THINK Contributor

The 13 words you never use when replying to a customer

By , October 18, 2016

With each passing day, interactions with customers move from private (phone and email) to public (social media, review sites, forums). Research I conducted for my new book, Hug Your Haters, found that about 60% of all customer complaints in the United States are via phone and email, but that the shift to online, public complaints is happening very quickly.

This means that customer service is increasingly a spectator sport. With each customer interaction that plays out in these public platforms, your company not only has to manage the expectations of the original customer in question, but the emotions and perspectives of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of other customers and prospective customers bearing witness.

That’s why it is more important than ever before to be mindful not just of what your company says to customers online, but HOW it is said as well. Minor shifts in word choice can mean the difference between a great customer interaction and an unruly, offended mob.

Here then are the 13 Words You Should Never Use When Replying to a Customer, grouped into three categories of potential trouble. 

Words That Lack Humanity


When using the word “our,” the person replying to the customer is speaking on behalf of the collective business. This lacks humanity and a personal touch. It is much better to use “I” and “me” instead of “our” and “we.”


There may be perfectly sound reasons why your business handles certain situations in a particular way. But telling customers that those circumstances are based on a “policy” sounds inflexible and uncaring.


Too formal, not human, and totally unnecessary. “Per our records…” is not a warm and friendly way to address an upset customer – or even a 
happy customer!


The customer doesn’t care about the org chart. When using “department” in a reply, it emphasizes the operating structure of the company, which is unnecessary and not something relevant to the customer.

Words That Diminish the Customer


Don’t reply with “It seems you might have had a bad experience” because “seems” is a word used when trying to interpret or make sense of something. It is clear that the customer had a bad experience because they complained about it. Better phrasing is “I am sorry about the bad experience you had.”


This is an unnecessary limiter, and while not deemed offensive in most cases, it can rub customers the wrong way. “I just called to say I’m sorry” is a good song lyric and a decent customer response. It would be better as “I called to say I’m sorry.”


This one may seem harmless, but “misunderstanding” emphasizes that somehow the customer made an error or was unable to fully grasp key information. “Misunderstanding” is often used as a polite way of saying “you didn’t listen or read well enough.” Don’t make that mistake.


“We’re sorry IF you were disappointed in your stay with us” is common phrasing. The company already knows the customer was disappointed – that’s why they left a negative comment or review. Much better phrasing is “Your stay was less than perfect. I’m so sorry that happened.”

Words of Argument and Avoidance


The customer may not be right. The customer may be completely wrong. Regardless, talking about whether or not it was the business’ “fault” or the customer’s “fault” sounds defensive and off-putting.


Similar to “fault,” any time a business uses the word “blame” in a reply to a customer, it immediately sets up a counterproductive right vs wrong scenario.


The ultimate, wishy-washy qualifier that is often used in excuses in combination with “policy” and related terms. Don’t say, “We’d like to offer you a refund, but our policy prohibits us from doing so.” Instead say, “I cannot give you a refund. I can offer you other compensation instead.”


When used in a reply to a customer, “try” sets up an incomplete, open-ended sequence of events such as, “We’ll try to do better next time.” Follow Yoda’s advice: do or do not. There should be 
no “try.”


Similar to “try” and often used in the exact same way. “We’ll consider your suggestions…” can easily be interpreted as dismissive and insincere.

Jay Baer is the world’s most retweeted person among digital marketers. He is a renowned business strategist, keynote speaker and The New York Times best-selling author of five books who travels the world helping business people get and keep more customers. Jay has advised more than 700 companies since 1994, including Caterpillar, Nike, Allstate, The United Nations and 32 of the FORTUNE 500. He is the founder of Convince & Convert, a strategy consulting firm that helps prominent companies gain and keep more customers through the smart intersection of technology, social media, and customer service.

Jay Baer is a paid contributor to THINK Marketing.

Please note that DISQUS operates this forum. When you sign in to comment, IBM will provide your email, first name and last name to DISQUS. That information, along with your comments, will be governed by DISQUS’ privacy policy. By commenting, you are accepting the IBM commenting guidelines and the DISQUS terms of service.