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How to talk with Customer Service Representatives

Even in this day and age, with the advent of online shopping, online tech support, and online bill payments, you still end up having to speak with Customer Service Representatives. Even though half the “on hold” messages tell you to go to their website, you still need to call a rep to work out things that the online system can’t handle, can’t be explained easily in text, or when things just don’t make sense. It’s only talking directly with another human being that gets things done properly, and so you need to call into one of your many service providers in order to get things done. Nobody really enjoys doing it. Well, some people might, but that’s just weird. It is, however, something that just needs to be done, and by doing it correctly, you can get it done quicker and with better results. Here’s how you should be talking with your friendly neighborhood CSRs.

Be polite

In my day job, I often come across a number of our client’s customers. I am, of course, required to be polite and friendly to the customer if I do come in contact with them, though my job hardly ever requires direct communication. I’ve found, over the years, that my attitude towards the customer is completely dependent on the very first thing that comes out of their mouth towards me. If I hear a quick and polite greeting, I have absolutely no problem offering a quick smile and a return greeting. What seems to be the case more often, however, is someone yelling at me, or demanding what I am doing, who I am working for, and why I am on their property. As soon as I explain who I am and what I am doing, their anger usually dissipates, but for me, it is already too late. I don’t like getting yelled at for doing my job, and even if it was unintentional, it predisposes me towards not wanting to work with the customer.
So be polite when you are on the phone with a CSR. I totally understand that whatever reason you are calling has probably made you upset and frustrated, but that is not the fault of the poor person who answers the phone.

Be impartial

It is not the fault of the person who answered the phone that your television isn’t working. It is not the fault of the technician that your internet is out. It is frustrating when you get transferred from person to person to person, but the next person who answers the phone has not been on the phone with you for the past 70 minutes, and yelling at them won’t solve the problem. As soon as you start assigning blame to the “incompetent idiots who run this place”, the other person on the phone will not want to help you. By all means, explain the problem, but don’t say whose fault it is. The other person on the phone wants to help you resolve the problem so that they can put a checkmark next to your name and move onto the next one, and if you are listing all the reasons why the person who was last speaking with you is a complete moron, you’re wasting both of your time. It’s frustrating, and it might feel good to vent, but don’t do it. It won’t solve things. Save your venting for after the phone conversation.

Be concise

If you’re talking with a service rep about your broken computer, for example, don’t feel the need to tell them each and every program that has been installed on it, as well as listing the service history (with dates), the last time your antivirus was run, or any other information that you think they might want to know. Even if you know what questions they are going to ask, let them ask the question and then give them the answer. They often have scripts to follow, and by overloading them with information they will a) be unable to keep up, and b) have to go back over the same information later. So give short, concise, but accurate answers to any questions they ask of you, and then be silent and wait on them for the next step or prompting. This takes a bit more patience, but overall it will help speed along the conversation.

Be firm

Just because you’re being polite and impartial does not mean you have to be a complete rollover. If your bill suddenly went up by 5, 10, or 15 percent, then you have a right to know why the bill went up. You don’t have to accept pat answers, but you don’t have to be rude in your rejection of an explanation that does not make sense, or is insufficient to your needs. For example, if your bill went up and you want it to go back down, simply phone and ask if there is anything that they can do. If they say no, then reference your research which shows a lower or better rate at their competitor. If they still say no, then politely request to speak with their supervisor or with customer retentions as they are obviously unable to help you. Wait on hold for some more time, and repeat with each CSR that you get. Eventually, if you are patient and polite, the company will most likely be willing to lower or match the competitor. If they are unable to, then as I’ve mentioned before, simply switch providers.

Be honest

CSRs will almost always keep logs of every single phone call that you make. Don’t try to trick reps into deals that don’t exist. I’ve heard of customers calling in, getting upset with a rep when they don’t get what they want, and immediately phoning back. This time, they say, “but the last rep said I could have X dollars off every month”. Of course, sometimes they end up speaking with the exact same rep, and that customer’s account is immediately flagged for the future. Even if you don’t get the same rep, CSRs will often take precise and detailed notes on the phone conversation that you already had, and other reps can reference those notes inpreparationfor their discussion with you. So please don’t try to lie and cheat your way into deals or out of trouble, the trouble is causes is larger than the price you will pay for being honest.
How do you talk with CSRs? What tips do you have for speaking with reps over the phone?


  1. SavingMentor

    I totally agree with you that it is important to be polite with CSRs. I was a CSR several times in a former life and when people got too upset it made things really difficult. Fortunately most people were nice and relatively patient.

    These days my conversations with CSRs often revolve around saving money in some way or for warranty purposes. I try my best to be polite, but I am definitely tired of “pat answers” when the CSR clearly doesn’t know what they are talking about and is unwilling to invest the time/energy to either find the actual reason for something or admit they don’t know. In those cases, I do sometimes end up calling them out for it.

    I can see both sides of this coin but, in the end, it is ultimately their responsibility to have the answers. That is what they are there for and if they can’t personally help me then they should know how to and offer to connect me with somebody who can help or does have the answers.

  2. Get Out Of Debt Girl

    CSR’s have to have one of the toughest jobs around. I don’t think I could do it all day. I’ve always found that if you kill someone with kindness you can get a lot farther along than with the antagonistic approach.

    It’s hard when you’ve been passed from one CSR to another and have been on hold for an hour. I find if you preface to the next person you get a hold of that you are not intending the anger you are feeling on them but the situation that seems to defuse a lot of tension. You usually get their sympathy because they are just as frustrated that someone before them couldn’t help you. You build this comradery with them and usually they can get the issue settled. It’s a win, win situation.

  3. Aaron

    It’s definitely wise to be polite and be firm. The situations I find the most frustrating are when I call back multiple times about the same issue, have to talk with a new person each time, and the previous representatives didn’t keep any records of our previous conversations. Some businesses have good systems to prevent this but other businesses need some improvements.

  4. Maggie@SquarePennies

    Very good tips! You are right that CSRs keep logs of every call. Even if you get a different representative another time they can access those logs. So they know what was aleady said. Sometimes they pretend they don’t know what was said or say that they don’t have a log of a previous call, but they do. Just calmly insist that they find the record. Be a broken record, a polite broken record, but a broken record. That gets more results than getting emotional.
    Thanks for a good post!

  5. krantcents

    Good points. I would add to be prepared to ask for a supervisor if you are not getting anywhere with the rep.

  6. Wendy

    I often found it disturbing as I was growing up having my parents hang up and get angry with CRSs when they called during “dinner”. Working in customer service, it’s common to call after work to get someone live, and it’s their job to do so…getting angry is not right.

    I have observed that many people need training on basic people skills, not just the receiver’s of CSR calls.

    Recommend the Telephone Doctor, not just for CSRs but for anyone working in customer service. After all it was Earl Nightingale that said “your financial return will be in direct proportion to your service.”

  7. Leo

    Based on my limited experience dealing with cable/wireless companies, I agree with the idea of being firm without being rude to the customer service rep. To be effective you’ll need to do some research first to back up your claims and make the the discussion more productive instead of a shouting match which will end up with no victory in the end. After all, you waited for almost an hour listening to annoying music just to talk with a rep about your bills 🙂

  8. Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey

    This time, they say, “but the last rep said I could have X dollars off every month”. Of course, sometimes they end up speaking with the exact same rep.

    Everything that went between you and the CSR/TSR is documented on your account so you cannot make short-stories-telling-a-lie. You may even be surprised that the previous rep you talked to is just sitting beside the rep you are talking to right now, and they are also talking about you in between those mutes or holds. Worse, comment on how rude you are or make fun on your stupidity during their lunch breaks.

    I know. I was a call center agent for 7 years, handled different accounts from credit cards to laptops, before I became self-employed. 😉

  9. Ben

    I think the hardest part is being polite when talking to call centers overseas. All I can think about is how could this company send my call to some guy in India whose hard to understands.. (ie, Citicard)

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