Published on 5th August 2014 by Gemma Harding

Providing good customer service is one of the most underrated aspects of business. Some companies spend far more on their marketing and PR campaigns than they do on enhancing customer experience. However, while a customer is unlikely to abandon your business on the strength of a single poorly pitched ad, a frustrating phone call may be all it takes for them to take their business elsewhere.

Customer service calls are typically the first point of contact between your brand and your customers. As such, it’s critical to handle them correctly, whether you deal with them in-house or outsource to an external contact centre.


Phone etiquette faux pas to avoid during customer calls.


1. Inconsistency. It’s important that agents receive proper training so that the message they deliver about your brand is on target and consistent in its language and tone. How you choose to address customers as a brand will depend a little on your type of business. For example, a youth-targeted fashion brand can probably address customers using more casual language than a Michelin Star restaurant, where the same treatment could end up offending someone. Matching the service with customer expectations is key.

2. Inappropriate language. Customers hate being talked down to on the phone, so make sure your agents never use condescending language or a tone that is too forceful when handling a call. Ideally, your agents should know the damage it can do to utter the words “You owe”, “you must” or “if I were you” to a customer. Make sure you create a company handbook banning these and other inappropriate phrases, and condoning more appropriate language instead.

3. Over-scripting. While it’s important to spell out to agents concrete examples of inappropriate language, it’s good not to be too prescriptive in what they can say. Customers tend to hate stilted conversations with agents who are obviously relying on a script. That’s hardly surprising, as every customer call is different, so a script can’t possibly account for every variation. Providing agents with proper training in soft skills and problem-solving is far better than scripting everything to avoid mistakes.

4. Unintelligibility. If you’re going to outsource customer calls to an offshore centre, make sure that your agents’ knowledge of spoken and written English is the best it can be. Forcing customers to repeat things over and over simply because an agent can’t understand an accent or idiom is guaranteed to wind them up. Never hire an agent with insufficient English skills and ensure they receive additional cultural, linguistic and elocution training so that they can understand someone the first time.

5. Long IVRs. When a customer calls, they usually know who or which department they want to be connected to. It can be very annoying, then, to have to listen to several minutes of recorded messages and press a vast array of buttons to be put in touch with the right person. Try to keep your IVR system as succinct as possible and avoid lengthy recorded explanations. If your customers want more information, they’ll ask for it.

6. Too much security. Businesses that hold customer information should beware of falling foul of the Data Protection Act. However, there’s a balance to be struck between checking that people are who they say they are and annoying your customers unnecessarily. So unless you’re a bank or financial institution, you probably don’t need to get customers to confirm their date of birth, mother’s maiden name and the first pet they owned every time they call. Their name, address and account number will probably suffice.

7. Stonewalling. The recording of a Comcast customer service call that recently went viral was an excruciating example of stonewalling – when an agent does everything they can to delay or prevent the customer from getting what they want. In the case of the Comcast agent, that was trying to stop the customer cancelling his cable subscription. Of course, the customer cancelled anyway and a storm of bad publicity rained down on Comcast. Good customer service is about doing everything within reason to deliver what the customer wants, not doing everything possible to secure what the company wants. Make sure your agents understand this.

8. Interrupting. Cutting off a customer in the middle of an explanation – however long-winded – is just plain rude so make sure your agents bite their tongue until it’s their turn to speak. Although this may result in longer calls and less individual calls handled by individual agents, it will pay off for your business in terms of more satisfied customers. Of course, providing verbal cues – “I see”, “okay” and so on – is not the same as interrupting. In fact, these are essential for engaging with the customer, otherwise they might think they’ve been disconnected or hung up on.

To provide the best possible customer experience, get feedback from your own customers on their personal pet peeves – and do everything in your power to avoid them! A customer that puts the phone down with their call professionally handled and satisfactorily resolved is likely to remain loyal to your brand. Patronise, interrupt, stonewall or otherwise annoy them and they’ll probably never call back.