When talking about what’s annoying in customer service, the first thing that comes to mind is the ‘endless’ waiting, ‘frustrating’ hold music and that’s not to mention the unhelpful agents.

It’s hard to say what’s worse – the overly clingy shop assistants that will ask if you’re ‘alright’ every five seconds or understaffed contact centres with their infamous hold music set to ‘entertain customers’ – yes we joke!

Business owners and managers will know that sometimes there’s only so much you can do when there is a sudden upsurge in call volumes or when staff take more sickies than predicted but the words and phrases that your staff use when dealing with customers is something you can control.

We’ve asked around for your customer service pet peeves and coupled with our experiences on both ends of customer service, we’ve put together a list of the five most annoying cliché phrases both verbal and written – ones that we firmly recommend you avoid.

‘I don’t know’

The phrase ‘I don’t know’ is a big no-no. And for those tempted to suggest ‘calling another department…’ well that isn’t on either. No one should get into the habit of brushing a customer off with a number – it’s not cool and even worse when you’re not sure whether the other department even has the answer.

We suggest

Work on phrasing it better.  We are not saying that there is anything wrong with not knowing an answer, come on we haven’t been replaced by robots yet, but it is the way that you tackle this that is key.  Passing the buck or brushing a customer off is never good.

  • Work on equipping your team with sample responses, such as ‘I’d be happy to find out for you.’
  • Give your customers an estimate of how long it will take for an answer to be provided. Always better to slightly overestimate. Under promise and over deliver can help make happier customers.
  • If a call needs to be redirected, make sure it is to someone who knows the answer first. Blind transferring a call shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
  • Give them options when you are looking for an answer. Don’t just stick them on hold without asking them. Some customers prefer to be involved in the research process and can even help instil trust in an agent.
  • Don’t leave customers hanging. One thing I’ve learnt from working in call-centres is that there are occasions when you need to pop someone on hold for a longer period in the event of a complex query, but don’t forget they are the ones on the receiving end of the dreadful hold music. Get back to them now and then and keep them updated throughout.

‘Please calm down’

Nothing adds fuel to the fire more than the well-intended words “please calm down”. You can test it on your parents’, better halves’ or children – no one ever calms down. In fact, normally the opposite ensues.  That is because, on the receiving end, it is loosely translated as – ‘I don’t care’ or ‘it’s not worth the hassle’. Even if the situation strongly benefits from the customer calming down and letting you solve the problem – these words are like a red rag to a bull. No matter what your intentions are, “calm down” sounds patronising and dismissive.

We suggest

  1. Wait it out. Let the customers speak (or even shout) at first. Now we know it isn’t pleasant, but it generally helps them to purge their post ‘on-hold’ frustrations. You could even throw a little peppering of empathy in there, like ‘sure’ and ‘I see’. This helps the customer to understand that you are listening but don’t over-egg it as this comes across as disingenuous.
  2. Don’t be impatient and try to interrupt or explain yourself. Sooner or later the customer will most likely calm down and be more inclined to hear you out.

‘I understand how you feel’

Maybe this is true, but be honest it isn’t always. Say a customer has missed their plane and is currently stranded; they aren’t going to appreciate ‘understanding’ from an agent with an hour to go until their end of shift. It is likely going to tip said customer over the edge.

We suggest

Even if you can 100% relate to a customer’s experience, they simply don’t care. Make them feel understood rather than letting them know you can relate.  It seems like a good intention to be supportive and empathetic, but it can backfire. Instead of ‘understanding’ a customer, acknowledge and appreciate their concern and anger. Repeat the issue using their words and be ready for them to correct you, even if you are quoting what they said verbatim.

‘I hope this email finds you well’

Despite this phrase being a common way to open a business conversation, hardly anything sounds more insincere and robotic. Especially if the email is coming from someone, the recipient doesn’t know. And what if they aren’t well at all at the moment? Not a good start, is it?

However good the intentions, it missed the mark.  Using a greeting like ‘I hope this email finds you well’ is supposed to make correspondence look more personal, but can often fail to make an impact. It comes across as fake and spammy, not unlike email subjects of the ‘Last chance…’, ‘Don’t miss that….’, or ‘Your online voucher is waiting’. It looks like it was written by a bunch of zombies for zombies. It’s as generic and unconvincing as a ‘women laughing alone with a salad bowl’ [Insert your stock image of choice].

We suggest

Be genuine or don’t walk that path at all. Put yourself in a customer’s shoes.  They are likely to think – ‘if you don’t know me, don’t pretend you care about me’. If you have to use pleasantries, save them for the end of the email and say the most important things first.

‘Your call is important to us’

This also happens to be one of the most common answers to the question ‘what statement makes you roll your eyes immediately?’ Add another 20 minutes on hold to that (which of course never happens in your contact centre), and the result is one furious customer even before you get the chance to say anything. After all, we have all been on the receiving end of this.


What your call is important to us translates as to customers

  1. If you need to hang up, it’s cool.
  2. Your call is important to us. Please enjoy the 40 minutes flute solo.
  3. Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line until your cold, dead, corpse turns to fossilised bone and archaeological fragments.
  4. Your call is important to us. LOL – just kidding.
  5. Your call is important to us. Please stand on the line until your call is irrelevant.

We suggest

Scrapping those words and thinking of a better way to encourage your customers to visit the website.  Do you offer multi-channel customer service?  Are you in their channel of choice.  If not, we suggest you take a look at investing in this area rather than over – using this little phrase.  Word of mouth and a good usable online customer service offering could help you reduce some of those calls to customer services.

Last but not least – Friendly yet professional

Sometimes it’s not WHAT you’re saying but HOW you’re saying it. According to CSI Software report, 65% online customers prefer casual tone to formal, and agents often pick up on that and fall into the trap of being too friendly.  However, the game changes when customers’ requests are denied. That casual tone suddenly becomes annoying to 78% of customers, negatively affecting their satisfaction. That indicates that in a frustrating situation, customers get more sensitive to agents’ tone which is something agents should keep in mind. That also applies to using emoticons, smiley faces and informal words such as ‘cool’ or ‘nope’.

We suggest

Keep it friendly yet professional.  Smile as you talk and use an empathetic tone, don’t use jargon and speak in layman’s terms, but don’t over step the mark.  Keep those chats about the football scores, summer holidays, etc. to a minimum as they may come back to bite you in the derriere should a problem arise.