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Calling customer service is the dreaded grim reaper of the consumer experience.
Your purchase is defective, you were charged an absurd fee, your delivery never came, and you are not happy.
To make matters worse, you probably have no idea what’s going on at the other end of that phone call or why it’s so hard to get what you want.
I once spent over an hour on the phone with Delta trying to get a partial refund or credit for a flight change fee. We weren’t surprised that there was a charge, but a whopping $694 to change reservations for a family emergency seemed like a bit much, so I had to do something.
Agents repeatedly read company policy to me and said there was nothing they could do; I repeatedly asked if there was anything anyone at Delta would do to keep our business.
Sure, it took three representatives and well over an hour, but I got a full refund, the entire $694. No joke.
These customer service hacks are straight from a former call center employee:
Follow these steps to navigate the customer service system like a pro:
1. Check GetHuman for the best numbers to call and answers to prompts.
GetHuman’s website has lots of company phone numbers and lists of automated prompt guides (like press 1 then 7 then 0 for a representative in billing) that will help you reach a live representative much faster.
2. Make a hands-free call when at all possible.
I like to wear a Bluetooth headset when I call customer service. This frees up my hands to fold laundry while I’m on hold, take notes during the call, etc. And it definitely helps me stay calm!
3. Be prepared with your order or account information.
You’re probably ready to jump right in and discuss your issue, but companies often need to look up your order or account information first.
Sometimes this comes off as a rude first step in your call, but it allows them to document your case and tailor a solution to your situation.
Plus, this helps them avoid making you explain your problem repeatedly to different agents.
4. Be prepared with a brief description of your complaint.
Again, you’re itching to describe the issue in complete detail. The time will come, but don’t break out the whole story right away.
Once the representative knows what you are calling about, they may need to transfer you to a different agent or designate the call topic in their software before proceeding.
Have a one-sentence “problem headline” ready when you call.
5. Write down any prompt answers as you go.
If you have to listen to and answer prompts before you speak to an agent, jot down which numbers or symbols you pushed and any spoken answers.
This saves you some time and grief if you end up needing to make another call.
6. Write down the representative’s name and be sure to repeat it back to them.
After the agent introduces themselves, include their name in your response, and take note in case you need to reference the call later.
Don’t be afraid to ask for their name if they forget!
7. Get better service with please and thank you.
The customer relationship management software giant, ZenDesk, released a study that showed customers who used the words “please” and “thank you” during their call reported receiving better service.
Honestly, you probably didn’t need formal data analysis to figure that one out. Take it even further by saying something like “I really appreciate you taking the time to look into this,” or “I know this issue is complicated and I’m so grateful for your patience!”
When you shed a positive light on the representative, they will often go the extra mile to show you that your kindness is merited and appreciated.
8. Say the same thing three times in order to get past scripted replies.
Most call centers have scripts for every common scenario and companies vary in how much they’ll allow agents to stray from the script.
Here’s an example.
If a customer requests a refund, the agent must respond with: “It is not our policy to issue refunds for this item.”
You might take this as a flat out refusal to address your issue and immediately become angry–don’t! As long as you stay calm, you can keep the conversation moving.
Try saying something like, “I understand that this is not your policy but I feel that I am owed a refund or a replacement. How can we reach a resolution and continue doing business with each other?”
You may need to exhaust the script, or in some cases, say something that “triggers” their authority to issue compensation like ask for the same thing more than three times, or say you are considering taking your business elsewhere, before the representative is allowed to make any concessions.
One common rule in call centers is that you must issue “X” amount of rebuttals before giving in (giving up on an upsell or issuing a refund, etc.).
9. Be patient if they transfer you.
You may feel disregarded or pushed aside, but this is usually a best case scenario for you! Many call centers have tiered support.
For instance, level 1 agents may not have any authority to stray from a script or issue a refund while the higher level agents and supervisors tend to have more decision-making power.
There are even groups of agents who specifically resolve calls that are taking too long. In the call center world, your issue is not being demoted, it’s being escalated.
This is also true if you are calling tech support. The higher-tiered agents are the IT pros.
10. Get transferred to another representative on purpose.
If the call is going nowhere, you can usually prod the agent toward a call escalation.
For instance, when an agent says, “I’m sorry, I can’t issue you a refund,” say, “I understand; is there anyone else who might be able to help me with this?”
11. Run out the clock.
It can cost a lot of money to run a call center, so it’s every company’s goal to resolve complaints quickly.
Many agents even have time limits that will “trigger” them to resolve the call or transfer to another agent. If you remain calm and keep the conversation going, you are probably getting closer to what you want.
Remember my story about Delta airlines? Think of your recompense and income. $694 is not bad at all for less than 2 hours of work.
12. Get past the upselling as quickly as possible.
This is probably the most irritating of all customer service policies. Some companies require agents to read you offers for additional products or services during your call.
Don’t get sucked in, just explain that you’d rather resolve your issue before discussing anything else.
13. Seal the deal.
Once you’ve reached a resolution, representatives will usually wrap up a call with confirmation numbers, dates, times, any info you may need to get what you wanted and know when to expect it.
If they forget, you should absolutely ask for your records.
Before you make that next customer service call, here is a quick list of don’ts that will certainly harpoon your efforts:
14. Don’t pick up the phone without a goal in mind.
Sometimes customers seem to be calling for an angry vent sesh and don’t have an idea of what might resolve the issue.
If your goal is simply to put your complaint on record, telling this to the representative will help them be more sympathetic to your frustration.
If you want a refund, replacement, or some other type of compensation, write that goal down and don’t get sidetracked on the call.
15. Don’t let yourself get frustrated.
You may have a legitimate reason to be angry, but it probably has nothing to do with the individual you speak with in customer service. Have a piece of chocolate, find your zen, and definitely don’t freak out.
Even if a call center doesn’t formally allow agents to hang up on particularly mean-spirited customers, there are ways they can get around this like designating the call as accidentally disconnected, or putting you on an indefinite hold.
Realize that it’s pretty hard to get fired from this type of job. Besides, even if they stay on the line, not many representatives will help you if you’re unpleasant.
16. Don’t complain about a representative’s accent.
This probably seems obvious to you, but it happens a lot. If you can’t discern enough to hold a conversation, just ask nicely to be transferred. There’s no need to say why.
17. Don’t forget your pen and paper!
Call centers usually record all audio and require representatives to detail complaints and information gathered in their customer management software.
It’s the only way to guarantee quality and stay organized!
You should take this page out of their book and keep notes as well in case you need to make an additional call or complaint. Take a screenshot of any online chat conversations too.
🤞🏽 Last Resorts:
Sometimes calling customer service is a dead end, no matter how calm and smooth you are. If all else fails, here are your last resorts:
18. Excuse yourself and call back later.
Unfortunately, you may find yourself on the phone with an agent who is being deliberately unhelpful, passive, or even rude. Despite this maddening situation, let it go and end the call.
When you call back, you’ll almost certainly get a different agent. (Besides the high volume of agents and calls, call center software usually avoids having agents speak to a customer more than once.)
If the new representative is more helpful, you may want to mention that you called earlier and talked to someone who didn’t resolve your issue and that you really appreciate their effort. (Also, saying that this is your 2nd time calling about the issue is sometimes another escalation “trigger.”)
19. Request that they cancel your service if applicable.
This is often what agents need to hear before honoring your request. They may also transfer you to one of those agents outside the main pool whose job it is to keep your business.
I have done this multiple times to keep the initial promotional rate on my internet service going for three years.
20. Try chat or email support.
You may have better luck with a different support department, or you may even find that these methods are less stressful.
Be as clear as possible in your written requests to encourage fast turnaround.
21. Put your issue on blast with social media.
We’ve all seen totally unreasonable customer service experiences blow up on Twitter and Facebook.
Your post doesn’t need to be sensational though; a mildly-worded complaint connected to the company is often all you need to get someone’s attention and to resolve your issue.