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“That’s Not My Department” and 10 Other Phrases Customers Hate

You have a problem. You call the phone number listed on the company’s website. You wait on hold for what seems much longer than the ten minutes they said you would be holding. You finally get to a customer service rep. You tell your story and the customer service rep responds, “I’m sorry, that’s not my department.” Then you’re transferred to someone else and the “game” of holding and telling your story starts all over again.

This has happened to many, if not all of us. I have good news! Since customer service has become a center of attention for most companies (even though some still don’t get it right), “That’s not my department” is being heard less and less. That said, there are still plenty of other phrases and words we, as customers, hate to hear. Here’s ten more:

  1. “You’re wrong.” Customers hate to be told they’re wrong.
  2. “I wasn’t here when that happened. It’s not my fault.” Customers don’t care whose fault it is, they just want someone to help.
  3. “I’ll get the manager, but he’ll tell you the same thing.” Why don’t we wait and see?
  4. “We’re a little busy now.” What, too busy to take care of your customer?
  5. “The person you need to talk to is on vacation and won’t be back for a week. Call back then.” Customers hate to wait. Why isn’t there someone to cover for a person who everyone probably knew was going to be on vacation?
  6. “We can’t do that.” My dad always said, “Can’t means ‘won’t try.’” Customers want to see you at least make an attempt to help them.
  7. “We won’t do that.” Almost the same as can’t, but more emphatic. Still, make the attempt to find a solution.
  8. “Your call is very important to us. The wait time is 45 minutes.” Apparently, the call is not really that important.
  9. “You’ll have to…” Customers hate being told “you have to…” Find a way to make it easy on them.
  10. “No!” Does anyone like to be told no?

This list is by no means complete. There are plenty of other words and phrases people say that upset customers, cause them to lose confidence, and may ultimately cause them to leave and never come back.

So, here’s a little homework assignment. Share this article with your team, then sit down and talk about which of these phrases might be in your vocabulary – and banish them. Develop better responses. For example, what else could you say instead of “It’s not my department” that won’t upset a customer? True, it may not be your department, but what you say and how you get that customer to the right person will make or break their confidence in you and your company.

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer to determine the best way to respond. A customer-friendly response will comply with a modified Golden Rule: Say unto customers as you would have customer service professionals say unto you.

Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert, award-winning keynote speaker, and New York Times bestselling business author. For information, contact 314-692-2200 or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs, go Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVIII, Shep Hyken)

    • Good one, Melissa! That’s someone’s somewhat humorous way of saying, “Can’t help you.” We’ll add that one to the list.

  1. Saroj Pathak says:

    Thank you for sharing the conscise list. All these aspects play significant role and provides competitive edge to the Organisation over period of time.

    One of the other key element is honoring the commitment made on time in full, maybe for a call or a scheduled service etc and apologising the customer with cliche statmements…total turn have missed the bus already!

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