How to end conversations with difficult callers

We’ve all been there. You’ve got loads to do and there’s someone on the phone who just won’t stop talking. It’s annoying. You hope they’ll stop, but then they seem to get more energy from somewhere and just as you’re trying to think of some polite way to end the conversation, they start talking again!

If I’m honest, I have to admit that I’ve invented really important meetings or places that I had to be just so that I could get rid of someone on the phone. I didn’t even feel bad about it because if I hadn’t, I might still have been there half an hour later. Still, you can’t always do things like this, particularly if you’re in a customer-facing role and part of your job involves talking to people on the telephone.

So what can you do? Here are some ideas.

1. Be clear about what you’re going to do

Usually a customer is calling because they need something, such as information, they’re not happy with something, or they have a problem. Maybe you can fix the problem straight away, in which case you’ll have a happy customer. If you can’t, and there’s something else that you need to do, there’s no point talking about it endlessly once you’ve got the information you need to carry out the next step.

However, if the other person is angry, they might want to have their rant. You may not be the first person that they’ve spoken to. They might not be convinced that their problem is being taken seriously.

The important thing here is to be clear about what the next step will be, when they will be contacted, or whom you need to speak to in order to get things sorted out.

Useful vocabulary
I’ve taken down details of the problem and I need to speak to … to find out what has happened.
I need to pass this on to the … department so that a colleague can look into this.
Can I take your details please so that I can contact you when I’ve …
I can’t answer your question now, but I will be in touch again once I have …
I’ve logged the problem on our system and you will be contacted when/you should hear back within … days/hours.

2. The person who keeps repeating themselves

Some people really struggle to keep things short and simple. If someone is staying on the line and rambling on, giving you information that you already had 10 minutes ago, a good thing to do is to sumarise what you know and ask if anything is missing once you’ve finished. This shows that you were indeed listening the first time and that you have all the relevant information.

Useful vocabulary:
So just to be clear. You said that …
So, basically the problem is that …
So you need to know …
So you would like us to …

3. The person who wants to tell you their life story

Some people do just feel lonely and want someone to talk to, even if it’s an unknown person at the end of the telephone. Unfortunately that doesn’t help you when you have a queue of other customers waiting for your attention, or a long to-do-list that needs to be finished before you go home.

If someone is giving you a lot of unnecessary information, a good thing to do is to take control of the direction of the conversation by asking specific questions that will guarantee you get the information that you need.

Useful vocabulary:
So what exactly did the error message say?
When did this happen?
What exactly would you like to know?
Which store did you visit?
Can you please explain what exactly is wrong with the product?

Sometimes people do just need to talk so that they can get all the information out, but other times people need prompting to get down to what really matters. They will need to stop to breathe at some point, and that could be a good time for you to ask one of your questions!

Once you’ve got the information that you need, if the person keeps talking about the same thing, you can say what you’re going to do, then ask if there is anything else that you can help with. The emphasis here is on anything else –you’ve covered the thing they were talking about, so if there’s nothing else you can help them with, then the conversation can end.

4. The aggressive or inappropriate customer

Different companies have their own policies about when it’s appropriate for employees to end the conversation. I’ve worked in situations where it was perfectly acceptable to say that you were going to end the call if the customer became abusive, aggressive, discriminatory, threatening, or in some way inappropriate. Check out your company’s guidelines, but if you are going to end the call, you can use phrases like:

If you continue to …. I’m going to end this call.
I’m doing what I can to help you, but if you speak to me like that again, I will end this call.

5. When the answer is “no”

Sometimes the customer isn’t “always right” and the answer is simply “no”! You can’t do what they want you to do. Maybe your company doesn’t offer that product or service. Maybe it’s against the company guidelines. Maybe the request is just unreasonable like “I want to speak with the Director right now!” As someone who used to work for a Director, you have no idea how many people think the Director should stop everything they’re doing just to fix someone’s problem.

In these cases it’s good to give a reason why you can’t do what they’re asking and to explain what you can do instead. However, sometimes, you just need to be polite, but clear that the answer is “no”!

6. Complaints

If the customer doesn’t like the fact that the answer is “no”, or they are generally unhappy with the service they’ve received, most companies have a complaints procedure.

Ideally it’s preferable to try and resolve the problem before it gets to the complaint stage. However, if you’ve exhausted all the options and this isn’t possible, the next best thing is to either log a complaint yourself or explain what the customer needs to do.

7. Timewasters and cold callers

I remember listening to a talk that said every time someone tries to take your attention away without asking or to get you involved in something that isn’t relevant to you, it’s about as polite as someone coming up to your desk and wheeling away your chair.

I’m not generally rude to sales cold callers, but it’s not in my or their interest to let them complete the whole pitch if I’m not going to be interested. So I usually tell them that I’m not interested in a … or I don’t need a … before they’ve wasted both my and their time with a long introduction about what it is that they want us to buy.

If you think someone has genuinely got the wrong number or is wasting your time, it’s good to explain briefly who your company is, what they offer, and ask if there is something you can help them with in relation to that. If you can help, great. If you can’t, you can explain

We don’t provide …
That’s not something that we deal with, but you could try …

8. Ending the conversation

Once you’ve explained what you’re going to do and checked that there is nothing else that the customer needs from you, there are some general phrases that show a conversation is coming to the end:

Thank you for your call today
I hope that has answered your question
I’ve logged your enquiry and someone will get back to you soon
Have a nice day!

More from English with Kirsty

If you’d like to know more about telephone communication, why not check out my article on “10 tips for effective communication on the telephone”>

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Kirsty working with students


4 Comments on “How to end conversations with difficult callers”

  1. juliehcares says:

    I used those same tactics as a travel agent. They really do work 😀

  2. Thanks :) Do you have any more tactics to share?

  3. Cara Leopold says:

    I like to say a nice, loud “anyway”. That’s more for personal settings that business ones but it’s a signal to most people that it’s time for the call to end.

  4. Yes, that’s a good way to get across the idea that time is ticking away!


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