Myra’s Helpful Phrases for Negotiating with Customers

Women with headsets working at a call center

Here are 13 great phrases to help you negotiate with customers you can’t afford to lose…but in cases where you don’t want to “give the store away.”

  • “We see this differently, and I am going to have to put more thought into the perspective you have shared with me. It’s helpful for me to understand how you see things. In the meantime, here is what I can do to solve the immediate problem.”

  • * “It is our company policy that we cannot pay a claim that involves consumer error. We have a responsibility to the company to uphold the integrity of our products. When a product performs as expected and has no deficiencies, we cannot take responsibility and accordingly can offer no financial assistance.”

  • “I am hearing you say you want $500 in pain and suffering. Please tell me how you arrived at that figure?”

  • “That sounds a little high.”  Note: No matter what dollar amount the customer puts on the table, just state those five words and then shut your mouth. Since most people become increasingly uncomfortable with silence, your tight lips will force the customer to say something in response. Either he or she will make a more reasonable request, or they will attempt to justify their request.

  • “This is fair and reasonable because…”

  • “I’m willing to _________ because____”

  • “As a concrete form of apology, please accept this coupon for 10% off of your next purchase with us.”

  • * “We appreciate hearing about your experience, but we cannot compensate you in this matter because you failed to follow instructions/did not read instructions/misused the product.”

  • “I understand your concern. What do you think would be fair?”

  •  “Although you might not agree with my decision, I’d like to explain it so you can at least understand.”

  •  “Let me do some investigating on my end and call you back. I’ll call you no later than tomorrow afternoon with a response.”

  • “I’ve/We’ve given this a great deal of thought, and it’s the best I/we can do. Any more and it’s not worth it for me to do the deal./Any more and this simply won’t make good business sense.”

  •  “Mr. Warren, we want to get to the bottom of this just as much as you do.”

Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches and phrases to help your employees help your customers.

How much does agent turnover cost a call center?

Q. One of our top challenges in my call center is agent turnover. Do you have any statistics on the cost of agent turnover on the call center or the company?

Myra’s answer How much does agent turnover cost a call center?

The call center industry historically deals with extremely high turnover, with some outbound and telemarketing centers experiencing rates greater than 100% annually. More typically, a service or other inbound center may experience rates ranging from 10% to 50% or more annually. According to a recent poll of 1,000 call center managers, the average turnover is 19 percent. The highest were credit card centers at 46.9 percent.

There are more than three million customer service representatives (CSRs) working in North America. This means approximately 600,000 new CSRs must be recruited and trained each year. At an estimated cost of $5,000 each to replace each CSR, agent turnover can soon become a costly business.

How can we reduce call center agent turnover?

Looking for realistic tips for reducing agent turnover in a large call center.

Myra’s answer How can we reduce call center agent turnover?

Seven practices have been identified to reduce agent turnover.

  1. Turning Managers into ‘Retention Champions’
  2. Individualising the Customer Service Representative (CSR) Experience
  3. Provide Clear and Balanced Expectations
  4. Investing in CSRs/Training
  5. A Fun Place to Work
  6. Chance of Advancement
  7. Tools to do the Job

Much success to you!

What factors impact turnover for call center agents?

Q. We are experiencing turnover levels of nearly 300% and we’re at our wits end about what to do. We’re attempting to start by identifying what factors lead to turnover with call center agents. Can you advise on factors that lead to turnover in call centers?

Myra’s answer to What factors impact turnover for call center agents?

According to Brad Cleveland of the Incoming Calls Institute, there are twelve  typical causes of call center turnover, including:

  1. Pace of effort required
  2. Sense of powerlessness or lack of control
  3. Frustration of not being allowed to do a good job
  4. Repetition
  5. Daily physical confinement (tied to their desk)
  6. Over-regimentation
  7. The feeling of being spied on
  8. The feeling of not being appreciated by others in the organization
  9. Handling complaints and problems all day
  10. Odd work hours
  11. Pay
  12. Better opportunities elsewhe

I love to answer your questions. Email your questions to me at

Help with attendance issues in call center

Q. My single most frequent and challenging issue with employees is attendance. I think your  7 Steps for Addressing Unacceptable Employee Performance (from your webinar) are brilliant and I’ll certainly use them. But while we’re on the subject of attendance I was wondering if there is anything else you’d care to share.

Myra’s answer to Help with attendance issues in call center

Thank you for that question…I’m sure several customer service and call center supervisors on this site can identify with you.

Let me give you some phrases that I think you will find helpful when addressing attendance.:

*Express both empathy and firmness during your dialogue with the employee with a statement like: “I can understand your mornings are hectic. But when you took this job you knew the hours were 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.” This type of statement shows that you are “human” and understanding, but also that you are quite serious.

*Put the responsibility on the employee with a statement like: “Getting here by 8:00am is YOUR job and YOUR responsibility.”

*And let me say, finally, that a lot of attendance issues are probably with Generation Xers. Your younger employees were shaped and molded by different times. These times were largely “flexible” in every area from the way they were parented to the attire they were allowed to wear in school. Flexibility is all they know and that’s why you will likely have “issues” with getting Xers to work on time, getting them to come in early for a mandatory staff meeting or getting them to work overtime. They are accustomed to being able to “negotiate everything and saying “no” at will. When they are tardy or absent, they are not usually being defiant, they are simply responding to your rigid rules with an assumed “rightof flexibility” the way they have all of their lives.

Am I suggesting that you should put up with the Xers flexibility needs and allow them to come and g o as they please? Absolutely not. You’ve got a business to run and compliance with company policy is a reasonable expectation. Here’s how you address attendance issues with the Generation Xer. 

First, establish crystal clear expectations about attendance. Saying “I need you here by 8:00am.” may not be effective. Instead, you’ll want to say “Your shift is from 8:00am – 5:00pm. This means I need you here, clocked in, in  your cube with your computer booted up and ready to take calls by 8:00am. Walking in the building at 8:00am is not acceptable.”

Second,  explain the impact on noncompliance on co-workers, customers, and any other relevant parties.

You must get the point across to the Xer that her or his actions g o beyond simply being late or tardy. The bigger picture consequences are much more likely to motivate positive performance change in your younger employee. Try this approach, “When you return from lunch 15 minutes late, it throws the entire lunch schedule off for your co-workers and results in even longer hold times for our customers. As I’m sure can imagine, this is frustrating for me, your co-workers, and our customers.”


And lastly, lay out the consequences of failure to comply with the policy.

Sadly, establishing clear performance expectations and explaining organizational impact, alone, will not be enough to get your Xers to comply with policy. You’ll have to clearly relay the immediate consequence of incompliance. An easy way to do this is “I need someone who can and will be here by 8:00am every morning.  I hope that person is you. If you can’t do that, I will be forced to take progressive action that may include termination.” I know it sounds harsh, but you cannot afford to leave room for misunderstanding.

Can you provide a list of job competencies for call center agents for use in screening and hiring?

Q. Can you provide a list of job competencies for call center agents for use in screening and hiring?

We are preparing to ramp up for our peak summer season and desperately need tools for screening and hiring call center agents. We currently require a typing test and a voice sample. What else should we consider as we hire not just to fill seats, but to retain employees? Also, can you point me to sample interview questions we might use?

Myra’s answer to: Can you provide a list of job competencies for call center agents for use in screening and hiring?

Here are 5 core competencies you should seek in consumer affairs professionals:

1. Tolerance for stress – Candidates must demonstrate a healthy response to stressful situations and an ability to maintain control in the midst of chaos.

2. Decision-making skills – Consumer affairs professionals must be able to work independently and make decisions that balance the interests of the company and the customer and make decisions that are cost-effective.

3. Creative problem solving skills – Tough challenges for customers demands quick and innovative solutions. Your employees need to be able to think out-of-the-box and think on their feet to find creative ways to delight unhappy customers.

4. Ability to effectively deal with difficult people – Customers can be demanding, and your employees need to be able to respond to challenging behavior with diplomacy and tact. Ideally, you’ll want professionals who are skilled at defusing anger, creating rapport and influencing behavior.

5. Little need for control – People who have a great need for power or rigid structure might find consumer affairs work challenging, as consumer affairs work is unpredictable, chaotic and in a constant state of flux.

Identifying core competencies positions hiring managers to accurately and quickly evaluate candidates against the requirements of the job and determine motivational fit for the position.

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