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Funny Money: 5 Things You Can Say To Customer Service Reps To Get Your Way

Learn the 5 key phrases to use with customer service reps to get what you want, fast.

How to deal with customer service agents.There’s an art to dealing with customer service reps, especially ornery, rogue reps who seem like they’re out to get you.

But let me fill you in on a little secret. No rep, no matter how angry-sounding, is out to ruin your life. All they really want is for you to go away as quickly and happily as possible so they can go about their day like anyone else, stealing a few moments of Minecraft on their phones before being bothered by the next call.

Since it’s their job, reps are more than willing to listen to your rage-filled diatribes about the trials you have been through, what an awful day you’ve had and how your beloved Pittsburgh Pirates are letting you down again. But what they’d prefer is that you get to the point so they can talk you down and get rid of you.

Reps also don’t necessarily care whether or not your problem is solved. Most are happy enough to fix your issue if the solution is reasonable and easy for them, but they are just as happy to convince you that what you’re after is impossible, discouraging you so that you go away. The key to steering away from the latter outcome is to keep the conversation on point and not yield.

With that in mind, here are five magic phrases you can use to turn the tide of a conversation to your side:

“Let me speak to your supervisor.”

There have been many occasions, particularly in dealing with disinterested reps from a cable company that rhymes with Schmomcast, that I’ve had to repeat this like an incantation until the clueless, unhelpful rep finally gave in and send me up the chain.

If you are asking for something big, such as a bill adjustment or refund, the first wave of phone jockeys you speak to may not have the power to help you, and thus simply exists to turn you away.

Don’t waste your breath by arguing your point to someone who can’t help you. Insist on speaking to a supervisor, then make sure the rep didn’t just pass you off to a friend by starting your conversation with the boss by asking for their full name.

“What can you do to make this right?”

These words activate the powers of shame and insecurity to give you a favorable outcome. While you may want to come out tossing out specific demands that you’ll be satisfied with once they’re met, it’s best to see what the company is willing to offer first.

Explain your problem, then put it on the rep to make an offer to solve your issue. It could well be that you’re offered more than you had in mind. And even then, you can ask for more to see just how far you can push things. But if you get shut down or lowballed, it’s time to step negotiations up a peg.

“This is what I want you to do.”

If the rep doesn’t offer you what you need, it’s time to go after exactly what you want. By that I mean ask for more than what you are willing to settle for, then be willing to bend enough to accept what you actually have in mind after they try to talk you down.

If you get a “that’s not possible,” refer to the first quote on this list until you speak to someone who believes what you’re after is possible. You can use the technique all the way until you get to the owner of the company. If you run into someone who tells you something can’t be done and want to make them squirm, ask them if they are the owner.

“Please cancel my account.”

The nuclear option is to take your business away. Notice I didn’t say threaten to take it away, because an empty threat has no teeth. To grab a company’s ear, you may well need to go all the way through with your gambit and actually drop your business.

By pushing things to the edge, you can see just how far the rep is willing to go to keep you on the client rolls. If they are OK with you quitting, you can sit tight and see  what a retention specialist that calls you back a day or two later is offering in order to get you back. If none of that happens and the company is willing to let you go, they were just not that into you and you’re better off without them.

“Thank you.”

Once the battlefield has been cleared and you’ve begun your victory march, it’s good form to salute your vanquished opponent with some kind parting words.

Be respectful of their part in your triumph by thanking them for their efforts, then go farther by offering to speak to their supervisor so you can compliment their performance. While you’ll be spreading goodwill and cheer, you’re also playing the long game, showing yourself to be a good sport, which you hope they’ll remember in case you have another problem.

With any luck, the personal connection you form will pay off when you need help next time. And as I’ve learned so thoroughly from my experiences with Schmomcast, there will always be a next time.

Published or updated on May 13, 2014

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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. Good to know. The only thing of value I can add to this conversation is that “Is there somebody I can speak to who isn’t completely worthless?” does not help. At all.

  2. Liza says:

    As a property manager that deals with a lot of customer issues that come up, I disagree with everything but the last tip, “Thank You”.
    Being polite from the get go will get you a lot farther than making outrageous demands. Also when the rep is trying to explain to you why or what a charge is PLEASE DO NOT INTERRUPT or talk over them. PLEASE LISTEN! As a matter of fact, PLEASE read whatever they had you sign from the very beginning, read the small print, read in between the lines and PLEASE ASK ALL THE QUESTIONS. Don’t wait until you get this “surprise” late fee, that really is not a surprise, you just feel entitled, but it’s not your fault you are American (sarcasm) and you are human, we as humans have natural egos we give full reign too.
    Act your age and be a responsible adult and consumer and you wouldn’t even HAVE to be in this position to begin with.
    *End Rant*

    • Liza says:

      AND ALSO, save every single receipt (at the very least for a few months), people have this uncanny habit of just tossing receipts as soon as they are handed them. Things can happen and you may wish you hadn’t tossed out that receipt.

    • Jordan propps says:

      Amen. Being polite will get you far. There is no reason to be rude. And LISTEN, for the love of god.

  3. Speak Your Mind