Sound Communication: The Holdcom Blog

4 Customer Service Phrases I Hope Never to Hear Again

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Here's your disclaimer: I'm a marketer, not a customer support representative. So my opinions here are based on my experiences as an actual consumer, not as someone working in customer care. But I feel it's important to make the customer perspective visible, because it shows some common approaches that might be hurting, rather than helping, the customer experience. 

Whenever I reach out to customer support, I try to be calm, understanding, and gracious. I truly hope there is a "Customer Support Representatives Day", because these must be some of the hardest working, under appreciated, and frequently yelled at people in the world.

Really, when you're angry because something has broken and you call a support line, It's really easy to get angrier at the representative who answers the call. Some people see it as a system to be worked - phrase your questions correctly and a rep will help you, ask the wrong way and you're out of luck. Really, these reps are up against the world. The angry, frustrated, irritated, cursing, screaming world.

And they're coached to remain calm, helpful, and friendly throughout the whole process. And for the most part, they do it amazingly well. But there are times when corporate-instituted responses make some customers want to slam their foot in a door. Here are four of my pet-peeve responses, why they bother me so much, and how I think they could be changed to improve customer support - from the customer perspective. 

  1. I apologize for that. Ah - the customer service staple - apologizing without taking ownership. Well, as a customer, this might just be the last thing I want to hear when I'm having a problem. I know the representative on the line doesn't have a personal vendetta against me (at least, I hope so), so I'm not sure why she would be apologizing. What I want instead is for her to empathize. Like, "Oh wow, that's awful. I totally understand what you're going through and I'm going to work with you to fix it." Chances are, if I'm calling you with a problem, I really don't care if you're sorry or not - I care if you're going to help me fix it. (Unless it is actually the reps fault - in which case, don't say "I apologize for that." Say "I'm sorry. I messed up. Let's fix it.")
  2. I understand that you're frustrated... OK - so remember what I said about empathy? It's definitely a good thing, but don't push emotions onto a customer. Most of the time, if a rep tells me that I'm frustrated, I'm not...at least, until they tell me I am. I am, in general, a level-headed tech/customer support-caller. I understand that things go wrong. I'm not frustrated, though I might be confused or disappointed. But since support reps don't know me, they shouldn't try to (incorrectly) guess how I'm feeling. 
  3. Do you mind if I put you on a brief hold? This always makes me laugh, because what if I said yes? What would the rep do? While it may seem polite to ask, this isn't really a question. It's the equivalent of saying, "You don't mind if I put you on hold, right?" It's called a tag question - it's a statement phrased as a question, and the other party isn't expected to disagree. In this case, the customer is expected to agree to hold time, because it means the rep can figure out how to help. And while some companies do have wonderfully delightful Message On Hold programs, a better approach would be to explain to the caller why you need to place them on hold and that you'll return to the phone in some anticipated amount of time. And while I'm waiting on hold, I'd love to hear some informative hold messages and some out of the ordinary and frequently updated hold music. (I shouldn't be able to sing your music on hold at any point, really). Or maybe try this spin on hold time: I once had a tech support rep not put me on hold - instead he muted his phone and asked me to wait while he reached out to someone who could help and just give him a shout if I needed help while I was waiting. While it was kind of strange at first, it was actually very helpful.
  4. I spoke to our (specialized job function) specialist and...OH MY GOD YOU HAVE A SPECIALIST WHO CAN SOLVE MY PROBLEM? Why aren't I talking to her? Why doesn't she have a name? Is she the man behind the curtain? This is ridiculous. Yes, someone who is a specialist is probably very busy - but there's no reason why they need to be a secret. This happens to me frequently when I call tech support at a software company we use at Holdcom. I am frequently told that "Our email deliverability expert said..." when I have actually communicated with this expert previously and know him by name. And when I mention this to the representative, they don't acknowledge it. Instead, remove the curtain. If a rep needs to bring in a specialist for a difficult issue, it's more efficient and helpful for the customer to be part of the conversation whenever possible. I remember one situation where a rep was messaging a specialists with me on the phone, and the conversation went something like this:
    • REP: I'm going to reach out to one of our specialists to see if he can help you with this.
    • ME: OK. Feel free to have him call me directly. That will probably be easier.
    • REP: OK. I have him on chat now. He wants to know if you've done XYZ.
    • ME: Yes. And then I did ABC and DEF.
    • REP: He wants to know if you can do DEF again, but this time hold the red button while you do it.
    • ME: Are you sure it's not easier for me to speak to him?
    • REP: He wants to know how that that DEF red button thing went. 
    • ME: PLEASE let me speak to him. I know it's not what you usually do but don't you think it would be easier for all of us?
    • REP: Well I'm not sure if I can do that. But I'm new here so let me check.

Really. That was a real conversation. Ultimately, I was able to get in touch with the specialist personally. And guess what? He actually solved my problem.

Of course, some of these phrases are necessary ways to assuage customer concerns, although they're things I don't particularly like. What do you think? Are there any customer service phrases you'd like to kick to the curb forever? Can you explain to me why or when these phrases are useful? 

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Tags: Message On hold, customer service