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Daylle Deanna Schwartz Headshot

Customer Service Tips: Kindness Pays Off

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I admit it. I've exhibited yelling and threatening behavior on the phone with a customer service person. My frustration from dealing with an electronic voice asking me questions while I screamed "representative" into the phone over and over made the person who finally answered the target of my wrath. That obviously didn't help the call go smoothly. But it's a normal response when your phone or computer or something you need isn't working and you have to wait for what seems like forever to speak with a real person.

It's even worse if the person doesn't feel your pain and isn't helpful. Arguments can ensue and make you feel more and more disempowered if you can't get the service you need. Even worse, you may be talking to someone in another country who isn't getting your point due to language issues. The normal inclination is to get hostile. But that rarely gets you further. If you try getting tougher and the response is a pat answer that doesn't solve your problem, it can leave you feeling helplessness.

I confess, since I began approaching customer service folks with my nice hat on I get phenomenal service -- refunds few get, courtesy, replacement products and apologies -- all because they appreciate me being nice. I got poor service when I let my emotions and frustrations drive me to rant and whine. Such anxiety for what you're entitled to!

In the last three years I've gotten a free 15" MacBook Pro computer, a free Swatch watch, many complementary months of HBO, credits from my phone and cable companies totaling over $500, free dinners, and most recently, an iPod Shuffle. And I have direct numbers to higher ups who can help with future problems.

This all happened because I was respectful and friendly. The people I dealt with liked me. I hear over and over that if every customer were like me, their jobs would be so much easier. My advocate at Apple knows who I am when I call and is happy to hear from me. That attracts so much better service and goodwill! Yet being nice doesn't mean they don't take me seriously. I make what I expect very clear. Here are some tips to make being nice work for you:

Understand that you're in control if you stay calm and use your head, not your emotions. Nice doesn't mean being a people pleaser or settling for what you get. It does mean being courteous, pleasant and respectful. Force a smile, even if they can't see it, since it sets a better mood. Then nicely seek resolution. Rudeness won't create an ally for solving your problem. Friendly and polite makes the person try harder for you.

Acknowledge that your patience is thin and you're upset. Admit it's been frustrating. Use humor, such as, "I'm trying to stay calm. How am I doing?" That gets the person on your side to see you as human, instead of another complainer.

Remember that the customer service person didn't cause your problem. If you were overcharged, or your phone is dead or other typical problems, the customer service person didn't cause it. Don't take anger out on her or scold him. I open with a version of, "I know you didn't break my phone and I'll try not to take my anger out on you. I appreciate your help." They greatly appreciate that!

Use clear, unemotional words about why you need resolution. "I get crazy when my phone is out" brings out violins. "I'm losing business without phone service" is taken more seriously.

Don't demand what you want. Use friendly but firm expressions, like, "I'm not happy about______. How can you make me happy?" or "I'd rather not have to take more serious action. Can you please find a solution?"

Don't argue with someone who can't help you. Go higher. I never waste time going round and round with someone. I ask for a supervisor and keep going higher, even writing to the president of the company. Check the Consumer Action Handbook with contacts for many companies and regulatory agencies.

If you still get nowhere, find an agency that can help you. A complaint about your cable, phone or utility company with the Public Service Commission gets a FAST call from a customer service person with clout. Be nice to them and you'll have a future ally and get more extras and credit on your bill. Or file complaints with the Attorney General's office, Department of Consumer Affairs, etc.

Get into the driver's seat nicely. Service people hear many rants and threats. Friendliness, with humor, makes them want to help you more. I chat and joke, while reminding them how important it is to get resolution. Courtesy gets the best service!