Call Centre Etiquette: 15 Things You Should Never Say to a Customer

Call Centre Etiquette What Not to Say

We are regularly asked ‘what are the key do’s and don’ts of a call centre agent?’ and a major ‘do’ is making agents aware of what NEVER to say.

While agents are frequently told what to say in the form of a script, informing staff of statements that negatively influence a customer–agent is often neglected.

This is a definitive guide to call centre etiquette and what you should never say to a customer.

1. “We don’t deal with that”

If you work in sales and your current caller has a question about billing, then it’s probably true – you don’t deal with that. But this is a really negative way of wording it.

Sore throats, noisy neighbours and printer problems are the type of things we ‘deal with’. Telling the customer you don’t ‘deal with that’ makes them feel like an inconvenience and a burden.

Say instead: “It sounds like you need [X department]. I’ll just transfer you/find you the number.”

If you want to create your own “say instead” examples for statements that you dislike agents using, you can find some helpful guidance in our article: How to Create a Positive Scripting Experience in Your Contact Centre

2.“I’m just going home/I’m just going on break”

Phone on surface - call centre etiquette

Ideally, the last caller of an agent’s shift should get the same service as the first, even if it makes the agent late home.

Sadly, that’s just the way of the job. But even if you absolutely have to be out the door bang on 5pm, don’t make the caller feel like an inconvenience.

Say instead: “I just need to pass you over to a colleague. Sorry to keep you.”

3. “Can I take your Christian name please?”

You wouldn’t ask someone for their Jewish name or their Muslim name, so you certainly shouldn’t ask anyone for their Christian name.

Yet this question is still heard alarmingly often. It’s a fairly innocent mistake to make, but it shows a cultural insensitivity that always sounds unprofessional, even if the caller happens to be a Christian.

Say instead: “Can I take your first name please?”

4. “Calm down”

If a caller is shouting, it’s very likely they’re already feeling undervalued, belittled and powerless. So giving them an order is only going to fan the fire.

Say instead: “I can solve this problem for you, but only if we can discuss it calmly.”

Another way to calm down an angry customer is by using empathy to avoid fanning the fire. Find some good examples of empathy phrases by reading our article: 18 Empathy Statements That Help Improve Customer–Agent Rapport

5. “I’m new here”

call center etiquette starting block

This is a pretty understandable thing to say if you are indeed new to the job and you’re getting a bit flummoxed, but you still shouldn’t say it.

It instantly kills the customer’s confidence in you, and they’d be quite justified in asking to speak to someone else. There are plenty of ways to ask a colleague for help without making the customer think you’re out of your depth.

Say instead: “I just need to consult with a colleague. The line will go quiet for a minute or two.”

6. “If you keep shouting, I’ll hang up/terminate this call”

Much like #4, laying down the law with an angry caller isn’t wise or helpful.

There’s another issue with this phrasing too: if you actually do hang up on an angry customer, you’re just passing the problem on to a colleague. That person will usually call back, and will be even more abusive with whoever answers – which could still be you.

Say instead (just like before): “I can solve this problem for you, but we need to discuss it calmly.”

For more advice on taking phone calls from irate callers, read our piece on: Dealing with Angry Customers

But what if the customer is being abusive or swearing?

In this case, it is fair to warn the customer twice, and then terminate the call. We have produced a contact centre policy for dealing with abusive customers.

7. “Would you like to speak to a supervisor?”

Sometimes you hit a total stalemate with a customer and it seems inevitable that they’ll soon be asking for someone more senior. It’s tempting to save everyone’s time and offer to pass them straight up the chain of command, but you shouldn’t. For three reasons:

  • Your immediate superior will not appreciate it.
  • If you do this often, customers will think of you as nothing more than a gatekeeper to getting what they want and will always ask for a supervisor.
  • You should have the confidence to give a final answer yourself.

If the customer asks to speak to a manager, then of course you should oblige. But in a well-run call centre, your answer and your supervisor’s answer should be exactly the same.

Say instead: “What would you suggest for us to solve this problem for you?”

Whilst customers think that supervisors and managers are the best people to talk to, sometimes they can say the wrong things as well. Find out more by visiting our page that highlights: Five Phrases a Call Centre Manager Should Never Use

8. “I don’t know”

This is another one that can completely kill a customer’s confidence in you. No one expects you to know all the answers, but you should at least be confident and positive about finding the answers if you don’t.

Say instead: “That’s not something I know off the top of my head, but I can certainly find out for you.”

call center etiquette Neopost "I don't know alternatives"

Here’s a picture that we took of the wall art at the Neopost contact centre, which highlights helpful alternatives to “I don’t know”.

Using the phrase “I don’t know” is a strong example of a contact centre “oh no” moment. For more examples similar to this, visit our page on: The Top 10 Call Centre ‘Oh No!’ Moments

9. “Mate”

It’s good to speak naturally and have a proper conversation rather than a robotic exchange of information. But if you’re saying “what can I do for you, mate?” and “no problem, mate” then you’ve taken it way too far in the opposite direction.

Say instead: Their name, Mr X or Mrs X, is the starting point – first names can be okay, but only when you’ve judged the tone of the conversation just right.

10. “I’ll just put you on hold”

Probably the most disliked phrase in the entire customer service industry.

Putting a customer on hold is fine – everyone has to do it at some point. But ‘on hold’ is a toxic pairing of words, to which most people roll their eyes as a reflex.

Before putting a caller on hold, make sure they know why you’re doing it and roughly how long you’ll be gone.

Say instead: “I need to [do something]. I’ll be back on the line with you soon – two or three minutes at the most.”

11. “Nothing”

Dead air time’ is generally something to avoid. But just like #10, it’s fine as long as the customer knows what’s going on.

If you need thirty seconds or so just to read through something or run a calculation, make sure you’ve told the customer why you’re going silent.

No caller should ever have to say “hello?” or “are you still there?” unless they’ve just entered a tunnel.

Say instead: “This is just going to take 30 seconds or so – I’m still here, I’m just going to do some calculations.”

Matt Phil Carver

Matt Phil Carver

12. “It’s company policy”

Advisors being evasive with customers is a big problem in a number of contact centres.

An example of this would be when an advisor makes a statement like “it’s company policy”.

This statement signals that the advisor just wants to hang up on the customer, but, in truth, company policies are highly unlikely to intrude upon basic customer expectations.

We also have an article that looks at advisor habits that are irritating to customers

With thanks to Matt Phil Carver.

Sent in by our readers

13.  “Umms in conversation”

My biggest concern with phone agents is the “ummms” that happen.

“Let me, um, research that further, um, and I’ll, um, be back with you, um, in, um, 2-3 minutes.”

Thanks to Chris

14.  “Not a problem”

My pet hate is “not a problem”, which always makes me think “No one thought there was a problem, but now you mention problem …”

Far better to frame it as a positive, along the lines of “Of course I can do that for you” or “I’d be delighted to …” Latter option requires sincerity!

Use positive phrases, along the lines of “Of course I can do that for you” or “I’d be delighted to …”

Thanks to Nick

15.  “I can’t transfer you”

“I hate advisors saying I can’t transfer you, they are not answering the phone.”

This may be a result of a company policy, but it can also be due to incompatible telephone systems.

Ideally, you need to change the policy or investigate the ways that technology could allow you to transfer calls.

If this is not possible, ask the customer for their details and call them back.

Thanks to Rob

What have you done to stamp out these common phrases in your contact centre?

For more, read our piece on: The Hapless 13: Phrases That Call Centre Agents Must NEVER Say

If you have read through all of these suggestions and want more examples of positive replacements, read our article on the Top 25 Positive Words, Phrases and Empathy Statements for some helpful advice.

Originally published in 2014. Updated in February 2018.

Author: Jonty Pearce
Reviewed by: Megan Jones

Published On: 21st Feb 2018 - Last modified: 31st May 2024
Read more about - Skills, , , , , , ,

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  • “Ideally, the last caller of an agent’s shift should get the same service as the first, even if it makes the agent late home.”

    This is the kind of attitude that frustrates agents. It seems like agents are always expected to go home late to provide for customers. It’s not a one off, it happens all the time. Missed public transport makes agents get home far later than the extra time spent with customers, it makes agents miss dinner, miss getting to night college classes, all sorts of things.

    Managers, please respect your agents finishing times. We are allowed a life outside of work.

    Larisa 16 Oct at 01:53
  • Pleased to say that I only occassionally hear one of these in my contact centre (number 1). Although another one that I’m trying to stamp out is the use of the word ‘unfortunately’!

    Larisa – That’s why the writer suggested that the phrase that can be used “I just need to pass you over to a colleague. Sorry to keep you.”

    Alison 16 Oct at 13:05
  • In all honesty, the phone lines should be closed down around 5 minutes before the office closes in order to reduce the likelihood of being stuck on a “last minute” call.

    David 16 Oct at 16:44
  • The customer is not always right but they are never WRONG…if you need a customer to “turn on” an appliance/tv/computer it is far better to ask them to turn it off first…often then hear the service return and the call end.

    Peter V 17 Oct at 03:08
  • I agree with David. Allowing people to place a call within the last 5-10 minutes of the centre being operational is a recipe for agents stuck on calls after close time. The managers all walk out at 5 on the nose….

    Larisa 17 Oct at 14:48
  • As a manager I disagree with the statement that we will leave at 5 on the nose…

    I work the evening shift and we finish at 11pm. Quite often we will get calls that ‘run over’ but we would never think of leaving before all the advisors have finished their calls incase there are any issues and quite often I’ve handled calls that have run over by 30 minutes to let the advisors go.

    If you closed your lines 5-10 minutes before the centre closes you’re only going to generate complaints that when they called at 3 minutes to you didn’t answer the phone when you said you’d be open till the hour.

    A better solution is to either pay overtime for advisors that run over (we do that) or a better solution is to set advisors hours to five past the hour just in case – but this of course would be extra cost which for most nights would not be needed.

    Brett 18 Oct at 16:40
  • In my call center, the leaders are all gone by 5pm on the dot, usually even a few minutes early. Any calls still in progress after finishing time have to be finished with no extra pay or owed time. My job sucks.

    Larisa 19 Oct at 03:35
  • “If you keep shouting” the way it is listed, is an improper way to use an “if/then” statement, which is actually a proven customer service technique. You give them “If (the behavior you need to end) does not change, then I will need to disconnect the call.” The key is to immediately follow up with the choice statement of “It’s up to you whether or not you would like to continue.”

    If you do disconnect, apologize for being unable to help them.

    This, of course, should only be used when a caller is directing abuse toward an agent, and there are several other techniques to be used before it gets to that point.

    Seth 6 Aug at 20:46
  • I am not allowed to end a call on my job, no matter how abusive the customer is being (I work for an electric company). Sure makes it tough some days!

    Anonymous 31 Mar at 01:08
  • 6 is what I do on any swearing calls, one warning and if it continues terminate. We are here to help, they always callback and are nice to the next agent

    Anonymous 1 Aug at 20:31
  • I truly doubt anybody actually says can I have your Christian name. I have lived in the South my entire life, and I have never heard anyone say that. It sounds like somebody who has a problem with Christians wrote this article.

    Jessica 4 Mar at 21:15