The Top Words and Phrases Customers Use to Express their Dissatisfaction


We have already looked at the Top 25 positive words and phrases so we thought with speech analytics and emotion detection being in the spotlight, we would look at the key words and phrases that customers use to express their dissatisfaction.

This might help with agent training….

Combine the list below with the tone of the customer’s voice and you will be able to detect any disappointment or dissatisfaction.

Straight talking:

  • ‘I’m not happy’
  • ‘I’m very unhappy’
  • ‘I cannot accept this’
  • ‘I’m really angry/annoyed’
  • ‘I’m confused’
  • ‘I’m tired of..’
  • ‘I want to make a complaint’
  • ‘I want to speak to a manager/supervisor/team leader’
  • ‘I want to talk to a real person’

Soft language:

  • Ridiculous
  • Ludicrous
  • Unbelievable

Stronger condemnation:

  • Absolutely disgusting or disgraceful

Expressions of exasperation

  • ‘Oh my god’
  • ‘You must be joking’

Repeat callers:

  • ‘This is the second/third time I’ve called’
  • ‘That’s NOT what your colleague said’
  • ‘I spoke to someone last week and they said they would call me back’
  • ‘You guys promised me this…’
  • ‘I thought you said..’


  • Customers threaten to leave the organisation or cancel their contract.

How might an agent respond?

  • I can only apologise
  • Offer a gesture of goodwill
  • Offer to refer to complaints department

Thanks to Jonathan Wax of Nexidia, Adam Walton of Callminer and Garry Williamson for their help in compiling this article.

Find out how to deal with challenging customers, who uses phrases like this, by listening to the following episode of The Contact Centre Podcast:

The Contact Centre Podcast – Episode 29:

Dealing With Challenging Customers

For more information on this podcast visit Podcast – Dealing With Challenging Customers

Author: Jo Robinson
Reviewed by: Megan Jones

Published On: 10th Mar 2010 - Last modified: 25th Jan 2024
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  • “I can only apologise” is an awful expression and sounds very non commital. If something has gone wrong, then stating that you’re very sorry is the first thing that should be done and can be the most important thing that you do in the call.

    N Woolgar 11 Mar at 11:25
  • I absolutely agree with you, it is a very insincere phrase. Sadly you would be amazed at how often it occurs.

    Jonathan Wax 11 Mar at 12:38
  • It’s very easy to give a genuine apology without actually putting the blame on yourself.

    “…I’m really sorry we sent your package to the wrong address…” is an apology, but in it, you’re squarely laying the blame at your door.

    “…I’m really sorry for the inconvenience caused by the address mix up…” is a genuine apology without actually admitting it was your fault (it might not have been

    Most of the time, customers just want an acknowledgement and some genuine empathy.

    DaddyM 11 Mar at 12:48
  • I think what particularly interests me is not the verbal cues by which the client expresses their disatisfaction, but the other cues, such as tone of voice, sighing, pausing, etc. These cues are often the ones which enable you to get in there *before* the client is kicking off, and potentially resolve something before it becomes critical.

    Mark Carter 12 Mar at 11:32
  • “I can only apologise” is one of the worst phrases you can use. It diminishes the agent to the role of message taker, never use it! If someone said it to me, my reply would be “Can you transfer me to someone who can do more than ‘only’ apologise?”.

    Offering to refer to another department is also a potential minefield – does the caller need to know the internal workings of the organisation? Why not take responsibility for that call? Take control – take ownership: the agent may have to speak to another department, but do that on behalf of the caller: not only are you saving them from explaining themselves again, you are the one going back to them with a solution, and will look much better in their eyes.

    Also, be aware of long pauses in the conversation, that can often indicate that a caller is unhappy. If they take deep breaths before speaking, they can be either worked up, or are working up to something. If a caller uses the word “Listen…” that’s also a sign that something is amiss…

    Billy 13 Mar at 12:22
  • A agree wholeheartedly with all the “I apologize” comments. Don’t just say it – make it specific and sincere. One of the things I’ve said is that I can’t change what’s happened in the past but I can make the experience better starting with this call, email, etc. That puts a lot of responsibility on me to ensure that what I commit to gets done, but that’s the level of care that customers in that position deserve. Perhaps in the process something can be learned that will help change the business so it doesn’t happen to other customers.

    SteveD 24 Mar at 22:08
  • With the repeat calls, “I’ve been called a million times”, my agents respond by saying
    “I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused, I assure I will not call again.I can have you removed from our data list if that would help you?”

    This gives i-rate clients a chance to vent, feel heard and also resolve the issue. It then helps the contact center because there won’t be airtime wasted calling the same non-receptive clients again.

    Aqeelah Khan 28 Aug at 08:59
  • Yep agree with ‘Apologise’ being very neutral when dealing with complaints, and it is usually matched with a non-committal tone to boot. Callers, as some have commented, want the call to be handled personally without seeming like they are being offloaded or spoken to insincerely.

    Sean 6 Sep at 14:53
  • nice

    alfred mathews 28 Jan at 10:16
  • Dealing with complaints is the same as objection handling for sales calls – using the APAC (Acknowledge, Probe, Answer and Commit) There is no need to answer with ‘sorry’, but listening, acknowledging, asking questions to get the bigger picture, and committing by offering timescales, and ensuring that we set expectations is crucial to turning a negative journey into a positive one.

    Mike Parks 27 Jun at 12:32