply pausing for a moment or saying something like, “One moment while I check on this for you,” demonstrates more confidence and authority.

During agent training, it may be helpful to role-play conversations and have agents practice common scripts and explanations until they’re confident explaining certain scenarios without vocal fillers like “umm” and “uhh.” Of course, just having scripts in general can help cut down on these.

7. “That’s just a glitch.”

While there may very well be glitches or bugs in your product from time to time, stating as such can discredit your own product—so be careful to have agents stay away from this. It can also make customers feel that their problem is minimized by blaming an unpredictable product. Instead, try to say something like:

“Hmm, this definitely does seem like abnormal behavior within the product/app.” 

By doing so, you affirm the customer’s problems without blaming them or the product. Instead, you make clear that the product is not working as intended, but is not inconsistent or, as some might say, “glitchy.”

8. “Let me put you on hold.”

While it’s often unavoidable to put a customer on hold or double-check something for them, it’s essential to avoid giving vague or unclear information to customers. Set expectations clearly by giving the customer an understanding of (a) what you’re going to do while you put them on hold, and (b) approximately how long the hold is going to take.

For example:

“I want to double-check on this for you. I’ll need to [action]. Can I put you on hold for 2-3 minutes while I do so?” 

This sets expectations clearly and gives customers a clear outcome to expect. If the time on hold ends up being longer than what you estimated, of course, be sure to return to the call, provide an update, and reset expectations.

9. “That’s not our fault.”

While this statement may very often be true, it doesn’t help anyone. Not only will it upset customers—who are expecting you to take responsibility for, and solve, their problems—but it will also make your brand seem irresponsible and defensive, which is bad for customer satisfaction and brand perception.

Instead, say something like:

“I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m definitely happy to help take care of that for you.” 

Great customer service is always aided by empathy. As such, providing an empathetic response to the customer and acknowledging some ownership over, at least, the solution to the problem they’re facing sets up your agents to build rapport and deliver a more satisfactory experience.

10. “What you should have done was…”

Blaming the customer for the problems they’re experiencing is never productive.

While the customer may have made a mistake or contributed to the problem they’re now experiencing, centering their faults or responsibility in the problem rather than emphasizing the current solution doesn’t help build trust or loyalty. Instead, it mostly breeds resentment, and will make customers less likely to feel satisfied with the solutions you present.

Instead, say something like:

“That does sound frustrating, I’m sorry you experienced that. Let me see what I can do to help get that fixed as soon as possible.” 

The goal of customer service is always to solve the problem at hand, regardless of who’s at fault. As such, avoid placing blame and instead emphasize what can be done now to solve the issue.

Improving Your Customer Service Communication

Even with the right tools and knowledge at your disposal, improving customer service communication is not an overnight fix.

Providing the right training for your team, providing ongoing training for your team, and keeping up with QA processes regularly to identify key principles of communication that are (or aren’t) working is key to improving your processes.

Of course, sometimes you may not have the resources or time available in-house to dedicate to such training and improvement. If this is the case for your organization, consider working with an outsourcing provider. Outsourcing partners can help you effectively improve QA processes, train or expand staffing, and improve communication techniques at scale.

Global Response takes a human-first approach to customer service and satisfaction, providing your team with brand specialists who have high EQs and a deep understanding of your customer. Our focus is on empathetic engagement, careful listening to customer feedback and developing strategic insights for your brand so that you can nail the customer experience at every touchpoint.

Ready to improve your customer service communication? Connect with an expert from Global Response today!

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