There are hero stories and horror stories about customer service, and they can spread quickly, both through word of mouth and through social media. A dissatisfied customer might complain, but an irate customer will complain to everyone. Poor customer service can exacerbate an already bad situation. You can lose not just one customer, but many others within their circle of influence. If you want to make things worse, just use any of the following phrases when speaking with angry customers.

One: Never Say “You’re Wrong” or “You Made a Mistake”
Rule number one of customer service is that the customer is always right. Rule number two is that if the customer is ever wrong, re-read rule number one. A customer might have bought a USB instead of a Lightning cable, or confused heavy cream with buttermilk. It really doesn’t matter. You’re more likely to win a customer’s loyalty and get much more business in the future if you deftly handle a situation when the deck is stacked against you.

Two: Never Say “This Is Not My Problem”
In this case, I’m not referring to who caused the problem, but whose job it is to fix it. It could be that you’re not the customer service agent or the problem isn’t in your area of expertise; if you have an angry customer in front of you, you are now in the unenviable position of representing your company, even if it isn’t your specialty. If you are indeed completely helpless, make the customer know that you’ve contacted the right person, and give your best guess as to when they will be available.

Three: Never Say “Calm Down” or “Lower Your Voice”
A friend can tell another friend to calm down. You, unfortunately, are not their friend. You’re the person who is tasked with fixing the problem. If you tell a customer to lower their voice, you’re going to make them feel like you’re patronizing them. In their mind, they are 100% justified in losing their cool. You’re going to have to be calm and collect enough for both of you.

Four: Never Say “I Don’t Believe You”
Anyone who thinks they have a foolproof product or service just hasn’t met the right fool. Customers are going to do strange things. A customer might also be genuinely mistaken. Either way, it’s your job to get the bottom of it. They think that you’re already prepared for any and all things to go wrong, because it can’t possibly be the first time this has happened—can it? You have to be credulous in customer service. If they say the red button is blinking blue, just go with it.

Five: Never Say “Did You Read The Manual?”
Customers have lots of reasons for not reading the manual. Maybe the manual isn’t clear. Maybe the print was too small or manual had more pages than a Steven King novel. Maybe they think that if they can change a light bulb they can change a tire. Even if the problem is on page one of the manual, there’s no guarantee they’ve read it. Maybe they have decided they’d rather hear it from a person than read it for themselves. Whatever the reason, customers do not want to hear that it is their fault. They don’t want to hear that they could fix it themselves the whole time by simply reading the manual. Whatever you do, don’t make the customer feel stupid.

Six: Never Say “Let Me Speak” (Interrupting)
In the customer’s mind, they have a script. They have a speech. They want to let you have it. There’s a good chance that this has been building for a while and there isn’t just one problem, there are many. So let them get it all out, and only then can you respond. They want to feel like someone is listening.

Seven: Never Say “I Don’t Have Time” or “My Shift is Ending”
When you say you don’t have time for a customer, you’re saying that your time is more important than theirs. In customer service, they are the ones paying your bills, so they consider their time more valuable than yours. And let’s face it, they have places to be too, and they put those places on hold to complain to you. Other job responsibilities and personal commitments may just have to come second, it’s tough but it’s true.

Eight: Never Say “#$&!” (Profanity)
It’s never a good idea to swear at a customer. Aggressive language will put them on the defensive. Even if you’re just letting some words slip out that aren’t directed towards them, many customers can easily be offended. You never want to take a chance like that with a customer who is uncomfortable already. Instead of swearing, use precise language to get your point across.

Nine: Never Say “Don’t Write a Bad Review”
Weird Al sang that threatening waiter with a bad Yelp review is a “Tacky” thing to do. Well, it’s even worse if you do it. If a customer thinks you’re more concerned with what other people think than genuinely helping them, you can be assured that if they weren’t thinking of writing a bad review, they are now. A customer needs to feel like they are more than just a number.

Ten: Never Say “What is It This Time?”
Some customers just have a case of what could be delicately described as “bad luck.” How loud your customer’s mouth is has to correlate with how big your ears are. There just some customers that can send a steak back for being too rare and send the same one back for being overcooked. Some people are just never satisfied. It’s ok to say enough is enough to a problem customer, but do it with respect.

Bonus 1: Never Say “Hang On, I Gotta Take This Call/Text.”
Unless that call is from a supervisor or someone who can help, chances are a surefire way to make a customer explode is to ignore them in favor of someone else. They need to feel like you have dropped everything to fix them. In their mind, whoever calls can leave a voicemail. Rightly or wrongly, they also might get the impression that you’re taking time away from them to deal with your personal life.

There might be a few exceptions, like if you’re the front desk of a hotel, or you’re the only one holding down the fort. But in general, you want the customer to know you’re their number one priority at the time.

Bonus 2: It Is OK to Call Security When You Have To.
Sometimes a customer can cross the line. If a customer has alcohol on their breath, they might be impaired and overly aggressive. If they threaten violence on you or another customer, or is verbally or even physically abusive, it’s ok to ask them to leave, and if you have to call security or the police to escort them out, do so. Your own physical safety is important, and so is the safety of all the other customers.

Additionally, the same rule of thumb and the above tips may apply to your business voicemail greetings, and the voicemails you leave your customers. This resource dissects sure-fire ways to engage your callers.

You don’t have to always be in a position of saying “yes” no matter what the cost, but that is the preferred course of action. Customers have an expectation of the completed experience, and if it doesn’t work the way they expect, they can turn on you in a hurry. Diffuse and de-escalate the situation, and when the dust settles, figure out what you can learn from the situation to make the experience better for everyone who comes.

[Image credits: IMG Buddy, Angry Customers]