7 Customer service phrases to avoid… especially in a pandemic?

We’re all fluent in customerservicespeak, especially those throwaway clichés often heard over the phone. For example, “Your call is very important to us.”… which is almost guaranteed to make us feel very unimportant as a customer – presumably (hopefully!?) the exact opposite of how it’s intended.

Arguably, this is even more of an issue during a pandemic in which much more business is being done via the phone and online. After all, the lack of face-to-face contact means that our communication (and the meanings we attribute to it) is restricted; not least in the fact we miss out on a lot of non-verbal cues, including body language. Despite the oft-quoted (and almost always, mis-quoted, Mehrabians research) communication does rely on words. Yes, body language, tone of voice, etc. will affect the message being received but the words you choose to use are fundamental – especially on the phone.

Put another way, much more so than in face-to-face communication with its accompanying visual cues, words are critical – and the wrong words, used without thought for their impact, can create the exact opposite of customer service…

Customer service clichés and how to avoid them

For your edification, reflection and conversation (i.e. food for thought) here are some classic customer service bromides, and some thoughts on what will work better for the customer…

From customer service cliché… …to personalised customer service.
1.       “No problem!”


If there’s ‘no problem’, why are they talking to you? Most customer service calls stem from a ‘problem’ or issue they want fixing.

If you want to use an optimistic acknowledgement, try a neutral “Certainly” or “Sure”.

2.       “You’ll have to…”


To solve a customer’s problem, you often have to ask them to do something (click here, send a message there…) but saying “have to” is a) kind of bossy, and b) puts all the onus on them.

Try something more inclusive, such as, “We need to…, or simply, “We will…”

3.       “It’s not my department.”

(Usually followed by putting the customer through to the correct department, where they have to explain their whole situation all over again.)

Instead, how you find out exactly who they need to speak to and connect them directly to that person (briefing that person on what the customer has said so far, and giving the customer the name of the person who is about to help them)?
4.       “We apologise for any inconvenience.” As empty apologies go, this is right up there with, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It acknowledges the customer feels inconvenienced but shows a total lack of interest in what the inconvenience was, or fixing it. Importantly, this phrase also fails to accept that the inconvenience has occurred – there’s an unspoken, “…if there was any,” tacked on at the end.

If you think an apology is necessary, make it specific and direct – if you’re not owning what you’re apologising for, what’s your apology worth, really?

5.       “I’ll just put you on hold…”


Do you really need to? From the caller’s perspective, being on hold is more or less being in customer service purgatory; seemingly endless monotonous torment with dwindling hope of rescue.

That said, you can’t just put the phone on the desk and let them listen to whatever random sounds and conversations maybe going on around you.

If it’s necessary, at least be clear about how long it will take, and if you need longer, let the customer know – they may prefer you to call them back…

6.       “The manager’s not here.”


Successful customer service focuses on what you can do for the customer, not what you can’t. Try to avoid negative statements – they don’t help.

The manager’s not here is not useful information.

The manager will be back at 3 and I’ll get her to call you then, is clearer and at least offers something.

7.       “I understand how you feel.”


Nope. No. You almost definitely do not. Or at least, the customer won’t believe you.

Even if true, it’s hard to say this without sounding at least a little condescending.

Don’t just say you understand, show you do.

First, show your understanding by summarising the customer’s situation in your own words, demonstrating that you’ve been listening.

Second, show you understanding by focusing on fixing the problem.

What do all these phrases have in common? They’re clichés and everybody’s heard them before. This robs them of any real meaning they may have in the customer’s specific circumstances. They make it seem like you’re not listening. The customer’s situation is unique (to them, at least) and if your response is rote, it doesn’t sound as if you’re interested in helping. They’re not genuine or, more importantly, they’re rarely heard as genuine.

So, what habitual phrases do you use…?


For more on successful customer service, give us a call on 01582 463464; we’re here to help.

Categories: Customer service

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