Have You Uttered a Forbidden Phrase?

Have You Uttered a Forbidden Phrase?

Are you looking to expand your customer base or pick up accounts to replace the ones you lost? While you’re focusing on what you’re doing to bring in more business, you also may want to consider what you’re saying.

“More business is lost to poor service and poor treatment than to poor product,” said Nancy Friedman, a specialist in customer service training and speaker at an educational session at the 2017 ISSA/INTERCLEAN® North America Trade Show and ISSA Convention in Las Vegas, NV. She counsels her trainees to never say the five phrases below:

1. I don’t know.

Instead, say, “Gee, that is a very good question. Let me check and find out. By the way, when do you need this information.”

Even if you can’t find the information the customers are seeking, be sure to let them know. “You can say, ‘Mr. Jones, I searched but I was not able to find the answer to your question,’” Friedman suggested.

2. I can’t do that.

Customers sometimes make difficult or even impossible requests. For the difficult ones Friedman suggests saying, “That’s a toughie. Let’s see what we can do.”

For the downright impossible requests, try, “I wish we could. It’s just not an option we have.”

3. I’ll put you on hold.

No one likes to be told you are going to place then on hold. Instead, ask if they wouldn’t mind being put on hold so you can retrieve information. Depending on how long it will take you to get the requested information, Friedman recommends one of the following two phrases:

“The information you need is in another room. It will take me two minutes to get it. Can you hold?”


“The information you need will take me a few hours. I can call you back today or tomorrow. Which would you prefer?”

4. You have to do this.

Just like customers don’t like to be told you are putting them on hold, they also don’t like to be told what they should do, Friedman said. Try simply saying, “We’re going to need to do this.”

5. No.

Never start a sentence with that two-letter word as customers interpret it as negative, Friedman said. Start each sentence with a positive or neutral word.

Posted On December 8, 2017

Kathleen Misovic

Associate Editor for CMM

Kathleen Misovic is associate editor for CMM. She can be reached at

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Have You Uttered a Forbidden Phrase?
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