5 Things You Shouldn’t Tell a Customer On the Phone

Phone calls with customers are peculiar situations because, first of all, they’re still a pretty essential method of serving customers, even in the age of the Internet. Also, a representative of your business needs to conduct themselves a little differently than they would if they were speaking to someone in person.

We obviously have to be courteous, polite, and helpful as always, in the same way that we would be in an in-person meeting, but customers almost expect an even higher standard of service and bedside manner, as it were, when they’re on the phone with you.

Most of the time, we intuitively know what kinds of things we should and should not say to a caller; however, there are a few things that we either let slip from time to time, or don’t realize at the time that it was a mistake. What follows here are 5 things that you should avoid ever saying to a customer on the phone.

1. “I can’t help you with that.”

There are times when you seemingly reach an impasse with a customer on the phone, when you’ve exhausted all the possible solutions you can come up with to satisfy the request for which someone is calling you. It happens, but that scenario has to be approached very cautiously.

For example, someone might be looking for a certain item that you don’t sell anymore because you no longer carry that particular item. That definitely can happen, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation with the customer.

The thing is, no matter what they are asking for that you can’t solve for them, your job at that point is to keep the person engaged if at all possible, and to make it clear to them that you are still there to help them figure out a potential alternative solution. If you just say, “I can’t help you,” then you’ve pretty much extinguished the possibility of a sale, and maybe a future relationship with that customer.

2. Swearing

This one is especially touchy. In the first place, we all know that customers, themselves, are sometimes not very shy at all about cursing at you on the phone. On one hand, if they are using that language in a derogatory or verbally abusive way, then that shouldn’t be tolerated because phone representatives should never be forced to take that.

On the other hand, customers on the phone sometimes are just being casual and feel comfortable with you, which you’ll probably allow because you can tell that they don’t intend any ill will. For you, though, as the company representative, there’s really no instance when it’s acceptable to curse.

You may really want to because it feels comfortable enough with the customer, that you want to let loose a little and curse with them as you would with a friend. That’s probably not the best idea, though. It can actually backfire, when the person you thought accepted it as casual conversation decides to call back and complain that you were cursing and they were offended by it.

3. “I’m sorry; you called the wrong department.”

This is another one of those tricky scenarios that it’s really easy to handle improperly. Callers very often dial the wrong line (if you have multiple phone numbers for different departments), or select the wrong option from your call menu, in which case you’ll have to help the person to connect with the department that they actually needed.

Obviously, you’ll have to let them know that you’re not the right person they need to speak with, but the problem arises when that’s all you say and then end the conversation. It’s important that you don’t just cut them off then, and leave them to fend for themselves without any further instruction.

The best way to handle this scenario is to actually assist them with reaching the correct department or person, live-transfer them during the call if possible, and politely make sure that they connect with the other department.

4. “This is for existing customers only.”

One of the unwritten rules of phone support is that, if someone has reached you and you’re speaking to them, then you’ve got to help them to the best of your ability, no matter who it is. Let’s say that a phone representative is working in technical support, and someone calls into their line with a general sales question about your company.

If that is a question that you’re qualified to answer, then you should definitely help them with it on the spot. Otherwise, you have to at least transfer the caller to the sales department or another representative who can give them the information that they need.

The point is that it leaves a really bad taste in their mouth, so to speak, if you simply tell that caller that you can only assist current customers on the phone, and all other inquiries need to go through another support channel. The caller is usually going to get upset if you tell them that you can’t just help them, yourself, right then and there.

5. Recommending a Competitor’s Product

There are certain instances when a caller is requesting a product or service that you just don’t offer. With the best possible intentions, you might refer a customer to your competitor because you truly want to help the person to get exactly what they need.

Especially as a business owner who is well-aware of your competitors, you might even suggest them without thinking. You just have to remember that, though it might seem like a good idea at the time, recommending a competitor’s product for any reason is automatically a bad idea. While it clearly shows the customer that you’re sincere, referring them to that other business may very well mean that you’ll never see them again.

Instead of sending them away, employ some of those sales skills you have and suggest similar products or services that they might also be interested in. Your business might even have something better, even though it’s not exactly what they were requesting.

As we all know, it’s really just the general attitude and overall approach that you take with callers that makes the difference between having a successful interaction with customers on the phone, and having a conflict or negative interaction with them.

Meanwhile, after seeing the examples that we’ve presented in this article, it will hopefully give you pause before you say something like the things we’ve cited here. Of course, it’s important to be natural with callers, but at the same time, there are certain things that we should avoid saying, so that they can have the best experience possible with your business’ phone support.


Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.

Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.

Stephanie5 Things You Shouldn’t Tell a Customer On the Phone