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5 Things You Should Never Say on the Phone

Talk may be cheap, but when it comes to communicating with a company, it's also practically worthless.

Just ask any consumer. Anyone who has spent time on the phone with a customer service agent can tell you that promises are sometimes kept, but often not. Plus, the calls are recorded "for quality assurance purposes" but only the company has access to the tape, so there's no meaningful record of the conversation - at least from the customer's perspective.

How convenient.

I was thinking about phone trouble in light of the recent Vocalabs report that found customers were unhappy with some of the phone support they were receiving from technology companies, and specifically the automated components that route a call to the correct department (or sometimes just hang up on them).

Related: 5 Simple Things to Say to Win Over a Customer
Should companies watch what they say when they're talking with a customer? And should customers listen carefully for these red-flag phrases?

Yes, they should. Just as there are things you should never say in an email, there are also things you should never ever say on the phone. For example:

"Your call is very important to us." When this is said in person, it smacks of insincerity. When it's a recording that prompts you to "press one for billing, 2 for accounts payable, etc.," it's an outright lie. If the call were important, it would have been answered by a real person. The only worse thing: "Please listen to this message in its entirety, as our options have recently changed."

"We'll send you a refund." Promising a customer a refund or some other form of compensation is great, but unless you follow up with the offer in writing, it's completely meaningless. (Oddly, I heard from a customer service manager yesterday who says that at his company, a recorded two-way conversation with a customer trumps an email, but the question is, who has that recording?) Instead, say "We'll send you a refund, and I'm following up with an email to that effect."

"What the #$&!" Of course, using an expletive makes you and your company look highly unprofessional. But let's go a step further. Describing any part of your company's operations in an inappropriate way can have serious repercussions. Those include blaming one department for bad service, or airing your own personal grievances, as an employee. Keep it professional, or you may lose the customer. Likewise, if you're a customer and a rep gets unprofessional, you may be dealing with the wrong company.

May I have the last four of your social security number? May I have the last four of your social security number? That's no typo. I meant to say that twice. The last time I called my bank, it asked me to verify my identity three times â€" once through its automated system and then twice to a representative. That shouldn't have been necessary. The automated system should follow my call and no one should have to spell their mother's maiden name twice, especially if it's Polish, like my mother's is.

"Thank you for calling." No, I'm not saying you shouldn't ever say this. But when you've just wrapped up a difficult conversation with a customer, thanking them for phoning, or saying something like, "Is there anything else I can help you with today?" seems overly scripted, if not insincere. In any event, saying, "Thank you for calling [insert name of your company]" anytime makes you sound impersonal. Skip it.

And what if you do say any of these things. Well, remember what I said about customers not having a recording of the call. That's normally true. There are wiretapping laws that make it difficult to record a conversation.

But it can happen.

Remember this AOL customer who tried to cancel his account? Caught on tape.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things representatives shouldn't say. Which is where you come in. If you work for a company, what are some of the things you wish you'd never said by phone, or hope your colleagues never say?

And if you're a customer, what do you wish your company would put on the "never say" list?


Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He's the author of the upcoming book Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals, which critics have called it "eye-opening" and "inspiring." You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, or email him directly.
Photo: Spencer E Holtaway/Flickr
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