Friendly Banter Helps Get Better Customer Service

Marketing blogger Seth Godin has a post with “Sixteen tips for getting your Mac or iPhone fixed.” Some are specific to Apple, like how if you bought the item under 30 days ago sometimes it’s better just to take advantage of the 30-day guarantee, return the product, and get a new working one. But here’s two of them that we should all remember when we call tech support or customer service:

10. Engaging in friendly banter doesn’t just help you get what you want. It makes the call better for you too. These guys aren’t your enemy. In fact, right now, they’re the best friend you have in the whole world.

12. At least once a minute, say ‘thank you.’ If you thought about it, you’d realize that yes, you do mean it.

AKA be nice and good things are much more likely to happen.

Working with Apple Tech Support [Seth’s Blog] (Thanks to Shawn!)

(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. PinkBox says:

    That’s common sense, really… right? I’m always polite unless they’re rude to me.

  2. jchabotte says:


    Never call just before the top of the hour, or just before the half-hour.

    Always call at about 5 after or 35 after.. that way you don’t catch someone who’s about to go on break and just wants you off the phone.

  3. @jchabotte: Never thought of that before, but that makes sense.

  4. This is easy and obvious (plus, I’m Southern and it’s just part of normal conversation, even in business). I never get rude verbally…firm, sure, but save the harshness for the written complaint and inevitable Consumerist post :D

    YMMV with offshore call centers. I think they get fired for deviating from the script.

  5. FessLove says:

    Some good advice from consumerist. When I answer, niceness always gets further than the rude demanding person

  6. balthisar says:

    @jchabotte: yeah, but you can’t control the hold time! ;)

  7. rhodesman says:

    I would tend to agree accept when they take money from you without cause and still refuse to give it back. Then I tend to start talking in four letter words, just encase they didn’t make it all the way through High School and can’t understand those “big” words.

  8. AD8BC says:

    This also applies in person.

    A year or so ago I arrived at DFW airport to catch a flight on Northwest. The customer in front of me found out that his flight, the last one that evening (same as mine) was cancelled. For what reason, I don’t know. This man was acting very rude and nasty to this poor woman. He finally accepted his fate and she gave him hotel and food vouchers.

    I was next, I was very polite, I apologized for the conduct of the man prior to me, told her that I understood that things happen. As she was giving me my hotel voucher she told me that, since I was so nice, she was going to put me up in the nearby Westin, while the rude person before me got a free night in a crap chain hotel.

    So be nice everybody!

  9. Lambasted says:

    I always deploy this tactic. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

    When talking to customer service reps, I ask them how their day is going then I’ll tell them some tidbit about me or my day. If I am ordering something, I’ll ask them to give me their opinion of it. If I am returning something, I’ll tell them my rotten boyfriend cheated on me and is trying to win me back with gifts that I don’t want. Short of propositioning them, I’ll say ANYTHING to get them on my side.

    It worked gangbusters with a UPS customer service rep of all people. UPS rescheduled my delivery due to time constraints or some made up crap like that. The rep started out with the usual “too bad, so sad, not my problem” spiel. But by the end of the conversation she had called my local UPS center, spoke with the manager, got him to track down the driver to have him to deliver my item that day.

  10. This is a great reminder of what should be common sense. If you treat the person on the phone like a solution to a problem, they’re just going to treat you like a problem, since that’s all they’ll know about you.

    Make a friend, and you’ll get results. If anything, just smile while you’re talking, because people can actually hear that in your voice and will perceive you as friendly and polite even if your words are stern.

  11. sixseeds says:

    Ditto on this being common sense. I’m always polite to CSRs, and if I get frustrated I say “I know this isn’t your fault, it’s a company policy, but…?” That, combined with friendly chitchat, got an AT&T Mobile CSR to waive all fees for my final month of service.

    That CSR was great. AT&T has probably since fired him for being so damn helpful.

  12. I worked in a call center for years, and being friendly and polite is the best advice I would give to anyone who has a customer service issue. I think a lot of people don’t realize they have a person on the phone. I delt with jerks every other phone call. It is just natual human reaction to counter hostility with hostility, but in a call center where your calls are monitored to make sure YOU are polite, hostility is manifested in the form of bad customer service.

    Bottom line, if policys won’t let me fix a customers problem, there are always loop holes, or exceptions that can be made. Not in all situations, but in most. If you are rude, and treat me as a person like crap, then I’m playing by the book. I’m covered, I followed the guidelines. If you are polite and treat me with the mutual respect I gave you. Then I’ll try every avaliable option to fix your problem. I think the majority of call center employes are like that as well.

    I’m so glad I don’t have that job anymore.

  13. midniteslayr says:

    This has always worked for me. Just be friendly and stupid, and then start asking the more important questions once the CSR gets rolling. However, there are only a couple of companies that this doesn’t work on. But, as long as you get someone who works in the US, then everything will be ok.

  14. rhmmvi says:

    Another good tip for this is to consciously smile while talking to them. It’s something I’ve trained myself to do when talking to people over the phone and somehow it translates into you sounding like someone they want to help.

    I’ve always found asking “how are you today” and when they ask you say, “I’m great, just a little bit frustrated and was hoping you could help me” gets you pretty far. Having a bad attitude about it will only get you places if there’s a freakishly nice person. Otherwise, you’re SOL. Even if you want to reach out and strangle the company, being eerily cool/happy/friendly about it will get you on the side of the people who can help you.

  15. buckfutt says:

    As a former Apple call center drone, I approve of this message. Good advice all around.

  16. brianala says:

    It goes both ways, too though. I’m in the process of shopping around for insurance and I’ve ruled out one company completely based on the condescending attitude given to me by the person I spoke with on the phone to request a quote. Another company is now at the top of my list mostly because the guy I spoke with spent a good while just chatting to me about my situation, and seemed to really care.

  17. dburr10085 says:

    It really doesn’t matter. All companies state how great their customer service is. When they start paying me, I’ll start to accomodate them. Otherwise, they better be giving me that great service they promised regardless of my attitue. He who holds the dollar is king!

  18. HeartBurnKid says:

    Being friendly gets you better service? Who’dathought? :)

  19. embean says:

    A lot of call centres don’t let employees NOT be on the phone. If someone you call will chat to you about something, it’s great. Of course, this is extremely rare. But un-boring a call centre employee usually means they will bend over backwards for you (if they can).

  20. Aphex242 says:

    @jchabotte: Any modern call center isn’t scheduling their breaks around the half hour marks. Try 5-minute increments.

    Apart from that, I do agree with the article. Having worked in a call center previously, one where I had the ability to waive late fees or payment fees, etc… I can tell you if you were rude as hell I wouldn’t move an inch for you. Polite, friendly people got stuff without asking.

    I swear it’s like some people have crappy lives and the only outlet they have for their anger is yelling at some poor schmuck on the other end of a phone.

  21. Juliekins says:


    Just be friendly and stupid…

    That is my favorite way to get what I want–the “aw, shucks” attack. It’s pretty simple social engineering, but it works on all but the most hardened and cynical of CSRs. It also has the advantage of leaving everyone feeling good at the end. They feel good about helping, and you feel good because you got what you wanted.

    Most of the time, though, I find that being nice for its own sake works just fine.

  22. dragonfire81 says:

    As a person who spent many hours as a CSR, I can say those who treated me nicely and with respect always got better service from me.

    I did find a lot of customers who apparently felt every interaction with a csr was going to be trouble and so they often did not put much faith in my training or abilities, and seemed resigned to the fact they’d have to call in multiple times to get whatever they wanted done.

  23. mammalpants says:

    i always like to start off with “DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO???? I DRIVE A DODGE STRATUS, DAMNIT!”

  24. macinjosh says:

    Perhaps that angry elevator guy should read this.

  25. mgy says:

    @mammalpants: I AM A DIVISION MANAGER

    I work as a night-time phone tech support guy, so I’ve got a counter-tip as well.

    We like friendly banter and small-talk while waiting on your computer to reboot, etc., but do not like when you unnecessarily extend the phone call with your personal problems or stories. We have very limited staffing (especially nights and weekends) and have a queue of calls we have to get to.

    I once had two customers who called me regularly just to chat. One of them wanted to know approximately everything about college life and my home state. Pretty soon I started “being in the bathroom” every time she called and she got to talking to my coworkers. It would become commonplace at night to have one staff member completely tied up by this girl.

    The other one asked me all sorts of legal questions that I have absolutely no idea about. She wanted to know if she could be arrested from her college if she was kicked out due to bad grades and came back to see friends. She also wanted to know if she could call the police if her sister beat the shit out of her, amongst other things. It’s difficult to explain to a person like that that you have no idea and you only fix computers.

    Eventually both of them stopped calling. I hope they’re not dead :/

  26. rfjason says:

    oh COME ON! We’re talking about brain dead pot smoking idiots who couldn’t find better work elsewhere, and I’m supposed to treat them like a God so they can walk all over me with bad information and lies? Yeah, great advice there.

    How about this: I’ll give my CSR some respect when my CSR gives me some respect first.

  27. <-Apple certified portable/desktop tech

    Don’t get angry or blame on the tech when s/he says your hard drive is dead and your data is lost.

  28. I'm a tweeple too! says:

    When I’m really cranky over an issue, especially if I’ve just gone through a few rounds of the hit 1 for 3 for 2 for buttons after a few pleasantries I ‘ll come out and say that I’m cranky and please don’t take it personally. Usually the tech will laugh or say s/he understands, the idea is to not come out of the shoot with guns blazing.

    If I’ve already gone the rounds of hit 1 etc and gotten no where with the tech and I feel there is more to be done I’ll call back and ask the tech to transfer me making a joke that I know it’s not their job to deal with cranky customers and that the managers get paid more to deal with types like me. 9 of 10 times, literally, I’ll get immediately transferred up the food chain.

  29. azzy says:

    Where I work customer service is very important, and even though I’m not in a customer facing role we were all taught to smile as we speak on the phone.

    I’ve found this helps out incredibly. I do often say thank you, especially every time they put me on hold (no matter how much I hate being on hold). When the CSR complains about their computer being slow (almost every call, every company!), I have the standard blurb “oh, I know how that goes …”

    My wife on the other hand always sounds upset and short on the phone, even when she’s not. Thing’s don’t seem to go as well for her as they do for me. So train yourself a bit, these things work.

  30. I'm a tweeple too! says:

    Also, if I have a great CSR and that person has bent over backwards and done amazing things whether I’ve asked or not, I’ll thank then and also ask to be transferred to their manager or ask for an email to compliment them. It’s amazing how many times I’ve been told that only people who “want to bitch them out” have asked for that information.

  31. dualityshift says:

    And that’s why you never get your ETF waived.

  32. aka Cat says:

    If you can get the CSR to laugh, you’ve won. They’ll bend over backwards to find loopholes to help you.

    That probably sounds like crass manipulation, and it is, a little. But I’ve answered calls myself and I know that I absolutely did not care why the customer was being friendly/amusing/amusingly sarcastic, I just enjoyed it.

  33. dragonfire81 says:

    @rfjason: And that is a perfect example of what I mentioned in my earlier comment.

  34. revmatty says:

    @dburr10085: @rfjason:
    And this is why you get lousy service. You may have spent dollars with their company, but get this: they already have your money and the CSR you’re talking to doesn’t get to see much of that. At this point they have something you want, otherwise you wouldn’t be calling them.

    Just on a basic human decency level I don’t understand people who feel they are ‘superior’ to someone who works in a call center and therefore can treat them like crap. I’ve never worked call center, probably never will, but that doesn’t mean I’m a better person than them.

    Even if I’m talking to someone in Bangalore it’s still a person I’m talking to, not some fershlugginer IVR system from hell, so I’m polite to them unless they give me a good reason not to be. As a bonus, I tend to get what I want when I call and sometimes more than I asked for. Funny how that works.

  35. Trai_Dep says:

    @rfjason: Troll much?

  36. anita_job says:


    This is like smiling and being polite to your server at a restaurant and then being surprised that the server isn’t surly with you.

    The only time I get rude or pissed off on the phone is when I have to deal with the god damn automated system that can’t understand what I’m saying even though I’m speaking very clearly and it won’t give me the option to hit a number on the numberpad. That really drives me nuts.

  37. Trai_Dep says:

    Whoa, after seeing the above picture, I thought #1 on the list was:
    “Have screaming orgasm during your talk with customer service rep.”

    Which is fine, but what if they put you on a 5-minute hold?

  38. UmiDarkfire says:

    I work as a supervisor in a call center. A lot of people don’t realize that if they call in and are nice we break rules for them. I have had countless customers call in and tell me they wanted credits for issues they we’re not allowed to credit for. We get told we will be fired.

    In the case today of the nice old man who was very angry, but when he spoke to my rep he was nice and calm, and even made a few jokes, my rep called me over and showed me the account. All fees were vaild and in his contract. Because he was a nice guy, I told my Rep to give me a few moments, went back to my computer, and gave the guy 300 dollars. 250 for his issue, 50 because he had called in FIVE TIMES before he found my group and he needed to be comp’ed for those calls. When my boss calls me in the office to Spank me for that, I’ll take it. i don’t mind getting in trouble for the right people.

    In the cas eof the lady who called in and after harassing my rep, talked to me and told me that “[I] WILL FIX {her] PROBLEM” and that “[She] Was a customer, and [I] got paid good money to be there, so as long as [she] wasn’t cussing [she] could speak to me ANYWAY she wished” i took one look at her account, saw that all fees were vaild.. and despite the fact that the old man I spoke of above had the same exact problem and i credited him.. I told this lady her fees were vaild, as she had been told several times before, and that we could not help her. Then i tuned her out while she screamed and fussed. giving ym information when asked and corperate numbers for me to be reported to. I’m not scared, to be honest when and if she call corperate, they will send me an email after listening to the call and congrat me on being calm and polite and speaking clear.

    I’m not going to tick my boss off for someone who’s rude. Get screamed at twice? No thanks.

    Oh, and we’re not pot heads, we randomly drug test. Most of my CSRs are college kids who go to school full time and work full time. They can’t get better jobs because “Better jobs” are not open till 1 am. We are.

  39. ShawnStruck says:

    I’m glad you guys found this as useful as I did!

  40. Mary says:

    I work in customer service for a particular service that makes people really cranky, and I can tell you right now that the nicer you are the more likely we are to work with you. We’ll still give you the same set of options if you’re nice or mean, but life is much easier for everyone involved if you stop yelling and you don’t open your call with, “you people are incompetent!”

    I’ve had one too many angry customers today, it’s been insane.

  41. Mary says:

    @rfjason: Nice condescending attitude. I love it when people try that in my office, since we’re all working here to help pay our way through school, where most of us are working on our Master’s degrees (a few are still on their Bachelor’s, but planning graduate school).

    You can’t make an assumption about someone based on their job, and if you do, well, I know who is the better person in that situation.

  42. Rob says:

    @rfjason: Do I know you? Are you the guy who calls in and says we should pay you to call us? I always think that’s funny because normally we had nothing to do with the issue so you kind of need some help, and according to the terms of service were not even required to provide you support! Its free support, on a 800 number (so we pay to have you call) on services we don’t have to support!

    Let me not also forget to mention that while working 40 hours a week on the swing shift, I also go to school during the days and I spend my Tuesdays and Thursdays helping Fishes and Loaves (the meals on wheels people). I also don’t own a car because I don’t feel that it’s necessary for me to add more traffic to the roads.
    I would have to say that if some calls in for help I generally step a bit outside the box and am friendly, if they are nice I generally will go above and beyond and even screw up my metrics to help them out. If you’re rude trust that I will sound just a pleasant as ever but I won’t even touch the edges of the box and won’t give you any better support then our website would.

  43. bonzombiekitty says:

    As I’ve said in other threads about this. When I was working company tech support for a big pharma company, you got waaay better service from me if you were nice to me. Be nasty with me, blame me for things that I had nothing to do with, etc and you got the bare minimum of care from me. Be nice and polite and I’d bend over backwards to help you. I once turned off my phone (it wasn’t busy) and spent an hour working on something for a customer that should have been sent off to tier2, but I knew it would take forever for them to get to it so I did it myself. It made my metrics for the day look bad, but I was willing to take the hit.

    If that person had been rude to me, I would have instantly booted it to tier2 after following the simple troubleshooting steps and let the customer wait a few days for them to get around to it.

  44. ppiddyp says:

    Oh and here’s a crazy idea: CSR’s occasionally, uh, WANT TO HELP. The only nice part of doing customer service (back when the company I worked for rotated after-hours support among the staff) was helping people with something that was bugging them. It’s a pleasantly altruistic feeling.

    And yeah, big surprise, the assholes didn’t get much love.

  45. icust298 says:

    Wow, did anyone actually think they would get anything accomplished by being a ___? When you get pulled over for speeding how many times have you yelled and screamed at the police officer and gotten just a warning? Being nice usually works, like everyone said. If you’re nice, I’d give you my extension, say just call me and skip the automated stuff, and I’ll take care of it because yes there are a few total idiots that work in call centers. Here’s the thing with waiving fees, it wasn’t my money and I didn’t get paid any less if I did it, and maybe at the end of the month someone would say, hey try to waive less fees. On the other hand if you were yelling and screaming trying to make my day worse? Well I’ll try my best to make your day worse as well. Oh you want to speak to a supervisor, that’s music to my ears, because you’re going on hold for at least 5 or 10 minutes while I go take a break. Then if you’re still there I’ll tell my supervisor you want to talk to them, to which they’ll say, tell them I’ll call them back. Yeah thats pretty crappy, but if you weren’t a jerk, you would’ve been done in 30 seconds. So you get out what you put in, imagine that.

  46. Mary says:

    @icust298: “Wow, did anyone actually think they would get anything accomplished by being a ___?”

    Oh, you’d be surprised. Yesterday was full of them for us, we couldn’t get anybody that came in with a good attitude, they all started with “You screwed up!”

    Each time, it was the customer’s fault. Yay.

  47. HeartBurnKid says:

    @rfjason: I do love how you equate conversing with somebody as if they are a human being with “treat[ing] them like a God”. I guess we are all gods, in our own little way…