6 Tips to Get What You Want From Customer Service

Ever since the first telephone conversation back in 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell admonished his assistant, Thomas Watson “to come here, Mr. Watson, I want you,” U.S. businesses have had to deal with customer complaints.

Companies pay consultants millions to learn how to say “no” to customers in myriad ways. What can you, the customer, do to turn that “no” into “yes”?

The short answer is simple, as you saw in the video above: Know what you want, call as early in the day as possible; be nice and be persistent.

1. Know what you want

You need a plan – and a goal – going into any customer complaint call. Is it getting your credit card interest rate reduced? Is it getting an overdraft charge at a bank reversed? Or is it getting some compensation from your cable company for the two-day outage that knocked your phone, Internet and televisions service out of commission? Having defined, committed goals going into a complaint call helps you keep your eyes on the prize.

Tip: Write down your goal and place it front of you as you make the call. Every time the conversation is diverted, re-read your goal.

2. Call early

You can get ahead on a customer complaint call by reaching out early in the day. Studies show that when customer service agents are fresh and alert, they are more accommodating to consumer demands.

Tip: Call first thing in the morning. Aim to be the first caller of the day.

3. Be nice

Stay calm, be nice and have the patience of a saint. Any display of rage works against you. It also distracts from Tip #1, which is to be clear about your goals going into the call.

Tip: Don’t think “fire” – think “ice.” After all, revenge is a dish best served cold. This is especially critical on any face-to-face customer service complaint.

4. Be persistent

Customer service professionals are good people – it’s just that they’re trained to be bad customer service reps. They’ll use any trick in the book to delay, obfuscate or otherwise use any means at their disposal to keep you from getting what’s rightfully yours.

If you’re not getting anywhere with the service rep, ask them to put you on the line with a manager – they’re usually the decision-makers, anyway, and can often play the “good cop” versus the customer service agent’s “bad cop.”

Tip: When you get a customer service agent on the line, ask right away if he or she has the authority to handle your complaint: Can he reverse a charge or knock down an interest rate? If not, move up to a “higher power” who can actually help you out.

5. Take good notes

Here’s a good tip: Use GoogleDocs to take notes during the call or meeting. GoogleDocs has a date stamp, which is handy in future calls, and it allows you organize the conversation in notepad form.

Tip: Know that, in the end, the winner of any customer service complaint is the one who keeps better records. Make no mistake; companies are counting on you not keeping good records.

6. It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Remember that complaining to customer service is usually a marathon, and not a sprint.

Your first step is always to go back and attempt to resolve the problem with the company. If you give the company a chance to address your complaint, it very often will — especially if you approach customer service reps with politeness and courtesy.

But if you can’t get satisfaction over the phone, or via e-mail, it’s time to put your complaint in writing. Draft a short, detailed letter outlining your dispute and send it to the company via certified mail. Before you send it, make a few copies, so you can save one for your records and send another copy to your credit card company, if needed, as proof of your efforts to resolve the dispute. If you bought the item with a credit card, you may have more rights and advantages than you realize.

The key is successful complaining to act quickly and responsibly, addressing the company in a courteous fashion.

You may not get what you want on the first phone call, but if you follow the tips listed above, chances are the matter can be resolved to your satisfaction.

Brian O’Connell, a former Wall Street bond trader, is an author and writer with two Book of the Month Club titles and bylines in national media platforms such as The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, CBS MarketWatch, The Street.com, Yahoo Finance and CNBC.com, among others.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Cal Sentre

    “Yes I was just wondering if you had any specials going on for my account right now. I know sometimes you have discounts available for tenured (NOT LOYAL) customers and sometimes some equipment discounts as well.” On this “How To Get What You Want From Customer Service.”. The writer, Brian O'Connell, has obviously never worked at a call center or for a real customer service group because his whole story sounds like something left over from the “utterings” of Oprah a few years back. The time of day you call in doesn't matter. Most call centers run in…get this….SHIFTS!! Which means usually if you call in at 8am, 10 am, 12pm, 4pm and 8pm you will usually get someone just showing up to work or about to leave in which case you are just as likely to get assisted by a person in a good mood as you are to get assisted by someone just wanting to go home. Ignore the CALL EARLY rule, it's for morons who can't understand how a call center works. AND DON”T HANG UP AND CALL BACK IN WHEN YOU GET TOLD NO!! WE KEEP NOTES ON YOUR ACCOUNTS!! WE READ THESE NOTES!! WE KNOW WHEN YOU GET TOLD “NO!!” AND WE WILL REPEAT THE NO FOR YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN!! NOW!! Despite what anyone tells you (especially brian since he didn't do his research), 90% of the time you will not get what you want for asking for a Supervisor. This is just plain dumb. Most supervisors have no more ability that any call center rep you were speaking with before and yes people, I AM A CALL CENTER REP and I am willing to admit I've placed people on hold for an hour for asking for a supervisor and when I got a supervisor on the line it was only after I had confirmed my supervisor would do nothing for a customer who caused one of my calls to escalate on the oprah initiative (calling into a company acting like a spoiled brat just demanding more for nothing and not listening to the answers given because some stupid wig wearing hag told you you're special too many times than recommended some mindless book to you.) If you want to know how to get what you want from a call center. Don't plan ahead, don't BE PREPARED, JUST CALL!!! Call in an ask, “Yes I was just wondering if you had any specials going on for my account right now. I know sometimes you have discounts available for tenured (NOT LOYAL) customers and sometimes some equipment discounts as well.” Never demanded, expect, or bug. Reps are you people just like you who don't want to be harrassed so the next time you think of listening to some moronic story that tells you how to get what you want from another person just think about how you'd feel if the guy on the street who asked you for change kept following you around after you said, “No” and continued to ask you every five minutes….That's how us call center reps feel when you call in doing that…

  • Matt

    Yeah I'm a call center representative and this story is completly inaccurate. The time of day you call in doesn't matter. Call center workers work in shifts just like every other job so the time of day doesn't mean anything unless you're calling in the last five minutes your companies center is open. But, we already know calling in with a problem at the last minute like that is rude, now don't we? Yes, we all do. Now, Brian, I question you're commitment to research considering if you did your research you'd know that most Supervisors for call centers (based on how outsourced call centers handle seperation between management and employee which currently the majority of call centers are outsourced) have no additional power over other reps when if comes to discounts and freebies to be given to the customer. All those discount abilities the rep has and if you ask for a supervisor because you got told no you'll just be wasting YOUR time, not ours…..we get paid hourly…If you ask for something from a call center and get told 'No.'. Don't get mad, or demanding, or rude, insulting, and don't ask for a supervisor. These things do not work. Sorry, Brian, you copied the wrong info over from the Oprah story a ways back. She was wrong than, she's still wrong today. IGNORE THE CALLTIME AND SUPERVISOR RULES PEOPLE!!! If you get told, “No.” just hang up and deal. Than a week to a month later depending on what you're asking for, callback in and ask again. This works. I know this being a rep myself, this is how I handle people. If you demand, get rude or try to convince me you're more important than you seem, (which we have you're payment history, past due history, suspension history and detailed billing and call in history in front of us when you call), you will not get assisted. If you call in with a basic query or interest you'll get assisted and you'll also get all the information pertainning to the situation, (providing you all listen when you're being spoken to.). Rep's are people just like you, we hate to be harrassed because someone didn't get taught the meaning of the world, “No.” The next time a news writer does an article about anything in customer service just think about this…………Everyone has one loved on in customer service….you could be chewing out yours without even knowing it because if we know you when you call in, we can't admit it and have to act like you're a stranger..

  • Barbara

    Listen to the reps who have written here, my daughter works customer service. She gave me this same run down. I talk to her after work and know she gets called foul names and called lazy and stupid by customers that then ask for a freebie or a favor. You should know that it isn't going to happen after you've just been rude. If you want help ask nicely and say please and thank you and believe me you get treated like royalty. Put yourself in their shoes, would you want someone to talk to you that way. Thanks Matt and Cal Sentre you did this momma proud.

  • Jen

    I've been a CSR in call centers for almost 6 years now and the best thing a customer can do to get what they want is to be polite and courteous to the representative and if they still say no then accept it and move on.

    I was a retention rep at Cingular and I'm currently in the retention department at my current employer. Asking for a supervisor rarely works anymore, unless the CSR suggests it or hints at it. In some cases, a supervisor can do more than the rep and if you're nice and have good account history (meaning you don't call in all the time expecting something for nothing and have had tons of adjustments for no other reason that being a whiney cheapskate) then the agent will drop hints that perhaps a supervisor may be able to override a certain policy, or they will ask to place you on hold and then they will go to a supervisor and try to get approval to override a certain policy.

    For that to work, then you must deserve what you are asking for. If retention draws a hard line it's because either they can't give you want you want, or because you've been an a-hole and they don't want to reinforce the behavior. Keep in mind if you just chewed a person out, got rude, yelled, called names etc, the supervisor they get you is going to back their agent. They have several supervisors to chose from and I guarantee they will find the supervisor that will NOT give you anything. In fact, if someone has been a jerk to me then they try to sup up, I convey that to the supervisor and usually they supervisor will not even give the customer what I had offered. They basically tell them, “that offer was on the table until you escalated, now it is not available either, oh you want to cancel? okay, your service has been canceled. Have a nice day.” Supervisors have the power to hang up on your rude butt and not be reprimanded for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505518552 Jane Anderson

    I work at a cell centre, and I agree with most of what this article has to say. I know I’m always a bit easier to get along with at the beginning of my shift, and being nice will work wonders for you. Number 4, however, is a load of poop. CSRs are not “trained to be bad customer service reps”. I’m trained to get you off the phone within 5 minutes, because I have an average handle time I have to keep below 600 seconds. That means I’m going to offer you the best and easiest solution I can right off the bat. If there is any way I can get you what you want without breaking company policy, trust me, I’ll do it. I’m not going to give you the run around because I’ve got 30 other calls waiting in the queue and I don’t have the time to spend haggling with you.