Monday, July 1, 2013

How to Talk to a Customer Service Representative

When every penny counts, one is more likely to check every line of her credit card bill and question phone charges or doctor co-pays that seem incorrect. But even when one has extra money in the bank, there is no reason to allow oneself to be ripped off.

Often the only way to get mistakes resolved is to call a customer service line, and we all know how annoying that conversation can be with the wrong representative.

Here are some guidelines on how to get what you want from a customer service representative...

-Before placing the call, be clear about what the question is, and also what will be an acceptable result.

-Be nice... And maybe even funny. This starts with the very first thing one says, so even if confirming one’s name, she should convey a positive attitude in her voice. Remember it is likely that the representative speaks to mean people all day, so one will get further by not becoming one of those people.

-When one is asking for the courtesy of waiving a penalty, one should speak to the representative as if the representative is on her side, not the enemy. In most cases, the representative can choose to waive the penalty, or argue on behalf of the caller to a supervisor, so one wants the representative on her side. Pointing out how long one has been a customer and her positive track record is good, but pointing out ways one benefits the company is not, as a rule, helpful.

-When one needs clarification on a policy or charge that does not make sense, keep in mind that representatives get the same questions an awful lot, so it is likely she is simply tired of explaining her answer fully – she is only human. If the answer was not satisfactory, do not lose patience, and ask for the answer to be explained more fully.

-When one knows she has been charged incorrectly, she should approach the call with the assumption that it was a true error, and not a malicious act. The point of the call is only to point out the overlooked error, and have it corrected.

-Always, always stay calm no matter how frustrating the person on the other end of the line may act. When one loses her cool, it becomes much more difficult to think clearly about the end result for which she is calling.

-If the representative says anything nasty, or becomes condescending, ignore her tone and respond only to what she has said. By doing so, one can often identify and point out that there are inconsistencies in the policy, and make her case stronger.

-If the first person is truly not helpful, ask to speak to a supervisor. This will often result in a very long wait, so be prepared to put the phone on speaker and do something else in the meantime.

-If the representative says that a supervisor is not available, calmly and respectfully request again as many times as necessary. Avoid implying that the representative is incompetent, as this policy is usually something the representative is required to uphold. Saying “I understand that you are not able to take care of my request, so I would like to speak with someone who is able to take my request” should be reserved as a last resort, and then repeated if the representative is still unwilling to transfer the call. Keep in mind that the representative will likely fill in the supervisor before the supervisor takes the call, so one wants the representative on her side.

-If all else fails (and this is truly only for the worst case scenarios, and should be reserved for use only after a very, very long call) the only choice may be to express anger. However, the most successful way of using this tactic is not to yell, curse, or toss insults, as that would result in the representative tuning out and digging in her heels. Rather, one should lower the octave of her voice, and speak slowly, clearly, and forcefully in short sentences about what needs to be done. Conveying, through one’s tone, “I am very angry right now. I am controlling my anger to the best of my abilities. Do not challenge me.” Since this tactic shows a loss of manners, it must only be used when one knows she is absolutely 100% ethically and mathematically entitled to the request. It is not an approach one should ever be proud to have used, but unfortunately it is, on very rare occasion, necessary.

I think New Yorkers in general are terrible about being patient -- unlike in other areas of the country, we almost consider it to be polite to skip past the small talk and get right to the issue in a New York Minute. Personally, I am guilty of this sometimes, and I don't always have the patience to stay on the phone for a very long time. But when it is important, we must, and for as long as necessary. I can report that, as in many aspects of life, being extremely patient and polite nearly always accomplishes an acceptable result when calling customer service.

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"There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- God damn it, you've got to be kind."
-Kurt Vonnegut