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Don’t say this to an irate customer, either Add to ...

Last week, a short item about the two words you should never say to an irate customer was published on the Globe Careers website and it drew a huge response from our readers. Obviously, this struck a chord – with people who were customer service representatives and with those who have had to deal with customer service agents. Of course, all the expletives we expected came to mind, but we can’t publish those.

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There are lessons in leadership in all of this: In how you need to train your customer service reps to handle worked-up consumers, and what your company should change to deal with the public more effectively. All of us have had to deal with customer reps at some point, and it can be the most frustrating situation imaginable. When people buy something, they want it to work they way it’s supposed to, whether it’s an item like a computer, or a service such as Internet access. Readers mentioned several high-profile companies by name as horrendous at customer service. I don’t think those companies would be too pleased that that’s their reputation in the real world.

But from the other perspective, customer service agents despise being yelled at by consumers, especially when it’s not their personal fault that something’s gone wrong.

So, from our readers, here are the top phrases customers hate to hear, the ones they want to hear, some advice from customer service agents, and a few fun comments thrown in.

Top phrases and situations customers hate

1. “It’s our policy.”

2. “Please hold. Your call is important to us.”

3. “I’m sorry all of our lines are busy due to an unexpected increase in call volumes.”

4. “There is no manager available here.”

5. “Our system can’t do that.”

6. “I’m sorry, but you’ve made a mistake.”

7. “It’s not my problem.”

8. “Why don’t you take your business elsewhere?”

9. “You can’t believe our tracking system.” (From a well-known shipping company)

10. “Shut up.”

11. “Grow up.”

12. Any kind of sarcasm.

13. Someone who they can’t understand.

14. Trying to sell you additional services while they wait for your information to come up on their computer.

15. When reps are patronizing.

16. Reading from a script and ending with “Is there anything else I can help you with?” when they haven’t solved the initial problem.

17. When they’re asked repeatedly for the same information.

18. Having to call back several times to try to fix the same problem.

19. Repeatedly getting mail and Christmas cards from a company you’ve sworn not to deal with.

20. Getting the runaround when trying to cancel a service; or an agent changing their tune once the customer says they want to cancel their service.

Top phrases customers like to hear:

1. “We are going to give your money back, we’ve fired the employee and made sure they never get a job in the industry again. Are you happy now?” (They were being a bit sarcastic with this one!)

2. “I apologize.”

3. “We’ll fix this.”

4. “How can I make this right?”

5. “I’m not authorized to make that decision, but I’ll transfer you to my supervisor.”

6. Letting you fully express yourself (read: rant) and then helping you.

7. “We’ll refund your money.”

8. “You called because you have a problem and I am here to assist you to solve your problem. What can I do for you?”

Top words of advice from customer service agents:

1. “I am happy to deal with any sincere customer concern, but I am not here to take abuse from anyone.”

2. Don’t make customers irate in the first place. Treat clients with respect and don’t create a host of asinine policies that are guaranteed to frustrate people. Many people will pay for simplicity, transparency and respect.

3. The really, really good agents are like a bartender: They will listen, agree and basically let a customer vent.

4. Encourage agents to hang up on customers who use language and threats that are unacceptable, and keep track of their phone numbers.

And the fun ones:

1. “Chill out, man. Nobody died. The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day!”

2. “Don’t worry … be happy.”

3. My all-time favourite, by a fellow customer service employee just days from retirement: "Tough bananas."

4. My personal favourite after an artery-bursting tirade from apopletic customer: "No."

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