My mother taught me a customer-service bargaining secret that saves me hundreds of dollars all the time, but also kills me softly and slowly. The secret is basically:

1. Anytime you have to call customer service because of a grievance (airlines, electronics, utilities, ESPECIALLY for health insurance stuff) you should always keep going past all the robots, record everything in writing once you get to a human (time/date/employee name and number/duration of contact), and eventually get to the highest manager you can.

2. Once there: State your experience with the company and demand an extremely large refund/credit/adjustment (if the situation warrants such a thing, which it pretty much always does).

3. If that doesn’t work, compile a written record and send it to someone at the company who will give you money to shut you up (generally only worth it if you’re dealing with a $700+ medical bill, in my experience).

This works almost every time, and has netted me many airline vouchers and the like. But again, this tactic will eat away at your soul. For example, this conversation with a customer service rep at AT&T, iterated about 12 times, eventually got me $160 off of my AT&T bill. It wasn’t even remotely worth it.

Laura: Hello Mr. Jia Tolentino.
Jia Tolentino: Hello, “Laura.” I have chatted with eight people today “named” “Laura” and none of them have been able to help me find my router.
Jia Tolentino: This is regarding U-verse account number 11—–01
Jia Tolentino: I need my router, which was supposed to arrive yesterday.
Jia Tolentino: I am also not a Mr. but it’s fine
Laura: It looks like you may have questions about your U-Verse account. How may I help you?
Jia Tolentino: By telling me the location of my router and explaining why it is not in my house right now.
Laura: I am seeing the equipment is to be shipped on 06/14/2012. For any other questions please call the orders department at 1-800-288-2020.
Jia Tolentino: WHAT NO
Jia Tolentino: I don’t want to call the orders department. I called them five times yesterday. Do you have the number for the repeat-call customer center?
Laura: Yes, you may call 1-800-288-2020.
Jia Tolentino: That’s the orders department.
Laura: Yes, I apologize, that is the only department to call.
Jia Tolentino: No it’s not, and I bet you know it’s not
Laura: I understand, I do apologize, the only number we have for you to call is 1-800-288-2020.
Jia Tolentino: Do you acknowledge the existence of upper management? Can you get me to your chat manager, who may be able to disclose more detailed information?
Laura: Please call 1-800-288-2020 during your local business hours.
Jia Tolentino: Please give me your employee number and put me in touch with your manager.
Laura: Yes, it is LD12—G. One moment please.
Laura: Hi my name is Ian. I am the manager on the floor.
Jia Tolentino: Hi Ian/Laura. Thanks for helping me. I need to get back in touch with the manager who expedited my order on June 5th. Her name was LeAnn and she worked in the repeat call department.
Laura: I do show that you spoke with someone on the 5th of June. We have a phone number you can call for further assistance which is 1-800-288-2020.
Jia Tolentino: NO NO
Jia Tolentino: I do not need that number
Laura: 1-800-288-2020 is the only number we have. I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.
Jia Tolentino: That is absolutely not the only number you have.
Jia Tolentino: Do you acknowledge the EXISTENCE of a separate, repeat-call customer care department
Laura: No we do not have a separate repeat call customer care department. You can reach customer service at 1-800-288-2020
Jia Tolentino: COOL IT with the number please
Jia Tolentino: Also I just Googled AT&T customer support and found a hundred listings for repeat-call support staff
Jia Tolentino: UGH it’s fine; no worries bud! I’ll just call AT&T over and over again for 7 hours tomorrow and then get put through to this department that you are pretending doesn’t exist
Laura: Please call 1-800-288-2020 for further assistance. Thank you.
Jia Tolentino: Don’t go, Ian! You’re the floor manager and that’s all you can do?
Jia Tolentino: Can you do anything to my file; can you move it somewhere, to an urgent-complaint list; can you give me someone’s EXTENSION number?
Jia Tolentino: There has to be some way to flag my account or something so that someone will speak to me without selecting responses from a robot list
Laura: I am not able to do any of that, but if you call 1-800-288-2020 we will be more than happy to take care of that for you.
Jia Tolentino: I think I shall cancel this order
Laura: If you wish to cancel your services, please contact our customer relation specialist at 1-800-288-2020.
Jia Tolentino: HAHAHA
Jia Tolentino: GOOD ONE
Jia Tolentino: Wait, what’s the number again
Jia Tolentino: I forgot
Jia Tolentino: it’s like, 1-800 something
Laura: It is 1-800-288-2020. Is there anything else I may assist you with?

Jia Tolentino just joined Twitter in order to form a more perfect union of customer-service bargaining techniques.

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  • Turn Your Car Into A Negative Ad

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  • Jump Out Of A Moving Plane

    An Air Asia passenger caused quite a panic after he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/air-asia-passenger-causes-panic-leaps-from-plane_n_1746430.html" target="_hplink">opened an emergency exit and jumped out of a taxiing aircraft</a>. According to reports, the flight had been delayed an hour when the passenger, only identified as Chong, bolted toward the exit. Subsequently, the flight was delayed along with other outgoing flights.

  • Cause A Social Media Stir

    When Netflix tried to instill its second price hike in 8 months, angry customers <a href="https://www.facebook.com/netflix/posts/10150234431168870" target="_hplink">flocked to social media</a> to unleash their fury over the pricing plan changes. The company didn't revoke the price hike, and more than <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/22/netflix-price-hike_n_1166148.html" target="_hplink">800,000 Netflix customers jumped ship</a> as a result.

  • Foreclose On A Bank

    Warren Nyerges and his attorney <a href="http://moneyland.time.com/2011/06/06/homeowner-forecloses-on-bank-of-america-yes-you-heard-that-right/" target="_hplink">served a local Bank of America branch with a foreclosure order</a> for failing to pay Nyerges' legal fees after a botched foreclosure proceeding. Eventually, the bank wrote a check for $5,772.88 to satisfy Nyerges' request.

  • Do Your Research

    Dick Bove, a well-known bank analyst, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/dick-bove-wells-fargo_n_1703840.html" target="_hplink">blasted Wells Fargo</a> in a <a href="http://dealbreaker.com/uploads/2012/07/WFC072312-Service.pdf" target="_hplink">well-researched analyst note</a> after the bank botched his personal account with extra fees, screwed up his mortgage refinancing and gave him horrible customer service.

  • Take It To The Press

    Taylor McKinley <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/23/bank-fee-fifth-third-bank_n_1297200.html" target="_hplink">told The Huffington Post</a> his tale of bank account he thought was was closed that ended up racking up $438.35 in fees. After HuffPost contacted Fifth Third Bank to verify the bank's policies, it reversed the fees it had charged McKinley.

  • Create A Change.org Petition

    A disgruntled T-Mobile customer <a href="http://www.change.org/petitions/t-mobile-make-t-mobile-stop-their-bad-customer-service" target="_hplink">created a petition</a> on Change.org to protest the company's "bad customer service."

  • Destroy Everything

    We're not sure <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBd0shBeMck&feature=player_detailpage" target="_hplink">what this dealership did</a> to make this customer so angry, but they are surely paying for it.

  • Commit Insurance Fraud

    According to a study by Accenture, 55 percent of consumers say bad service from an insurance company is more likely to make them <a href="http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/25/getting-revenge-against-your-insurance-company/" target="_hplink">commit fraud against the company</a>.

  • Create A Viral YouTube Video

    While traveling with his band members in 2008, Dave Carroll witnessed United Airlines baggage handlers throwing his $3,500 Taylor guitar. The guitar ended up severely damaged, and Carroll pursued the airline for payment, which he was denied. As a result, Carroll wrote and produced three <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo" target="_hplink">YouTube music videos</a> about his poor experience that have netted over 14 million views. Carroll has since also <a href="http://www.davecarrollmusic.com/book/" target="_hplink">written a book</a>, embarked on a <a href="http://bigbreaksolutions.com/events/?utm_source=UnitedBreaksGuitarscom" target="_hplink">speaking tour</a> and created his own <a href="http://gripevine.com/" target="_hplink">customer gripe site</a>.