Never use these five cringeworthy phrases when you ask for help

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By Christopher Elliott

Was it something you said? Is that the reason a company is ignoring your otherwise reasonable request for help?

If you have to ask, the answer is probably “yes.”  

But what did you say? I’ve been reading cases for what seems like decades now — I started my advocacy practice in 1998 — and I’ve noticed a few patterns. It’s the same words and phrases that, for a variety of reasons, suggest the case is a dud. A simple edit can turn that around, though.

Do you need to make a request for help? Here are the phrases to avoid:

“The stewardess was rude to me.”

This one keeps coming up in our cases since we deal with so many travel problems. When the words “rude” and “stewardess” or “steward” appear in the same sentence, it’s a tip-off. Expectations are too high on passengers’ part, and invariably, they were the rude ones. Also, I can’t recall the last case where rude “stewardesses” were involved that the customer received what they wanted. By the way, they’re called flight attendants now. Welcome to the 21st century.

Instead, say this: “Your flight attendant didn’t meet your most basic customer service obligations.”

“I’ll never do business with you again.”

This one’s also a frequent offender. It’s understandable that you’d use it out of frustration, but as I’ve said many times before, it hurts your case. Why? Because who would do anything for you if you’ve already decided you’ll never do business with a company again? It’s an empty threat, too, because if the company offers a voucher or discount, you most certainly will do business with it again. So yes, I cringe when I see “I’ll never do business with you again,” because it just doesn’t convey the right sentiment.

Instead, say this: “I’m disappointed with the level of customer service I received.”

“I’m going to tell all my friends on social media about your product.”

This isn’t something you threaten. It’s something you do. So when you say you’ll tell all of your friends online about the less-than-stellar customer service experience, it comes off as a real empty threat. Social media shame-campaigns are reactionary and happen quickly. Generally, they are not premeditated or even coordinated. When a representative sees a threat like, “Remember ‘United Breaks Guitars’? That’ll look like a puff piece when I’m done with you,” then they just roll their eyes. They can almost imagine someone with the default egg avatar calling out the Big Company on Twitter. Yawn.

Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Instead, go on social media and take down the company. They’ll respond when they’ve had enough.

“You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”

Another empty, and cringeworthy, threat. If that were true, then they’d be holding a paper letter from your lawyer right now. This is a classic bluff — give me what I want or I’ll sue. And it backfires badly, always. Why? Because emails like that get sent to the legal department, where someone correctly assesses your odds of suing at zero. “I’ll sue” should never go into a complaint letter. Never, ever.

Instead, say this: “I would like to find a way of resolving this without the involvement of a third party.” That’s vague enough to not be perceived as a threat, but suggests that you would escalate this, if necessary. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problems.)

“I demand a full refund! (Even though I used the product.)”

You see this one a lot when vacations go bad. People demand a do-over, even when most services have been provided. While asking for specific compensation is a good idea, asking for too much compensation isn’t. If you’ve used a product, you don’t ask for a full refund. It makes you look ignorant and guarantees the company will say “no,” which will only lead to more cringeworthy things being said. (Related: What to do if you get into legal trouble abroad.)

Instead, say this: “Please consider a partial refund or a voucher as recognition of the disappointing customer experience.” (Related: This check scam could happen to anyone. Don’t let it be you.)

Next time you run into trouble with a company and need to request for help, avoid these awkward phrases. It might increase the odds of a successful resolution, not to mention save you some embarrassment. But if all else fails, you know where to find our advocacy team.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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