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Funny Money: How to Get What You Want from Customer Service Reps

Tired of getting stuck on the phone with customer service reps who can’t seem to help you? We’ve all been there, but here’s how to get what you want.

man with bullhorn yelling at businessman

Customer service reps can be your best friends or greatest enemies. They can make life easy for you. They can make life difficult. They can bring you bliss or devastation.

And what they are to you depends way more on you than on them.

Put yourself in their shoes

Most phone jockeys are doing a boring job that they may not like all that much, believe it or not. On a good day they take over 100 routine calls. On a bad day they’ll deal with over a dozen angry callers who belittle and demean them.

As you might imagine, in such an environment, they’ll likely do the bare minimum required so as not to get fired. Wouldn’t you?

So the difference between a cool, high-five-worthy customer service rep and a cranky obstacle to your joy is the way you treat them. Here are some pointers:

Be cool

Sure, you’re running hotter than a Kate Upton photo spread, but introductions are not the time to show steam blowing out your ears. Don’t yell, make accusations, be cruel or generally behave as one’s bitter spouse would.

On the other hand, there’s also something to be said for not being overly nice. There’s no need to indulge a rep in any small talk, but be professional and respectful. Remember that it’s not “Jake” from India who is responsible for overcharging you on your cable bill.

While being nice to a CSR won’t necessarily ensure that they’ll do what they can to help you out, treating them like dirt is a sure way to make sure they’ll make things as tough as possible for you.

Don’t waste time

Start off by ignoring the phone system hell game by ignoring prompts and pressing “0” over and over until you get a human being. If you’re getting the run-round, the way to proceed is not to circle back and re-explain your position for the hundredth time.

Instead, be respectful of your time, as well as your CSR’s, by asking to move up the chain. Ask to speak to a supervisor — someone with the powers to make things right for you — so you can plead your case to a decision maker. Make sure you haven’t been handed off to a same-level colleague or janitor by asking for the first and last name of the “supervisor” you’re handed off to. If he won’t give up the info, ask him to pass you on up the chain to someone who will.

Use social media

Those who handle the Facebook and Twitter feeds for companies tend to be people with much more power than those who toil away in phone banks. With the proper tweet or wall post, you can get problems fixed in a hurry. On the other hand, you can also easily get lost in the cacophony of complainers and be ignored entirely, ending up as roadkill on the social network freeway.

If you are ignored, don’t take it personally. Just tweak your message, be succinct and give it another shot until you get some sort of acknowledgment. Avoid threats, name calling and calls for boycotts and you’re already standing out from most of the riff raff.

Don’t take no for an answer

Unless you’re an unreasonable person asking for unreasonable things, you will probably get your way as long as you don’t give up. Whenever you’re turned down, there’s always someone higher up the chain to appeal to. If you get repeated “no’s,” rethink what you’re asking for and consider asking for a bit less when you make your next approach.

The only way you’ll fail in your cause is if you give up. Or if you yell and threaten and get blacklisted as a ridiculous maniac. So don’t do that, mkay?

What are your tips for dealing with phone customer service reps?

Published or updated on September 19, 2013

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About Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.


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  1. Dan says:

    I also work in customer service for a large bank. If I have a client call in who is respectful and cool-headed asking a reasonable request I’m typically happy to oblige. If I get respect, I show nothing but respect back and am much more likely to help, or be able to find someone who can. Easiest thing you can do to get what you want is to not abuse the system. Mistakes happen, I completely understand that and am happy to help correct them. When someone is intentionally getting themselves into situations where they are assessed a myriad of fees, or worse, my ability is already limited and the demeanor of the caller is what determines if I go the extra mile or just say “no”.

    When someone calls who is rude or insults me (remember you’re mad at the bank, not me) then my desire to help them shrinks to almost nothing. No matter what I do your going to be upset anyway, why should I waste my time.

  2. Jacob says:

    I work in customer service for a bank. When someone has made a request I don’t have the power to grant and I have to get it cleared with a supervisor, I always “go to bat” for a customer that has been kind and respectful to me. If they’re rude I make sure to let my supervisor know.

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