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Customer Support 101: Things Not to Say to Angry Customers

angry customers

Customer Support 101: Things Not to Say to Angry Customers

Providing excellent customer service can be a game-changer for businesses. Lousy customer service impacts a business’s overall performance and may even lead to its failure.

According to American Express, 68% of customers say that the key to their positive service experience was a pleasant customer service representative (CSR).

However, no matter how pleasant a business’s customer service representatives are, there will still be angry customers that will reach for support.

While a company can’t avoid problems, their customer service representatives can control how to respond to customer complaints.

While saying the right words can diffuse an angry customer and settle the situation, saying the wrong words can escalate the tense situation and damage customer relations.

Therefore, it is mandatory to remind customer service representatives that they have control over what not to say to an angry customer. Below are some of the words and phrases customer service agents should avoid to annoy an angry customer further.

Words and phrases not to say to an angry customer

1. “Can you wait for a moment?”

Customers value their time, and angry customers don’t have time to wait. The last thing customer service agents want their customers to feel is unappreciated. Customers feel this way by being put on hold, and this applies to any caller, angry or not.

Agents should remember that dealing with an angry customer means dealing with a person whose judgment may be clouded by their emotions. Making them wait, especially putting them on hold, only heightens their anger.

It makes them feel like they are being ignored, especially over the phone, where they can’t see what the agent on the other end is doing.

It is essential to never leave customers on hold without giving them an idea of what is happening on the other end of the line. Customer service agents should stay on the line and explain what they are doing (while simultaneously troubleshooting the problem) to fix it. 

2. “I don’t know.”

While honesty is vital for agents to build trust with customers, saying that they don’t know the answer or solution to the customer’s problem should be avoided.

Customers reach out to customer support because they don’t know how to solve an issue, and hearing their agents say that they don’t know the answer as well can further irritate an angry customer.

It implies a lack of knowledge, even incompetence on the part of the agent. Instead of brazenly admitting ignorance, agents can say the following:

“That’s a good question, let me check with our team and update you.”

“This question is out of my expertise, but let me clarify it with our team and get back to you shortly.” or

“I’m not sure, but I’ll be happy to find out for you.”

These statements imply that the customer service agent is trying their best to provide solutions and answers to the client. 

3. “It’s not my/our fault.”

When dealing with angry customers, it is important never to point fingers. Customer service agents must remember that they are there to support and resolve their customers’ problems, no matter whose fault it is.

Instead, agents should show that they are empathetic towards the customer and their situation, and then offer solutions. Instead, they should say, “I’m sorry for this inconvenience; let me see what I can do to make things right.”

4. “It’s not my job/responsibility.” 

At the height of an angry customer’s frustration, they don’t know, nor do they care whose job it is to solve their problem; they just want someone to fix it.

Suppose the problem is beyond the customer service agent’s expertise. In that case, they should explain that someone else in their team can provide better support instead of merely saying that it’s not their responsibility. 

5. “There’s nothing I/we can do.” or “We can’t.”

Customers reach out to customer support because they expect them to have all the answers and solutions to their problems. Telling the client that there’s nothing they can do about their concern will only fuel an angry customer.

Although there may be instances where customer service agents can’t provide exactly what the customers want, they can always provide an alternative. Agents should focus on what they can do, instead of saying what they can’t and further anger their customer. 

6. “You’re wrong.” or “That’s not right.” 

Telling customers, especially angry customers, that they are wrong makes them defensive and fuels their anger more. Although it may not always be the case, customers don’t like being told that they are wrong or that they made a mistake that caused their problem.

So instead of convincing customers that they are wrong, customer service agents should focus on the solution. Use the word “miscommunication” to suggest that someone could have conveyed things wrong and then offer alternatives. 

7. “Why didn’t you…”

Customer service agents should never second-guess their customers. Asking them why they didn’t do something sounds like an accusation, making customers feel like they failed to do something and further invites them to blame.

Pointing fingers, instead of asking ‘why,’ ask ‘what,’ ‘where,’ ‘when,’ ‘how’ and ‘who’ if more information is needed to resolve the situation. 

8. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

Like asking why something wasn’t done, customers also hate it when they are told that they shouldn’t have done something. After all, what’s done is done. Telling them off won’t change the circumstance they’re already in, but it will surely make them feel embarrassed and angry.

Instead of highlighting their mistake, emphasize the root cause of the problem, and immediately offer the solution.

9. “Please calm down.”

Angry customers may need to calm down, but they do not necessarily want to be told off. Telling them to calm down makes them think that the problem they are dealing with may not be as significant to the agent as it is to them.

And this can make them hit the limit of their anger. Remember, some customers call for support just to vent out their frustrations. Customer service agents need to listen and show them patience, empathy, and understanding of the situation. 

10. “Let me speak.” or “Listen to me.”

The foundation of excellent customer service is listening to customers about their needs or problems to provide solutions. Cutting off angry customers can imply that the agent is not taking their situation seriously or with less gravity than the customer.

Again, let the customers finish speaking before answering or asking another question. Encourage them to keep talking with brief verbal prompts to let them know that they are being heard and that their concerns are valid. 

11. “It’s not a big deal.”

Never tell a customer that their concern is not a big deal, no matter how minor it is. It may not be a big deal to customer support agents because it’s their expertise, but it may be a big deal to the customer seeking help. Customers would often opt to solve problems on their own if they can.

Calling in for support often means that they think the situation is severe enough to be taken in customer support’s hands to be resolved. Instead of saying that it’s not a big deal, just listen to them and provide solutions to their concern. 

12. “That’s against our policy.”

While policies are made to keep a company running smoothly when customers complain, they don’t want to hear your rules and regulations. Customers call to solve their predicament as soon as possible, and explaining the company’s policy can’t solve their problems.

Instead of hiding behind the word ‘policy,’ use the word ‘guidelines’ while explaining the situation. This makes customers feel that these guidelines are flexible for consideration of their situation. 

13. “So, what do you want me to do?”

Customer support should never ask their customers what they want them to do. This implies the customer service agent is helpless in the situation at hand. It also puts the thinking process on the customer’s hand.

It may also result in a customer response or request that the agent can’t provide. Instead, offer suggestions that can help in the customer’s situation. This makes them feel that they are not the only ones actively trying to resolve their problem. 

14. “Please bear with us.”

When angry customers call for support regarding products or services they paid for, a customer service representative should never make excuses. While it’s true that problems are out of a customer service agent’s control, it is their responsibility to find a solution.

Don’t ask them to bear with the problem. Instead, apologize and fix it. If it can’t be resolved, own up to it and give the customer compensation or a refund.

15. “I’m sorry, but…”

The last item on the list of what not to say to an irate customer is an inauthentic apology. Being apologetic may seem a good idea to diffuse an angry customer, but saying “Sorry” will not fix anything.

And while apologizing for the mistake means that a customer agent is taking responsibility for the situation, following it with the word ‘but’ nullifies the essence of the apology since and invites the start of an argument. Instead, say, “I apologize for…” and immediately offer a solution. 

In summary, never offend your customers by undermining the gravity of their concerns. Remember that they are already angry, and questioning their integrity will only fuel their anger and increase your frustrations.

Keep in mind that they call to find solutions to their problems and not for an earful of dos and don’ts.  

While it is necessary to remember what you should not say to an angry customer, it is more important to remember the purpose of customer support. That is providing solutions and answers to your customer’s problems and concerns. 

Roland Francis Dacillo
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