Call Center Etiquette: 7 Words and Phrases to Avoid

Business Articles

Your call center is the hub of your customer interaction, and it’s not an easy job.

It can be relentless and repetitive, and it’s not surprising that your call center agents will develop coping mechanisms to deal with regularly occurring queries or types of the caller.

Occasionally these mechanisms develop into habitual behaviors that are undesirable and can be damaging to the service customers receive and the reputation of the organization.

Therefore, it’s essential that you build recognition of this into your customer service training and regular coaching for agents. Here are seven words and phrases to avoid, and what to use instead:

“There’s no need to shout/get upset”

It’s a wholly subjective statement, and to say to a customer they have no need to be upset, is likely to be inflammatory.

As someone fully conversant with the organization’s policies and completely detached from the caller’s emotional state or personal circumstances, an agent may see no good reason for the caller to be distressed.

But it’s not the agent’s call to make. The customer’s subjective view may be different, and to them, there could be a valid reason to be angry or upset.

Instead, agents should offer support and empathy. This doesn’t prevent having to challenge a customer if they become aggressive or abusive, but the agent should listen and guide them gently.

If a customer is angry, let them vent their steam, while offering words of acknowledgment. If they are upset, give them time to explain, offering gentle words of encouragement. Allow agents to offer a call back after gathering information, giving them time to investigate and compose a response, and the customer a chance to calm down.

“I know how exactly you feel”

It’s good to show empathy with a caller’s situation, but it’s another thing altogether for an agent to make the assertion they know exactly how a customer is feeling. Sometimes this can be used (inappropriately) as a way for an agent to acknowledge they are listening.

But if timed badly, this may appear as though they are assuming they know the end of the story before the caller has had a chance to explain. If a caller is already emotionally charged or upset, this is likely to draw a response along the lines of “Oh, you do, do you?”

Instead, ensure agents give callers time to explain their situation, without interruption. If appropriate to display empathy, coach them to use a phrase that indicates they have listened and understood, but doesn’t assume knowledge of the caller’s emotional state, such as “I can appreciate how you would have found that frustrating.

Let me see how I can help.”


Saying “unfortunately” implies an absence of luck, which is unlikely to be an appropriate sentiment. Even if the caller does not take it this way, the word does infer a sense of regret or sadness.

It’s most often used in circumstances wherein an agent has to explain why they can’t meet a customer’s expectation and knows it won’t go down well.

The tactic is to distance themselves from ownership of the decision. Even worse is if the word is followed by “our policy/the law states,” as this could leave the caller feeling the agent considers the policy or law an unnecessary obstruction, which would be inappropriate.

Instead, train agents to bite the bullet and deliver the message straight, but substantiating it by explaining why the policy or law states what it does. If a customer understands the underlying reasons for rules and regulations being in place, they are far more likely to accept them.

“No, you’ve got that wrong”

The old adage that says the customer is always right is not true. However, no customer likes to be told that they’re wrong, and there’s no need to be as direct as to say it outright. It can be tempting to correct a caller when they have misinterpreted something, but making the customer feel belittled or undermined is not desirable.

Instead, coach agents to probe for the root of the misunderstanding, with a question such as “Can I ask what led you to believe that was the case?” From there, they can go on to correct the misunderstanding without making the customer feel silly, or risking them becoming agitated or dissatisfied.

“I’d be angry too if I were you”

This phrase is invariably used on a call that has a strong chance of becoming a complaint.

An agent will often use it to appear to be “on the customer’s side,” effectively avoiding their direct wrath.

It’s quite possible that a caller will describe a set of events that sound quite damning on the face of it, but the agent must remain detached and objective.

The agent represents the business, so making a comment that validates a customer’s belief that they have received poor service or been treated unfairly, could be problematic. Without proper investigation it’s impossible to ascertain if the organization is at fault; even if it is, it’s never advisable for an agent to use language that could infer liability.

Instead, encourage agents to take ownership, such as by saying “Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Let me take down all the facts so I can investigate further.” Knowing the agent is taking their concerns seriously will have the desired effect of defusing the caller’s anger, while not indicating any acceptance of liability until the circumstances have been investigated.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that”

Every organization has to deliver its products and services within numerous rules and limitations, which dictate things must be done in a particular way. However, there’s not much worse for a customer to be told something can’t be done.

It may be true that an agent is unable to comply with a request because either it’s not permitted or it’s outside the scope of the organization to provide the solution, but the customer needs more than to be told it can’t be done.

Instead, encourage your agents to focus on what can be done rather than what can’t.

Respond with “Our service doesn’t include that, but there are some other options that might suit you, such as …”

If there isn’t anything the organization can offer, then educate and empower agents to be able to offer external alternatives. Far from being damaging, explaining to a customer where a product or service could be sourced from outside your organization will always impress them and engender more loyalty for your own brand.


Every call center will have at least one agent who habitually uses the word “obviously” as an opener for every other sentence in a conversation. While this will often be harmless and not necessarily noticed by the caller, it is a habit that is best broken.

Things that may be obvious to the call center agent are not necessarily obvious to the caller, and if they are, it can sound even more condescending. At worst, a customer will become irritated by its repeated use and the call will turn unnecessarily sour.

The solution is simply to coach agents to stop saying it. A few doses of listening to their own calls and some sticky notes on their desk reminding them of the offending word is usually enough to wean them off.

There are few single words that are universally frowned upon in the world of customer service, but this is one of the worst.

Coach your agents on how to avoid using these seven words and phrases. Empower them to provide better quality service through a wider set of tools to use on calls, while reducing call handling times and the potential for complaints.

That’s a win-win outcome for the agent, customer, and business.

Call Centre Etiquette: 7 Words and Phrases to Avoid
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