Performance Communication , Practical Communication

7 Phrases to Avoid if You Don’t Want Customers Getting Fired Up

7 Phrases to Avoid if You Don’t Want Customers Getting Fired Up

the words you choose can be either water or gasoline on a customer's emotions. Choose them wisely. customersMany people don’t realize that a simple, “seemingly” innocent comment, when said to an angry customer can turn a concern or complaint into a full-blown argument.

When it comes to the words you choose, they can either be water or gasoline on the customer’s smoldering emotions.

If you’d like to be a customer service fire fighter instead of an arsonist, here are seven things you should never say to your customers.


1. Calm down

Never ask or tell customers to calm down. Doing so will only make them more angry because you’re implying they’re out of control or they don’t have a right to be upset.

2. It’s our policy

Customers don’t care about your policies. In fact, they see your policies as rules you’ve created to make your life easier and theirs more difficult. Assuming your policies are created for the good of your customers, share the RATIONALE behind the policy instead.

“Our policy requires that you fill out this form, otherwise the doctor can’t see you,” becomes, “We ask you to fill out an information form each time to ensure we have your most current insurance information, so that your benefits aren’t delayed and you’re not overcharged for services.”

It’s not to say that customers will always be thrilled with your response, but when they understand the rationale, especially if it is something for their benefit, they’ll usually be more understanding and accepting.

3. You’ll have to

If you want to see customers do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you want them to do, just go ahead and tell them they HAVE TO do something. In fact, to use a cliché, a customer will “cut off his nose to spite his face,” just to prove to you that he doesn’t HAVE TO do what you say. Instead, say, “If you…”, “Once you…”, or “When you…”.  “You’ll have to fill out this form,” becomes, “Once you fill out the form, I can help you . . .”

4. You should have

Telling customers they SHOULD have done something is basically calling them stupid for doing what they did. “Well you should have parked in the B parking lot instead of the D lot,” doesn’t exactly make me feel great when I walked all the from the D lot. Instead, you might say, “You’re right, the D lot is pretty far away. The next time you come, if you park in the B lot on Main Street, it’s a lot closer.”

5. As I told you before

If customers ask you the same question or make the same request again, it means one of two things, one- they didn’t hear you or didn’t understand you the first time, so just share the information again without making the point that you’ve already told them, or two- they didn’t like the answer they received and are looking for a better one. If you think it’s the latter, acknowledge the request, and repeat your response. “I understand you’d like a cash refund and I apologize. What I’m able to offer is a store credit or a replacement product.”

6. You’re not understanding me or You don’t seem to understand

As with #5 above, telling customers they don’t understand implies that you think they’re stupid. What if it’s you that’s just not being clear? It would be better to say, “I may not have explained that clearly. Let me see if I can explain it better.”

7. I can’t or You can’t 

Nobody wants you wasting their time telling them the things you can’t do for them and they certainly don’t want you telling them they can’t do something (see #3 above). Just tell them what you CAN do for them or about the problem, or what they CAN do themselves to resolve the issue. Instead of saying, “You can’t have an appointment today, we’re booked,” say, “Our first available appointment is tomorrow at 10 am.”


If you’d like to learn more about what you SHOULD say when interacting with customers, coworkers, and others, check out my book, Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.

– Amy Castro, The Performance Communication Blog


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Comments (2)

  1. Diane Vest
    15:14 pm

    Excellent…and applies to any job, or as pointed out, to any relationship! Thanks Amy.

      14:02 pm

      Glad you liked it Diane! Thanks for the feedback! – Amy

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