Ninety-nine percent of customer-service problems start with a service rep saying something he shouldn't have said. Sometimes the rep says it wrong because he didn't know any better, and sometimes he says it wrong because the company he works for told him to. Either way, as soon as the words get said, the customer sees red, and the service experience goes out the window. Here are some of the worst things a customer can hear from someone at your company.

"Can you call us back?" Just the other day, I called a store to ask if they carried a particular item. The girl who answered the phone said they were busy at the moment, and asked if I could call them back in five or 10 minutes. Um, no. If she had taken my number and asked to call me back I wouldn't have thought twice, but by requesting that I be the one to call a second time, she was basically asking me to do her job and then pay her for it as well. If you want my business (and care about yours), make it easy for me to spend my money with you. Customer service is not asking the customer to serve herself.

"Our company policy is..." You just lost me there. I don't want to know what your company policy is, I want to know what your customer policy is--and by this, I don't mean some written mumble jumble that trumps reason. My company has had one of our phone lines down for the last two months. After the second missed repair date, I contacted the telecommunications provider to ask for a real repair date and a credit for the outage, and I was told, "Our company policy is to give you a credit once the line is repaired." I beg your pardon? Since I don't know when that will be, shouldn't you at least be crediting me for the months during which we have had no service already? Customer service is not making the customer beg for what common sense says should occur.

"As a courtesy to you..." OK, let's get this straight: The definition of courtesy is consent or agreement in spite of fact; an indulgence. Recently, an airline rep called the day before my departure to inform me the seats I reserved on the flight were no longer available because the type of plane being used for the flight had changed. She went on to explain that, "as a courtesy" to me, they changed my flight to the day after the one I had booked so I could keep the same seat. Needless to say, I did not understand where exactly the courtesy was in offering me a product that was not the one I paid for. The service rep was couching the airline's shortcoming in empty language that avoided taking ownership of the issue. Shortening my trip by a day was not a courtesy, it was a nuisance. Had she instead been given the option to offer me a credit for a future trip or something similar, it might have come across differently. Customer service is not just about being polite, it is about making a situation right.

"I apologize for the inconvenience." What exactly does that mean? When I inadvertently hurt someone I care about, I don't believe I have ever said, "I apologize for the inconvenience." I say, "I'm sorry" --and I say it like I mean it. I do that because I want to make sure the person understands that it is my action (not his reaction) for which I am sorry. Customer service is no different. When I contacted a company to find out why an order I placed two weeks prior had still not arrived, and a customer-service rep told me in her most automatic I-don't-really- give-a-crap voice that she apologized for the inconvenience, it gave me pause-- and not the good kind. She wasn't sorry, and the formulaic words she used made that clear. Customer service is truly caring about your customer the same way you do your loved ones.

Don't let the wrong vocabulary get in the way of a great customer experience.