27 Things You Should Never Say to Customer Service
Be polite and mindful when you're speaking to customer service representatives.
Emotions tend to run high during interactions with customer service representatives, and tensions have only risen during the stressful times we live in. Whether you're calling a rep or approaching someone in a store, chances are that you have a problem you want them to help resolve—and when there is no quick solution, it can be easy to overreact and say things you don't mean. Though you may be tempted to make threats and spew harsh four-letter words, doing so ultimately only makes matters worse. To help you keep calm and get the help you need, we've rounded up the 27 things you should avoid saying or doing during interactions with customer service reps, according to customer service experts. And for more phrases to avoid, learn the 25 Things You Should Never Say to a Retail Cashier.
"You know, you people…"
Though a customer service rep works for the company that's frustrating you, avoid conflating that individual with their organization. After all, whatever is bothering you isn't directly their fault, and blaming them won't help you in the long run. Specifically, Dane Kolbaba, founder of Watchdog Pest Control, cautions against "using 'you' or 'your' when referring to mistakes the company (or a previous representative) made."
"If they're personally insulted for an issue they had no direct hand in, it's completely human to feel less helpful, and these representatives are no different," he says. You're better off trying to ally yourself with the person trying to help you so you can solve the issue together.
"I'm calling because I'm angry."
Usually you're calling customer service because something is not working or is frustrating you. However, conveying that to the person on the other end of the line within seconds of greeting them might not be the wisest tactic.
"When you're calling customer service, chances are you're annoyed because a product or service isn't working properly and there might have been a long wait time on the phone to boot," says Kolbaba. "When you do finally get someone, it's completely understandable if you sound angry; however, make sure you're not directing your anger to them, as this would very likely make them feel defensive, and sets the tone of the call to 'hostile' for both parties." And for things you shouldn't say to people a lot closer to you, discover 25 Things Parents Should Never Say to Their Kids.
"And I also hate this about your product."
If you've been dealing with an issue for a while or have found it to be especially frustrating, it might be tempting to open up the floodgates once you find someone who is willing to listen to you. But going on and on about your issue rather than trying to find a solution is a waste of everyone's time and is likely to lead the rep to take you less seriously.
"When you're communicating what the issue is to the representative, know that they're taking notes and paying close attention so they can get to the root of the problem," says Kolbaba. "The more you say, the more information they have to process, so whenever possible keep things simple and short."
"Your company screwed up, so you better fix this."
That customer service rep is not there to be a punching bag. Even if the company you are calling messed up, that does not mean you can take your anger out on the rep trying to help you sort things out.
"Any form of abuse (e.g. verbal, emotional, etc.) should be completely avoided," stresses Sarkis Hakopdjanian, director of strategy for marketing consultancy The Business Clinic, which specializes in employee training services. "These are human beings that are trying to do their jobs as best as they can. Sometimes a customer is upset about something another employee did, or about a company policy, and they unfortunately take it out on the rep trying to resolve their problem."
Kindness is not just the more decent approach, but it is also far more effective at motivating customer service representatives than bullying ever could be. And for more thoughts that should stay in your head, check out these 21 Things We All Think But Should Never Say.
"I'm taking my business elsewhere!"
While this might seem like the ultimate trump card, threatening to pull your business is rarely as effective as it might feel in the moment. For one thing, this is all too often an empty threat—because as inconvenient as a company may be to work with, finding a new vendor is usually even more inconvenient. For another, the rep doesn't care as much as you think they do. "They are likely an employee on an hourly wage that's just doing their job," says Hakopdjanian.
"Is there someone there who speaks better English?"
"Some companies outsource their customer service departments to other countries," says Hakopdjanian. "Many companies also hire first-generation immigrants that may have an accent. Unfortunately, some customers will discriminate against other people based on their ethnicity. If a customer service rep was hired by a company, speaks English well, and has a good understanding of the company's products, they're perfectly qualified to help solve a customer's problem or process their transaction. There's no need for racial discrimination."
"You're not listening to me."
Sometimes the person on the other end of the line doesn't immediately understand the issue that you are having. However, that does not mean they are not listening to you or that repeating yourself in a more agitated tone will resolve anything.
"We understood you the first time—trust me, we did," says Drew DuBoff, a growth strategist and outsourcing expert who manages customer service for major financial advisor bloggers. "You're just getting heated for no reason. Instead, try listening to the response and ask a clarifying question." And for more behaviors that aren't helping things, ditch these 23 Rude Things You Didn't Realize You're Doing Every Day.
"What do you mean I can't…?"
"This question is usually useless to ask because customer service representatives don't control the rules. They just enforce them," says DuBoff. "If your response to not being eligible for a refund is, 'What do you mean I can't get a refund if I no longer can afford the program?' then you should probably read the refund policy in advance and be an informed buyer."
Trying to understand these policies will allow you to get the rep's help in finding wiggle room within them.
Sometimes the right curse word feels like the only answer in a particularly contentious or frustrating situation. But "using profanity, curse words, or expletives do not help your case," explains DuBoff. "In fact, they communicate to the customer service representative that you're aggravated and that you'll be hostile to deal with."
He explains that reps will often respond by giving the customer time to cool off, which might mean waiting several hours (or even several days) to respond or just ignoring the customer altogether, leaving them with the same issue that made them so angry to begin with.
"These customer service reps are human beings doing the best job they can," adds Hakopdjanian. "Swearing at them never motivates them to work faster or try harder. It's actually counterproductive. When a person is being yelled at or bullied, they're less motivated to want to help and may even look for ways to be firm with the company's policies."
"Isn't the customer always right?"
This cliché still gets trotted out every so often, usually by customers who are in the wrong.
"Customers are not always right," writes Alexandra Sakellariou on her list of "Awful Things Customer Service Workers Know to Be True." "The customer is more than often mistaken or confused. Whether they misread the price tag of a product or don't understand the small print of your return policy, whenever a customer is unhappy, it generally has to do with a miscommunication or error on their end." And for more useful content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
"Let me speak to your manager."
This line tells the person on the other end, "You aren't going to be able to help me." And while sometimes the manager can do more than the person you are speaking with, saying this also has the potential to backfire.
"This will immediately make the agent you're speaking with uneasy," says Ollie Smith, serial entrepreneur and CEO of energy comparison site EnergySeek. "If the manager does show up, they will develop a negative opinion of you before they speak with you and will be less inclined to go the extra mile to resolve your issue."
Instead, find a way to get the rep themselves to suggest escalating the call if needed. For example, ask, "What other options do we have to fix this?" or "Is there anyone else who might be able to help us?" Approach it as a collaboration rather than a confrontation.
"I'm going to bash your company online!"
Threatening to bash a company online may seem like the perfect fear tactic to get a customer service rep to do exactly what you want. But more often than not, your customer service rep isn't really "worried" about your threat.
"Consumers are drunk with the power of the internet and social media, and they vastly overestimate its power in the case of a simple customer service disagreement," writes customer service trainer Adam Toporek on his blog Customers That Stick. "Online threats are a dime a dozen. For the most part, one online comment often doesn't even rate."
"I'm going to sue you."
If things go really badly with a customer service rep or if you're particularly upset about an inaccurate charge and are unable to resolve it, threatening to sue can sometimes seem like an attractive option—or at least, it might give you a sense of power during your exchange. But in most situations, doing so is not a great idea.
"Threatening legal action won't necessarily have the impact you intend," says Teel Lidow, an attorney and founder of the consumer claims service Radvocate. "Companies have legal departments to handle actual legal actions. Raising the possibility of a lawsuit is a good excuse for an individual customer service representative to say, 'Not my problem,' and end the conversation."
"I'm going to make you pay for this!"
Avoid getting so riled up with a customer service rep that you resort to threatening physical violence. Not only can they report your threat, but you can also be certain that they will no longer be willing to help you.
"In the vast majority of circumstances, a physical threat should never be tolerated," writes Toporek. "Once a physical threat is levied, the conversation is over."
"I won't pay that!"
You might be upset when you get your cable bill and see a charge on there you're convinced must be a mistake. But starting your customer service call by saying you won't pay the charge probably isn't going to help your efforts to get that cost removed.
"In most cases, the individual customer service representative doesn't gain anything if you do or don't pay," says Lidow. "These companies aggressively pursue unpaid bills—they won't hesitate to send you to a collections agency or hit your credit report, even if you claim the bill is wrong."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
Sometimes what seems like a defective product or bad service is just confusion on your part, but that's hard to realize when you're caught up in a fit of frustration. Before you accuse a customer service rep of not understanding your situation, consider that they speak with many people who use their products and services daily, and therefore might have some insight that you do not.
For example, one Reddit user offered up a particularly hilarious experience they had while working at a supermarket. A customer came in angry about the terrible shrimp she had purchased that disgusted her guests and was even rejected by her dog. "She comes back about five minutes later and said that she spoke with someone at the counter, who evidently put her in her place," wrote the Redditor. "She had purchased fresh, uncooked shrimp that she thought was precooked. She just plopped it out on the table and served it. Raw, uncooked shrimp."
"How hard can your job be?"
When you're frustrated, it can be tempting to try and make the customer service person you're speaking with feel small by insulting the work they are doing. That was the experience one Reddit user who works at Chili's described in a thread about angry customers.
When a customer was furious that the restaurant did not have his order, he started asking offensive questions like "How hard is your job?" "How could you screw up?" and "What is wrong with you?" The Chili's employee asked him to say what he ordered and "as soon as he got to the ahi tuna salad, I told him with the straightest face I could muster that he had ordered from the Outback next door. He said nothing, not even an apology and just turned around and walked out. I still get a nice laugh about it today."
"Can you believe this idiot?"
When a customer service rep puts you on hold, you might not be able to hear them, but they can certainly hear you. Don't believe us? Just check out some of the comments on this Reddit thread asking customer service reps to express the things that annoy them about customers. "If I 'put you on hold' and you don't hear music, I'm actually just muted," one user revealed. "I can hear ALL the **** you just said about me."
"Just forget it."
While you might get to the cash register and change your mind about buying a product, leaving multiple items behind for the person up there to handle is not going to make you any friends at the store.
As one customer service rep vented on Reddit, "I've actually had a customer come in, I work graveyard at a pharmacy, and spend an hour loading her cart with stuff … She said she left her card in her car and she'd be 'right back.' I never saw her again."
Another emphasized that even worse is just leaving the item somewhere random in the store, requiring the employees to find it and then put it away. "If you're not going to get something, just hand it to the cashier and say you don't want it," they wrote. "Don't hide it in the candy rack, especially if it's something like ground beef."
"No, I can talk now."
You might be perfectly comfortable calling customer service from your local bar where people are talking loudly, there's a live band playing, and patrons are shouting drink orders. But that's not particularly conducive to solving your issue.
"The biggest pet peeve of our customer service agents is when people call in, and they are in an extremely noisy environment," says Sean Pour, cofounder of car-purchase site SellMax, which handles thousands of inbound calls daily. "For example, if your dog is barking constantly in the background or you have a baby crying very loudly, it makes it much harder on the customer service rep. When you make someone's job more difficult, they usually don't do as good of a job." Try only reaching out to customer service reps when you're in a suitable—and quiet—environment.
"Let me also tell you about my…"
Just because the person on the other end of the line asks how you're doing doesn't mean they want to hear every detail of your day. A rep's job is to be friendly, and their cordial greeting isn't an invitation for you to fill up their time with personal details unrelated to the issue about which you called.
"Sometimes customers start rambling on about details that are completely irrelevant to their business transaction," says Hakopdjanian. "Unfortunately, many people are lonely, so sometimes having a conversation with a customer service rep may be one of the few forms of social contact a person may have." To be polite, save the personal stories, and let the rep move on to their next call or customer in a timely fashion.
A few decades ago, calling a customer service rep "honey" may have been thought of as charming—but times have changed, and it's more likely to come across as condescending or creepy (especially if it's a man speaking to a woman).
"I would advise avoiding pet names like 'hon,' 'baby,' and 'sweetie,'" says Emma Rodbro, head of the customer success team at Seniorly.com. "Regardless of gender, I have found it makes a team member feel they aren't being taken as seriously as they should be."
"You have a sexy voice."
Feel free to compliment a rep on the job they did or the help they provided. Just be careful not to cross the line into more personal territory, as this could make things more awkward and uncomfortable. Specifically, "do not tell someone that their voice sounds nice," says Pour. "We get a variation of that a lot where they are essentially flirting on the phone, and it's a bit awkward."
"What time do you get off work?"
Similarly, Hakopdjanian says that sometimes a customer service rep's friendliness gets mistaken for flirting. "At the very least, it makes the situation unnecessarily uncomfortable," he notes. "At the very worst, it makes the rep feel unsafe or in danger, especially if the customer doesn't respond well to rejection."
"Yes, but there's also this…"
Individuals in the service industry deal with tons of customers every hour, and in just a few short moments, they have to learn about the issue you are having and determine the next steps to take. That's complicated enough without you lobbing two or three or more issues at them simultaneously.
"Break down each issue," urges Kolbaba. "If you have more than one issue or reason you're calling about, break them down into separate chunks of information so the representative can take notes more accurately. If you approach it with the mentality of 'let me help you help me,' you will have the representative's gratitude and it would make for a much smoother and efficient process."
While you want to avoid overloading a customer service rep with information, you also have to be wary of not giving them the full picture. "Saying too little might leave them to make guesses or assume things," says Kolbaba. "While a seasoned agent will know what to ask and probe, some might make assumptions and offer solutions that might have worked except for a little additional piece of information that would then change the solution entirely."
"Everything is perfect!"
While you should treat any customer service rep with respect and decency, it's also important to avoid being too polite to the extent that you fail to fully express your preferences or opinions about the product or service the rep is offering.
"In the end, if you do not want our help, it is best to be straightforward," says Rodbro. "We won't be upset if you are honest. Being too polite and trying to say the right thing when all the while you just want to hang up the phone—that is the worst."