Scour the internet and you’ll find pages of articles rattling off customer service techniques your agents should use to improve your customers’ experience. A Google search for “customer service techniques” returns 499,000,000 results that you can use to teach your agents. There’s certainly no shortage of successful techniques to step up your game and help your agents improve their skillset. But, if you stop at those need-to-know best practices, you’re missing a healthy dose of learning opportunities.

Teaching your agents the go-to tips and techniques is helpful. But understanding and aligning around the what-not-to-dos is equally valuable. Without acknowledging the should-nots of customer service, your agents might be sneaking unintended doses of negativity into customer service interactions.

Even worse, when agents don’t know they’re in the wrong, they’ll put their unintended negative behaviors on repeat. Then, you’re leaving the door open for your customers to experience dozens of unhappy moments. All those moments can pile up in your customers’ minds and create an emotional disconnect with your company.

Your agents can use dozens of best practices but still miss the mark in areas important to your customers. Like if an agent doesn’t know that using “LOL” in chat comes off as unprofessional. The agent may have checked every best practice off her list, but that unprofessional moment might be the one deterrent for your customer.

Here are six negative customer service techniques your agents should avoid, plus tips to steer them towards better habits.

Being too apathetic.

Solving hundreds of customer issues per day means that, often times, the problems your agents solve get repetitive. As agents see the same issues, they boil these repetitive issues down to their essential pieces, so they can easily and quickly solve them. But, the routine of identical problem-solving can trigger your agents to shift to auto-pilot.

Agents who’ve switched to auto-pilot go through the motions, but they don’t give customers the personalized care and attention they crave. Your agents know the issue plaguing your customer, so they immediately move on to step two in their problem-solving process. Your customer is left in the dust waiting to explain why their failed shipment is so detrimental to their day, but your agent isn’t present enough to listen. To the customer, this comes off as apathetic. While the issue is repetitive for your agent, it’s new for your customer. In this instance, your agent misses a moment of connection with your customer, and your customer doesn’t feel valued or important.

So, how do you coach your agents to turn off auto-pilot and combat apathy? As a call center manager, use paraphrase training with your agents. It’s a technique agents can use to mirror a customer’s problem and summarize their reason for reaching out. When you train your agents to paraphrase customer problems, they articulate problems in a way that resonates with your customers. Plus, paraphrasing ensures that your agents solve the right issue and address your customer’s specific pain.

Prioritizing speed over accuracy.

It’s tempting for your agents to speed through a call when they see 15 more in-queue. But haste leads to mistakes. Mistakes your agents (or you) will have to correct when the customer calls a second time. And, that haste leads to customers who are even more frustrated that you rushed them through an interaction.

In an efficiency-driven environment, like a contact center, people often prioritize speed over accuracy. But it shouldn’t be the priority. Encourage your agents to take the time needed to solve problems correctly. Choose metrics that back quality interactions, not just a lot of interactions. Drive home the quality over quantity mentality by focusing on your agents’ quality of life and well-being at work, too.

For a deeper dive on the metrics that matter in your contact center, head over to our call center manager’s go-to playbook for coaching agents!

Assuming problems and solutions.

Assumptive reasoning is another negative side effect of agents rushing through calls. Rather than listening to a customer explain their problem in-full, agents act on key phrases like “I forgot my password” or “I have a question about my bill.” When agents spring into action too soon, it can lead to a misinterpretation of the problem. Or worse, it could escalate a customer off to the wrong department for help. Shannon in your billing department is a whiz with invoices. But she’s not equipped to help your customers if their questions actually surround why they’re signed up for services they don’t need.

Remind your agents how important it is to listen and paraphrase. Even some minor issues can turn into major problems if your agents don’t know the full story. Train your agents to be listeners first, and active problem-solvers second. Even better, create resources with clarifying follow-up questions your agents can ask to get detailed information about each situation.

Inhuman courteousness.

Inhuman courteousness is a customer service technique perfected by agents who go through the motions of being polite, but they fail when it comes to delivery. Maybe these agents say, “thank you” and “you’re welcome” on each call because you listed it in their script, but their apathetic tone shows they don’t mean it. These agents use the words they’re supposed to, but nothing about their presentation gives your customers a warm and friendly feeling.

This one’s tough to improve because it’s often a symptom of a larger problem. Like, an unsatisfied agent workforce, sterile scripts, or even an agent who’s just having a bad day. The best way to tackle these occurrences is to keep lines of communications open with your agents, and check in with them often. Build a culture of frequent feedback in your contact center. Ask for feedback through agent satisfaction surveys and 1:1 conversations. Then measure your agents’ holistic well-being in your contact center.

Click here to learn more about agent satisfaction surveys and how to implement them.

Being unprofessional in an attempt to be friendly.

Agents need to establish rapport and build relationships with customers, but there’s a fine line between being friendly and being unprofessional. It’s easy for an agent to cross the line if they become too casual. Sometimes this means an agent tries out a joke with unintended perceptions, or possibly they use too much slang in their web chat conversations. Whatever the case may be, your agent likely didn’t intend for a negative outcome. And oftentimes, many offenders aren’t even aware they slipped into a no-fly zone.

If you have an agent who needs to brush up on how to communicate with customers, use call recordings and in-line training to guide them. Point out specific moments during interactions where an agent can shift their language to better communicate with a customer. Give specific, actionable feedback to help your agents learn why “lol” wasn’t the correct phrase to use during a heated customer call. Then, give your agents some alternative phrases they can swap in during future interactions.

Serving the policy, not the customer.

Hearing a customer service agent site “our policy” as a reason for being unhelpful is like nails on a chalkboard for a customer. It makes their problem feel unimportant and like they aren’t valued by your company.

Rather than siting policies or using ingrained procedures as a scapegoat to avoid solving difficult problems, empower your agents to do what’s in the best interest of your customer. If you have policies in place that force agents to say, “sorry I can’t help you,” to your customers, change them. And if now’s not the time to revamp your policies and procedures, train your agents to think creatively and give your customers alternative options for help, instead.

Build up your team of agents and teach them how your customers perceive every interaction. Giving your agents insight into the negatives of customer service stops bad behaviors from turning into bad habits. Plus, being upfront with your agents about what not to do while working in a contact center will help them become more self-aware, fueling their professional growth and your customers’ satisfaction.

This post was originally published on April 9, 2018. We updated the post on January 4, 2019.