How to Get What You Want From Customer Service (Without Being a Jerk)

Calling to make a complaint? Here are six tips that help ensure a hassle-free conversation, every time.

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Customer Service Tips Feature
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Customer Service Tips That Actually Work

A casual conversation with a long-time friend recently revealed that we were paying wildly different annual fees for the same satellite radio subscription. We had both spoken to customer service representatives to renew our memberships, but my friend was paying nearly double what I was for the same package. After comparing notes, we agreed that the disparity probably had something to do with how our customer service interactions had gone. (I was much nicer, I concluded, only half-joking.)

My approach to calling customer service has always been simple: be kind, be patient and be direct. I ask what promotions are available and if my current plan is the best they can offer, but I’m never demanding, rude or condescending. I’m also ready to walk away. I wanted that radio subscription, but I could live without it—and I’m sure the customer service rep could sense it. This strategy has helped me negotiate a better deal on my cellphone, cable and Internet services, among other things.

Call centres have always been busy, but since the pandemic, wait times have increased along with call volumes—often leading to frustrated consumers and stressed-out call centre employees.

Getting what you want from a representative isn’t always a given, but these customer service tips can stack the odds in your favour.

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Customer Service Tips - People going over contract
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Understand Your Contract

We’ve all been advised to read contracts in full before signing, but many customers simply skim them. Unfortunately, this can result in frustration when there’s a gap between what’s expected and what’s been agreed upon. “Customers should understand the promise made to the customer by the company,” says Emily, 30, a long-time customer service representative who currently works for a vehicle rental business in Ontario. She says most customer service issues she handles can be chalked up to someone ticking a box without reading the fine print. To avoid this scenario, read everything and ask clarifying questions before signing.

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Customer service tips - handing over car keys
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Be Transparent

A lot of callers tell little white lies to manipulate the outcome of a customer service interaction—like fibbing about how frequently or infrequently they use a service. But a rep has a bird’s-eye view of your entire relationship to the company. Be clear, stick to the facts, and your honesty will often pay off.

“Today, a customer didn’t get the vehicle model he ordered,” Emily says. He quickly admitted he didn’t read the rental contract, which stipulates the company will supply another vehicle if a specific model isn’t available, and apologized. In response, Emily found the model he wanted at another location and credited him extra kilometres for the longer trip.

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Man checking watch
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Call at the Right Time

Some telecommunications companies have a daily allowance of monetary credits they’re able to offer customers per shift. “Every employee on the floor is given an amount of money they’re allowed to credit,” says Rebecca, 41, who worked in customer service for a decade, including several years with a large telecommunications company. “There’s a max per customer and a max per day.” The earlier you call in a person’s shift, the better your chances of receiving these credits, she adds.

To gauge how many credits a rep may have left, Rebecca suggests engaging in some friendly banter: ask your rep how their shift is going or how far into the day they are. Also be aware that an experienced rep with a proven history of meeting targets may have a higher credit allowance than someone who just started working for the same company. A newer hire may require a manager to approve a credit, often putting you on hold. Be patient: they’re trying to help you get a deal.

This situation is more common for services; service interactions related to products are less likely to involve credits or the ability to negotiate fees.

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Friendly customer service representative
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Let Them Talk

After waiting on hold or going through a computerized system, you may want to jump right into your issue as soon as you reach a real person. However, most customer service reps have a script they’re expected to follow or a checklist of security questions. Steamrolling your rep will start your interaction on the wrong foot. “Don’t cut them off,” Rebecca advises. “Let them take leadership of the call.”

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Customer service tips - man yelling into phone
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Stay Calm and Be Kind

The goal of a customer service job is to resolve issues, so most call centre reps will genuinely want to help. That said, they aren’t expected to take abuse. “If a conversation starts with aggression or yelling, the representative isn’t going to go out of their way to help you,” Emily says. “Most companies have a policy of zero abuse, meaning if you’re rude, our supervisors and the company endorse us ending the call before giving any type of support.”

Your customer profile also has notes on your behaviour. “If you yelled, screamed and were a pain in the butt, they’re already bracing for impact,” says Rebecca, who has often endured abusive language. Emily adds that such tactics are often counterproductive: once, a customer who called her a derogatory word was banned from using the company’s services.

Sometimes, customers have valid reasons to feel frustrated or upset. I’ve been there—recently I was accidentally charged $25 for a service I’d cancelled. It helps to acknowledge that the person handling your call isn’t responsible for the problem itself. View your rep as a source of help. Show gratitude and thank them in advance. “If you’re their one really good call in that hour,” says Rebecca, “they’re going to do everything they can to help you.”

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Try a Bot

Large corporations often offer online chat options. While they can sometimes be helpful, it’s important to note that you may be talking to a bot that’s programmed with preset answers. A chatbot may be adequate if you’re looking for a simple answer to a common question (“Is this product dishwasher-safe?”), but there are limitations. If you have a complicated question, it’s time to put these customer service tips to use and call in. Good luck!

Now that you’ve got these customer service tips under your belt, check out the best apps to save money on groceries.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada

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