We all expect to be treated with respect, courtesy and some degree of empathy. In most cases, this is what we get from call center representatives and other people we contact for help. But what about the times when you’re frustrated that a representative doesn’t understand your problem or just can’t solve it? Do you manage to maintain good manners and a cool demeanor?
To help understand customer service a little better, I spoke with Joe Frech, who spent 24 years as a hotline investigator in the Office of the Inspector General of the Office of Personnel Management. Frech also taught the Helpline Operations course at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, South Carolina.
Here are some tips he shared to help you get courteous service — and more importantly, efficient results — when contacting an organization for help:
By leaving a messagealways provide a phone number or other contact information.
If you leave a phone number, make sure it is connected to an answering machine or voicemail service. Frech said that when he returned calls, he would give three tries. If there was no answer or the call went to voicemail every time, it moved on. He was just too busy to keep calling.
Kill them with kindness. Appearing harsh and demanding will not get results. Instead, do the opposite: be polite and courteous.
Don’t use foul language. Frech said he would tolerate some rudeness, but most employees wouldn’t and shouldn’t.
Avoid using phrases like “you people” or “I pay your salary, so you work for me”. These are not likely to give you better service.
Don’t make threats. If you issue even vague threats out of frustration, you’ll most likely have a bigger problem. It would not be uncommon for a federal agent or a police officer to visit you.
If you do not receive a reminder when you leave a message, do not hesitate to follow up. Sometimes the rep is overwhelmed with so many requests that your message gets pushed aside. A follow-up call can bring it to the top of the stack. But don’t call every day. Then you’re just a pest.
If you find it difficult to communicate exactly what you need, it’s a good idea to have someone on the phone who can verbalize the problem for you. I’ve done this with clients who have problems with their retirement benefits. It can be helpful to have someone who speaks “personal-ese” online with you.
Have your public service pension number and other relevant information at hand, as well as a pen and paper to write down the important information given to you. This includes the name of the representative you are talking to, if they are authorized to give it.
Keep small talk to a minimum. If you were in the military, you might want to bring that up in conversation in case the customer service rep is also a veteran. Just be aware of cues you may be buzzing about for too long.
Use the bathroom before you call. It may sound silly, but you could be put on hold or it could take a long time to resolve your issue.
Don’t be offended when you are asked questions that may identify who you are or the nature of your call. The customer service representative is only making sure that they have the correct information and fully understand the nature of your call.
If the representative did a good job, let them know. Everyone likes to be appreciated.
If you have been granted an exception standard rules, do not share this information with friends or on social media. The same situation may not apply to others.
If you need to email, be sure to keep it concise. Include your phone number in case further clarification is needed. Do not write in capitals, different colors or use larger fonts for certain words.
Don’t tell the rep they “don’t care” even if you are frustrated. Of course they care. It is their livelihood.
Some of these things may seem cumbersome or boring. But remember that ultimately you want your problem solved. So try a little kindness and patience.