7 Things You Should Never Say To A Customer Service Rep, And 7 Things You Should

Ron Burley, the man behind “Unscrewed: The Consumers’ Guide to Getting What You Paid For,” has published two articles on how to effectively deal with customer service reps. On the Do Not Want side, you shouldn’t threaten legal action, because it will likely shut down any further communication as the company goes into automatic CYA mode. (You don’t want to tip your hand about any legal action anyway.) What you should say is “Thank you,” because being nice might help you stand out among the parade of complainers.

Here are the things Burley says you should never say:

  • You’re contacting a lawyer or going to sue;
  • You’re going to get the CSR fired;
  • You’re going to bankrupt the company;
  • Any sort of cursing, sexual innuendo, or bigoted language;
  • You’re never shopping there again;
  • You’re going to contact the media;
  • You’re going to kill the CSR or anyone else.

As for what you should say:

  • “What’s your name?”
  • [to yourself] “Be calm.”
  • “We…” (act as though you and the CSR are part of a team working to solve the problem)
  • “My goal is…”
  • “I’m not going away.”
  • “Escalate.”
  • “Thank you.”

These general guidelines are worth remembering whenever you need to launch an Executive Email Carpet Bomb as well. Check out our guidelines on how to launch your own EECB, or review our collection of posts on EECBs that have worked for other readers.

“7 Things You Should Never Say to Customer Service” [AARP]
“Seven Things You Should Always Say to Customer Service” [AARP] (Thanks to George!)
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. xkaluv says:

    Never say “I’m never going to shop here again”, what’s their motivation to help you if you aren’t going to shop there anylonger?

  2. Anonymous says:

    So telling that Cablevision CSR that I was going to put his children through a woodchipper and eat them with nachos if he didn’t get my internet working was a bad idea?

  3. ShortBus says:

    Former call center drone here. One of the most effective things you can say is: “I know your performance is measured by how quickly you turn over calls. Here’s how you can get me off the phone ASAP…” and then offer a specific resolution.

  4. homerjay says:

    @ShortBus: but what if that resolution isn’t what they would consider reasonable? Like “Here’s how you can get me off the phone ASAP- knock 25% off my bill for the rest of my life.”
    Then what?

  5. ShortBus says:

    @homerjay: I didn’t think I’d have to specify that the proposed resolution be reasonable.

  6. yeah, I can think of a couple specific occasions in the past year where, “All right, give me the number for legal so I can have my lawyer call” has gotten me a resolution.

    Of course I was correct and my complaint was actionable, so it wasn’t just idle threats, but that was the ONLY thing that got their asses in gear. In one case it was the only way they’d escalate me to a superviser!

  7. bonzombiekitty says:

    @xkaluv: Nevermind that “I’ll never shop here again” usually means, “I’ll tell you I’ll never shop here again, but really all I’ll do is be upset for a couple days, then come right back because you can save me a penny.”

  8. @Coven:
    I want to know if you got your internet working again.

  9. B1663R says:

    the most important piece of advice i can throw down is smile when you are talking to CSR’s. They can’t see it but it relays in your voice.

    also calling the collect number on the back of the credit card (previous Consumerist post i think)

  10. Erwos says:

    The “don’t say” list is quite true, especially the legal thing. If you tell me you’re going to sue, my next response is going to be to tell you to talk to legal, as I can’t help you anymore.

    It’s worth noting that not everyone you talk to at a company is “customer support” and will tolerate disrespect from you. If you’re talking with an engineer who’s designed the system, he’s probably going to laugh at you when you say “escalate”, as though he’s somehow responsible to pester his boss with your already-solved (albeit not to your liking) problem. (And, yes, this happens to me all the time.)

    Also, those implicit threats you’ve so cleverly made? They’re insulting. Do what you want.

    Finally, accept that you will sometimes _not_ get the result you want, period, end of story. No company is going to overhaul their billing system just to meet your oddball payment schedule. No one’s going to refund your money on an HDTV three years later because you suddenly got buyer’s remorse.

  11. evslin says:

    # You’re contacting a lawyer or going to sue

    At a previous job I was required to document and report anytime somebody issued a legal threat like that. If you make a habit of doing it the call center employee on the other end of the line is going to look in your account and see a long line of “customer threatened to sue” and be even less likely to take you seriously.

    Also, there may be situations that warrant this, but not being able to send 45MB e-mail attachments won’t be one of those.

  12. Anonymous says:


    Yes, but I wound up fixing it myself. I had to replace a coupling outside my home. 6 visits and their incompetent technicians couldn’t trace the problem to a single connection right outside my bedroom window.

  13. What The Geek says:

    Sounds like this guy is a CSR with hurt feelings. The fact is, yes, you should always be polite. You shouldn’t swear or threaten the rep. However, I’ve dealt with companies that were unwilling to help me with something that was definitely their fault until I used the words “if you can’t help me, I understand that, but be aware that my next step is to file a claim with visa to get my money back”. No one wants a visa strike, so all of a sudden, they start to see it my way. If you’re dealing with a respectable rep working for a respectable company, this guy’s rules all apply. However, over here in the real world, that rarely happens. Most of the time you’re dealing with a miserable rep who works for a company that’s paying them to get you off the phone as quick as possible. Sometimes you do have to propose an ultimatum. Sometimes you do have to contact a lawyer. As is demonstrated by this site, sometimes you do even have to contact the media to get anything done. Is any of that an excuse for bad manners? No, of course not. You should say those things (if you absolutely need to say them) in a respectful way – the guy on the other end of the phone is just doing his or her job – but don’t let them do you wrong either.

  14. Abusiveelusive says:

    Actually, as a person who deals with people on the phone, these two are fail:

    # “I’m not going away.”
    # “Escalate.”

  15. stacye says:

    At one place, I was instructed at that when someone threatens to sue I should give them the contact information of our law offices, and advise that I can not help them further and to disconnect the call.

    I guess suing is serious business.

  16. shoesonwrong says:

    In what world would telling a CSR that you were going to kill them or someone else be an effective strategy?

  17. jessicat says:

    As a current call center flunkie I can assure you that being as asshole will get you nowhere. 95% of the time you’re calling because you screwed something up and now want to blame me, the site, the lunar effect on the tides for your mistake. We know when it’s our fault and are happy to fix it (that’s what they pay us for) but I have no desire to help or offer you anything the second the words “you people” escapre your lips. If you threaten to sue or contact the BBB we are required to pass you along to a department that basically finds the legal loophole to tell you to fuck off.

    Just try to be polite. The chances that I personally mucked up your transaction are pretty much zero so there’s no need to call me a bitch when I answer the phone. Also, I have all of your personal infomation right in front of me and have no problem spending a quiet evening signing you up for all kinds of donkey porn.

  18. Caffiend says:

    @ Erwos “No company is going to overhaul their billing system just to meet your oddball payment schedule.”

    ATT charges me every other month for DSL, as they can’t seem to get there phone and internet billing systems in synch. So every other month – I pay for two months of DSL. The don’t overcharge me or anything, but I just had to laugh when the told me they couldn’t fix it. I could see someone on a fixed income being adversly affected.

  19. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @Abusiveelusive: As a person who deals with you know-nothings who hate your customers, I have to ask you, what do you want us to say to get you to just do your jobs?

    Oh, I forgot. Your job is to figure out clever little ways to frustrate the customers who have issues so you’re left with just the ones who don’t care if they’re being jerked around and ripped off. My bad.

  20. thelushie says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: @What The Geek : I am one of those who don’t issue idle threats. I think the point here is that if you have a real claim and are willing to follow through with it, then you should mention it as a last resort. Don’t just willy nilly throw around “I am going to sue!”.

    Another tip: If you have just received stellar service from a CSR, ask for their supervisor so that you can tell their boss how great they are. It is a nice thing to do.

  21. darkrose says:

    By and large, people turn into arseholes the second a CSR picks up the phone. As a former CSR, I try to be polite, but firm when dealing with CSRs, even when I’m pissed off. I think a lot of it is people are used to getting ‘special treatment’ if they go in acting like a douche..When I was a phone jockey, that pretty much guaranteed you will not get any kind of special treatment from me.

    Meanwhile, if you’re nice to me, you’d get a kinder, gentler, Darkrose who would generally bend over backwards to satisfy.

    It pays to be nice.

  22. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    @thisisasignin: yeah, but he’s been throttled down to 250Mgbs per month.

  23. darkrose says:

    @speedwell: That kind of jackass attitude is how you get crappy service. There are people out there who have no clue and are answering the phone, but the kind of attitude you just threw is exactly why you think CSRs are “know nothings”. It’s easy for them to say “not my job” and transfer you to another queue..but they could probably handle some of it if you weren’t such a jerk.

  24. dveight says:

    @Erwos: As someone who has worked in a call center, I agree with you on when someone mentions legal actions.

    My responds was always, “Sorry, I can no longer speak with you, here is the phone number to our legal department.”

    @xkaluv: I also agree with this one, it, my responds was “That’s fine.” There is no motivation to help them now. Why should I bend over backwards to help them out if they are still going to be badmouthing the company.

    We may also want to add “Please do not ‘take this seriously,’ resolve the issue.” to what not to say when someone is trying resolve an issue.

  25. Triborough says:

    So what about asking any of the following:
    So how is the weather today in Mumbai?

    Can you please connect me to someone who’s native language is English?

    Is there anyone in the United States I can speak with?

    Can I please speak with someone not in India?

    Could you wait until I find someone who speaks Hindustani to translate?

    I highly doubt your name is Todd.

  26. wiggatron says:

    @jessicat: “Also, I have all of your personal infomation right in front of me and have no problem spending a quiet evening signing you up for all kinds of donkey porn.”

    I don’t think that there’s a “legal loophole” that would get you out of having your ass sued off for committing fraud/identity theft. Just a friendly FYI.

  27. Erwos says:

    @Triborough: Those would all fall under being a jerk.

  28. Corydon says:

    @darkrose: That was absolutely my experience as well when I wa son the phones. If you were rude and demanding, then you would get the absolute bare minimum service I could get away with without being dinged and no more.

    If you were polite and respectful, I’d bend over backwards and look for any possible way to get your problem taken care of.

    On the other hand, I never had the balls to sign anyone up for donkey porn like jessicat seems to…but I’ve sure known a few customers who deserved it!

  29. mike says:

    One of the other tricks I picked up is to purchase common stock in the company that you’re complaining about. The thought process being that your not only a customer, but also an investor.

    When I had a problem with Walmart a couple of months ago, I had written corporate a letter with my experience and the fact that I was a stock holder. (I had been for some time before the incident.)

    I got a call from the general manager of the store within a day to apologize.

  30. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Never say
    Don’t go through your silly troubleshooting script with me, I am telling you what is broken…
    with those Dell/Gateway ‘support’ people. You spend the same amount of time going through the script in a different order, but hey “Bill”…I was right about which part needed replacing in the first place had you listened to me instead of running back to the script.

    And it wasn’t my PC, it was my mom’s.

  31. MrEvil says:

    I’ve found in my own personal experience that being nice as can be really gets you farther than channeling the Incredible Hulk.

    Often times when you’re nice you end up guilt-tripping the CSR into doing what you want. CSR’s have built up an impenatrable defense to swearing and name calling other forms of intimidation it doesn’t phase them. Subterfuge by being nice is what’s required. CSRs won’t expect a customer that’s been screwed over to be courteous and polite.

  32. Jesse says:

    I called my cell carrier last week wanting to renew because I was out of contract. I was nice to them, didn’t threaten to cancel and got a new phone at new subscriber pricing plus a credit which I technically wasn’t eligible for without even asking.

  33. Triborough says:

    @Erwos: So how do you get to speak with someone not in India?

  34. Dansc29625 says:

    How about “please” and “thank you.”

    I have also heard about this model. 1. This is the problem I have. 2. This is what you can do to help. If that doesn’t work, 3. Let me talk to someone who can help. It is one thing to complain about something, It is another to ask if there is anything that can be done about it.

  35. crashfrog says:

    @Corydon: Just to offer the opposite perspective – as a hotel front desk clerk, where my job was to make you pay as much as possible for a hotel room and never ever refund your money under any circumstances, I knew that the nice, polite complaints were the ones I could send on their way with no refund or resolution, and the mean, angry people who were calling me names intimidated me enough that I gave them whatever they wanted.

    As it turns out, I’m not very good at customer service, so I try not to do it anymore. Also maybe I’m not a good person. But in my experience being nice to the CSR simply indicates that they’re someone who will accept less than what they’re asking for.

  36. Marshfield says:

    I’ve found that using ju-jitsu is effective from time to time. After I’ve been transferred 3-4 times, if I get to the first person again, I get a little upset “I am getting so frustrated!! I have talked to 3-4 people and so far I’m going in circles!” . The rep gets ready to do battle…. and then, in a much calmer voice I pull the rug out and say “I’m sorry — I know this is NOT your fault. I know you’re just trying to help — it’s just that I need help.”

    And that seems to work pretty well most of the time.

  37. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @darkrose: I only think that clueless, slacker know-nothings are like that. If you think my comment was also directed at the many helpful, knowledgeable, true “customer service” workers out there, then your reading comprehension skills need work.

  38. TPS Reporter says:

    My job is to solve technical problems and warranty issues on industrial machinery over the phone. If you tell me you want to escalate it to my boss, that’s fine by me as I only do have so much leeway. I don’t want the bean counters coming my way when I give $1000 worth of parts away for free, so let my boss do it. The no cussing thing is true, but we aren’t supposed to hang up on a customer, so I just blank them out and let them rant and rave. Sometimes, I’ll give an attitude (not cussing) back to them a bit if the story they are telling me doesn’t really reflect their level of aggression. Sometimes, you can hear that the customer is going to go nuclear and try as you might, it can’t be stopped. And I really do appreciate a thank you as I don’t get it very often. I even had a guy send me a check to go out to lunch on him once, couldn’t keep it (returned it to him) cause of company policy, but it was the thought the counted.

  39. Robobot says:

    Employees REALLY don’t mess around with death threats.

    I know Consumerist readers love to hate on CSR’s, cashiers, and the rest of the working public, but do yourself a favor and don’t start with the death threats. A lot of workers have enough experience dealing with crazies to know they might not be empty. (Myself included.)

    I can think of several times when customers have gotten violent and gone through with their physical threats, or have at least tried to. So death threats can be pretty real and are dealt with accordingly.

  40. hardtoremember says:

    I think that being very clear on how I can resolve a problem for a customer is very helpful. Imay not be able to give the resolution they want but I may be able to compromise as long as it is a reasonable request.
    It aggravates me to no end when a customer won’t tell me what it is they want and in my experience most of them can’t even answer the question when I finally have to interupt their rant to ask.

  41. dlab says:

    Every customer support organization is different, so the stuff above may or may not be accurate. For example, some organizations rewards customers that threaten to sue by transferring their call to a specialized claims dept – who will usually bend over backwards to keep that person as a customer.

    Although technically in that circumstance, “I am going to sue” = “escalate.”

  42. Erwos says:

    @Triborough: You don’t. And stop being a racist.

  43. weakdome says:

    I don’t have any problems getting through to CSRs… especially Comcast.
    The trick is to figure out quickly if the person can help you, and if they can’t, hang up before they can make a note on your account.
    Then call back and try again with another rep.
    I call it CSR-Fishing, and it works really well. Right now I have free Internet access from Comcast :)

  44. dlab says:

    @Erwos: If you can’t understand what the CSR is saying, how is it unreasonable to want to talk to someone else? Just because you or I can understand nearly every kind of accented English, it doesn’t mean other people can do the same. It’s not the customer’s fault that if they can’t understand a non-native speaker, and a company that strives to provide good customer service should acommodate that type of customer accordingly. Triborough’s 3rd suggestion is the preferred phrasing for such a request and I can’t really think of any other way to be more delicate than that.

    All other suggestions besides #3 still constitute being a dick though.

  45. Farquar says:


    It’s not racist. Racism, obviously, is to make classifications based on race. This was a classification made upon nationality. That would be xenophobic. Though, his comment wasn’t particularly xenophobic. The last time I had to call technical support for HP the call center was in the Phillipines. (I think) I spent twice as long on the phone because I had to ask the guy to repeat everything he said so that I could translate it.

    It’s not that I have anything against having someone in the Phillipines fix my computer, but it often becomes very difficult if you can’t understand what is being said to you.

  46. Shark1998 says:

    @Coven: ROFL…. brilliant.

  47. Grive says:

    @dlab: There is a marked difference between nicely letting someone know you’re having communication issues, and being snide about it.

  48. drftjgoj says:

    I’ve always found that carrots tend to work better than sticks in these situations. Telling a CSR that you recognize that they aren’t personally responsible for any error you’ve encountered, and that you know mistakes happen seems to make them a lot more friendly and willing to go the extra mile and help me out. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve said that and had the CSR tell me “I wish more people realized that” or simply “that made my day”. Dropping a simple “please” or “thank you” tend to go a long way!

    Obviously there’s a time to escalate things and there’s a time to be forceful. But no one likes dealing with an angry person, especially someone who’s angry at something you had no hand in.

  49. @Farquar:
    Sprint account support is located here in PH. Although it would seem Sprint tries to hire those who have a grasp at English. I never had trouble understanding them while making changes to my account.

    Local ISP support on the other hand, could care less if you can not understand them, in any language.

    Also, as I try not to make this a big deal about outsourcing, it really can be frustrating when you just cant understand the person and you want to ask if you can speak with somebody not from (insert country here).

  50. Shark1998 says:

    @wiggatron: It would be almost impossible for them to trace where it came from. Spammers are good at hiding their tracks. And anyway…signing someone else up for spam emails does not fall under “Identitfy theft”.

  51. bria says:

    Just a quick comment- I’ve had to work with Dell technical support at least 6 times in the past year, for things that were mostly my fault. When I talked to them (online or over the phone) they were incredibly supportive, kind, and always followed through. When I had trouble understanding someone with an Indian accent, I put him on speakerphone and my mom helped me understand him. They’ve been the nicest people in customer support and that’s the reason I haven’t switched out this piece of shit computer :)

  52. dlab says:

    Last time I checked, snide = expressive of contempt. Where is the contempt in “is there anyone in the United States I can speak with?”

    I challenge you to find a nicer way to say it.

    FYI, most of the customers AREN’T that nice about it.

  53. I once told a CSR I was going to contact the media. I did. The media called their public relations department and the CSRs were much nicer to me afterwards.

  54. Triborough says:

    @Erwos: I am not being racist. I am just someone who has gotten screwed over one too many times by some company or other that doesn’t give a flying feck about customer service so they outsource their call center to someplace where they use people that your average North American English speaker cannot understand properly and in many cases vice versa.

    When you feel that you have wasted a half hour of your life talking to someone who you have no idea what they are saying and they have no idea what you are saying you’ll be quite angry. Then when this occurs several more times, the only logical thing to do is to never deal with that company again.

    The most recent occurrence was with Amazon.com last year. You wonder why they have low prices? Well it is because they don’t care about customer service.

    I have no problem with talking to someone in a foreign country, but as long as they are representing an American company and are expected to deal with Americans it would make a hell of a lot of sense to find some country where there is a chance of proper communication.

    It is not xenophobia or racism it is frustration at some stupid decision made by some accountant who wants to save a little bit of money by outsourcing.

    If a company doesn’t want to have their customers communicate their concerns to someone who they can understand and understand who the representative of their company then what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. If your company fails at this basic thing, then why should someone do business with you?

    I rather go to an independent bookseller and pay a few dollars more, since I know if there is a problem I can speak with someone who actually cares about the customer and is willing to communicate face to face and not via fiber optic connection half a world away.

  55. Quilt says:

    With telecommunication companies, your only option is to try not be an asshole yourself. Outline what the problem is clearly, use the reps name, say thanks for ANYTHING helpful they do, and MOST IMPORTANTLY…be prepared for the long haul!

  56. GoPadge says:

    @postnocomments: Perhaps, but now your account has the big red “DIFFICULT” stamp on it….

  57. XTC46 says:

    I used to love when people threatened me. I got no greater joy than somone thinking they were special and above rules and policy, then making empty threats towards me and the company I worked for only to be laughed at and still not get what they want.

    Call, be nice, ask for what you want. Dont start with the “well what are you going to do about it?” bullshit. just say “this is the problem, this is what I want” If I can do it, and I think it is reasonable, chances are you will get it.

  58. weakdome says:

    @dlab: The contempt is in assuming that just because someone has an accent, they must be IN another country.

  59. mferrari says:

    This made me lol. My dad absolutely freaks out when he thinks hes getting screwed by companies (he deos get messed with a lot though) and does most of the things on the what not to do list (no death treats or innuendos or biggoted language though). He almost always win though. I’ve seen him talk to airline company presidents by finding their numbers. He also does EECBs a lot too.
    I think after the 10th comcast rep on a 3-hour call being worthless you can threaten to sue or get a lawyer or the AG.
    In my case, I act like an asshole in rare cases, like with xBox reps that I can’t understand when trying to get my 4th console repaired. I just tell them right off the bat that I’ve done more troubleshooting than they know how to do and that if I pay $100 because a goddamned red light wont pop up, I will sue and make sure ever person they’ve assfucked with their shit made devices is getting assfucked in prison.

  60. dveight says:

    @Triborough: Don’t go around making assumptions. The call center I worked in was right here in the US, and guess what, we had many different people working there. Yes, companies are outsourcing to India a lot, but keep in mind that we have Indians that live here too. In general, don’t be a jerk to people who are trying to help you.

    “Is there anyone in the United States I can speak with?”
    “Can I please speak with someone not in India?”
    “I highly doubt your name is Todd.”

    I worked with a guy who legally changed his named to Jerry when he became a citizen, and he was from India. It is ignorant people like you who would always piss him off by saying things like that to him, just because he had a Hindu accent. Another coworker, Robert from Jamaica, also had to put up with ignorance like this too. Again, don’t be a jerk to people who are trying to help you.

    Next time, just say that you are having a hard time understanding them, and that you want to speak with someone else, or ask for an escallation. Must companies will still have teams in the US that handle escalated calls.

  61. Trencher93 says:

    I told BarnesandNoble.com I was never going to shop there again, and haven’t. They’ve lost hundreds of dollars since over bad customer service.

  62. Triborough says:

    @dveight: What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. You should stop making assumptions.

    Believe me I tried asking to talk to someone else, and they would not cooperate. And this was not a one time occurrence. It seemed like the corporate strategy was to piss the customer off by wasting their time so they would just give up and the customer would eat the loss. It is easier sometimes to just give up and never deal with the company again.

    Quite simply, if you hire people that the majority of your customer base cannot understand, your company doesn’t care about customer service.

  63. redheadedstepchild says:

    When I was working for a fruity consumer electronics company, there were certain key phrases that would trigger responses.

    We were allowed, even encouraged, to simply disconnect when someone used profanity, threatened legal action, or (not as cool) was recording the call.

    There were incentives that I could offer but only after customer said certain things. Some people didn’t use the right vocabulary, and would end up disappointed (typically angry but not abusive language would get results, but disappointed resignation would not). I tried to coach some people into saying the right phrases.

  64. dlab says:

    @weakdome: Did you know that US-based call centers run new hires through a battery of language tests, a requirement which is typically waived or not in place for overseas centers? If you are a non-native speaker working in the US, you are probably not working at a call center unless your English is reasonably good, its simply an industry standard practice.

    “Can I talk to someone that I can understand/speaks intelligibly?” <– Does this show any less contempt?

    Fact is, if a company cares, they will make sure a customer can talk to someone that they understand – regardless of how they go about asking for it. There isn’t really a tactful way to tell someone that their English is unintelligible.

  65. hottiearchitect says:

    most of the time the CSR you are talking to doesn’t have much authority. I always try to be very nice and let them know that I realize they may not be able to help me at all but I have to try. If all else fails then politely ask if there is a supervisor there. I have only been rude on 2 occasions that I recall and both were because the CSR started being rude to me. My biggest issue is the foreigners with thick accent. I don’t care who I talk to but I have to understand them – and it would be nice if they can understand me. One of the instances that I referred to above the guy didn’t understand english and yelled at me because he didn’t undnerstand me.

  66. dveight says:

    @Triborough: Yeah, I made an assumption, but when you come out with crap like:

    So how is the weather today in Mumbai?

    Can you please connect me to someone who’s native language is English?

    Is there anyone in the United States I can speak with?

    Can I please speak with someone not in India?

    Could you wait until I find someone who speaks Hindustani to translate?

    I highly doubt your name is Todd.

    Without any mention of what you’ve gone through, then what do you expect peoples reaction will be. For me, it wasn’t understanding or compassion, it was someone being dick.

  67. Ubermunch says:


    So telling that Cablevision CSR that I was going to put his children through a woodchipper and eat them with nachos if he didn’t get my internet working was a bad idea?

    Jeez man… you should know better!!!

    Cablevision staffers eat their own children so your threat was moot.

  68. Corydon says:

    @crashfrog: That’s interesting because I worked as night audit in a hotel for a while. not too much in the way of difficult customer interaction aside from a drunk showing up after midnight now and then, but I did deal with the odd complaint.

    My management encouraged me to do my best to resolve any complaints that arose (preferably by fixing the problem, not by throwing money at the customer to shut them up). Granted, my resources were somewhat limited—I was the only employee present after all—but I only had to move a customer to a new room once the whole time I worked there and never had to refund any money at all.

    Perhaps it was the nature of the hotel you were working in? Or perhaps you simply found it easier to brush off your customers when you thought you could get away with it?

  69. weakdome says:

    @dlab: ALL of them? Really? Becuase I’ve spoken to plenty people from Dell who are in central-US, and yet are still difficult (but possible) to understand.

    If you can’t understand someone, you have the option to speak to someone else. It’s not out of the question to hang up, or to ask for a supervisor. You don’t even have to give a reason why, and you can be completely pleasant about it.

    In the worst case, I have no problem telling someone “I’m sorry, I’m having a very difficult time understanding you – would it be possible to speak with someone else, or a supervisor?”
    At least in this example you are taking the burden of NOT BEING ABLE TO UNDERSTAND on yourself, rather than blaming them for being difficult. Who knows? Maybe your ears are filled with shit.

  70. NinjaMarion says:

    @Quietly: Yeah, the death threats especially don’t work when you don’t realize you’re talking to a call center on the other side of the country from the credit union you’re calling about. I had CU member on the line bitching about something that I couldn’t help him with due to it being an issue that an actual employee from the credit union needed to fix. This was a credit union we couldn’t transfer to; It’s not that we didn’t want to, we physically couldn’t. We had no number or special line to transfer back to this CU… no possible way to transfer you over to the CU if your call was routed to us in the first place. When I told him I couldn’t do so, he responded (Slightly jokingly, I think), “I bet you’d get me over there real quick if I said I was gonna blow the place up!”

    I made sure to point out that it really wouldn’t, since as I explained before, we have no way to transfer there, and offered to forward his info to the CU and have someone call him back.

    @drftjgoj: Now obviously, I’d have preferred every customer be nice and polite, but regardless of how nice or how big of a dick you were, if I said it was something I was unable to handle and offered to have someone call you back that could, that’s because it was the truth. Being nice didn’t give me access to any magical, fix-my-account button, and being an asshole didn’t remind me suddenly that I could magically fix your account to get you off the phone. Trust me, if I could have fixed things to shut the members up, I would have. We were limited in what our system would let us do and what each CU would allow us to do within the limits of our systems.

    Hell, one woman called on a Sunday morning, when all of that CU’s debit cards weren’t working, and personally blamed me for her and her baby being stuck in the middle of the desert with no money for gas and nothing that could be done for at least a day. She kept crying, “Why would you do this to me? Why can’t I just get my money? :'(,” to which I had to keep pointing out that I wasn’t doing it. The debit card system was down and I couldn’t fix it and since the CU is closed on Sunday, there was no one there that I could get her over to to fix it.

  71. brother9 says:

    @stacye: the best advice I ever got from a lawyer is that you should never say “I’m going to contact my lawyer” unless you already have; never say “I’m going to sue” unless the lawyer is drafting the documents.

  72. kingdom2000 says:

    Having done CSR I can agree with a lot of that. If your nice and patient with me, I am nice and patient with you and willing to do what I am allowed to do (key phrase there) to help.

    You start attacking me on the assumption that being an a#$ will get what you want, I (and those I work with) have the basic philosophy of “Why reward bad behavior?”. I shut down, do the bare minimium required of me and good luck to you because I now longer care.

    CSR’s in general are overworked, underpaid and when not being attacked by customers they are being attacked by management for not maintaining whatever their spreadsheets require nevermind if some numbers contradict each other (cause managers really don’t understand where the numbers come from). End result if your behavior is just an add to the daily s$#@pile, they have no incentive to want to help you. But being nice, which is rare, suddenly they have a small incentive to try and do something.

  73. SOhp101 says:

    Ah damn. I made a mistake. I threatened legal action. Oh well, they’re being real a******s about paying me back. Perhaps I’ll just try and get my money back during their client’s restitution hearing.

  74. HogwartsAlum says:

    I usually don’t have trouble understanding accents, but a lot of times, I can’t HEAR them. I don’t know if it’s their headsets or what, but it seems like many of the overseas ones have crappy equipment. Usually, I just tell them we have a bad connection and I’m going to call back.

    Or, it could be too much blasting Pink Floyd and Aerosmith as a teenager, lying on the floor in between my speakers, I guess.

  75. Landru says:

    @Triborough: I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking for a rep in the United States. Sorry, but it’s not racist. There is a very lanquage barrier and often comprehension issues as to the nature of the problem. There is also usually a limit on what someone in an outsourced call center is authorized to do.

  76. armishanks says:

    Why is it okay for the companies to record your calls, but go ape shit when you ask if you can record the call for your own records?

    I have had a long running dispute with Amex and everytime I ask them if I can record the call — they say no. But they are happily recording it themeselves. (I have to ask permission as California is a two-party state).

    As a compromise, Amex gave me a special Customer Service # that it says has no recording performed on it.

  77. Triborough says:

    Yes. Exactly.
    Part of good customer service is to have proper communication. You can’t have that when you are dealing with someone on the other side of the planet who you cannot understand.

  78. Dave J. says:

    @thelushie: Totally agree on the write-a-letter-about-GOOD-service thing. I once wrote a letter to the supervisor of a CSR I had repeated (always positive) interactions with, and she ended up getting a promotion/raise because of it. From that point on, my (and my organization’s) name was gold with that company.

    People in customer service get so little praise and thanks from the public that anything you do will shine like a beacon of light. Same goes for people who work for government agencies, etc.

  79. diablodevil2 says:

    I’ll do things that risk me getting bugged at by a sup if a customer’s nice enough. As in, things like, say, smudging a number slightly on an expiration date to make it so that they can get their unit working again when they called after their service ended.

    Whereas over-negativity (explicit or otherwise) gets things by the book. The cold, hard, lined-out-in-fine-print book.

    As an email, formally phone CSR, those are the only two interesting things nowadays; those super nice customers that I stretch my neck out on the line for, and those rude ones that I lay the company smackdown on.

    Be nice, and you’ll get what you want/all that you can get, generally.

  80. dragonfire81 says:

    @armishanks: I don’t know how it is at every company but where I used to work, we were trained to refuse a recording every time. I never understood the logic.

    Again, I don’t know what it’s like at other companies, but where I was I had NO WAY to transfer a call to a specific country or center. A specific department yes, but let’s say you need a tech support department and we have open centers in Canada, Bangladesh, Idaho and Mumbai. You have just as good a chance as ending up overseas as you do of getting a north american rep and I have ZERO control over that.

    Point is, if you get told you can’t be transferred back to the U.S. it’s most likely true.

  81. floraposte says:

    @darkrose: I’m a pretty polite person to deal with in customer support, as a rule and I definitely think it’s inappropriate to cuss people out. But I think it’s worth clarifying that the call didn’t start when the CSR picked up the phone, and that the process of turning into an asshole can happen between the time the customer places a call and the time a particular CSR begins to talk to the customer, and that that can be a very long time indeed. And while I understand it’s upsetting when somebody is blaming the CSR for something the CSR didn’t personally do, the CSR is there as a company rep, and if the company did it, the CSR counts as part of that.

  82. arl84 says:

    I dunno about the things you should say, but he is spot-on with the things you shouldn’t say. I never give a shit when customers say any of those things to me.

    But really, there’s only one thing you need to remember when you talk to customer service: You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

  83. bwcbwc says:

    @postnocomments: Better yet: YOU call their PR department and ask them if they can do anything about your situation before you go to the media.
    @bonzombiekitty: Well if that’s what they assume with me, they’re SOL. I’m still with DirecTV after another person who lived at my address closed my account with Dish Network without my authorization, and Dish wanted to charge me a new activation fee to re-instate my account. It’s cost them about $2,000 in revenues at this point, since until then, I had no inclination to change the service on my own. The only way I would go back to them is if DirecTV pulled a similar kind of stunt, and uVerse and FiOS aren’t available at the same time (Comcast is off the table for, well you know). I’m not saying I’d never go back to a company that screwed me over, but I’d at least try every one of their legitimate competitors before I did go back.

  84. kingdom2000 says:

    The problem isn’t a language barrier…its an accent barrier.

    I deal with Indians (from India) on a regular basis and from their sentence, word usuage and emails, they clearly know the english language. Talk to them on the phone though and half the time I can’t understand half the words they say and considering how often I have to repeat myself, they don’t understand me any better. Stick with emails, things sail fine, move to phone calls and slow down occurs. Language clearly isn’t the problem, just how we sound to each other. I don’t think a whole lot can be done about that either.

  85. azrhey says:

    I work CSR at a tech support call centre that supports about a dozen different contracts from different companies mostly widely known American Software companies. I am in Montreal Canada, the other call centers are in Prague.CZ and Singapour. Now, the reason why there are no call centres in the US is simply because the US market has shrunk a lot in the last 10 years. I receive about 80% of my calls from Latin America and the last 20% from US and Canada. I get regular calls from US users asking why they are not calling the US, I have yet to find a way to explain that all the agents must speak America’s four main languages (En Sp Pt & Fr – users from the Dutch Antilles calls the Prague call centre ).
    Also, I would say that about 95% of the calls from the US I have dealt with are pleasant and find my BBC british accent charming, I will always remember the user in Philadelphia airport who demanded to speak with someone who spoke proper English. It is always the ****hole user that you remember at the end of the day.

    Lastly, PRETTY PRETTY PRETTY PLEASE, DO NOT EAT while you are talking to me. You are already in an airport, with loud background noises, about to loose your connectivity, DO NOT talk to me with your mouth full. Trust me I have mastered the art of accidentally falling on the END button.

  86. Lyrai says:

    At the company I work for, making a death threat against a CSR causes us to forward it to the police department in your city/area, who will deal with it from there.

    So yeah, don’t make death threats. You will gain nothing from it except a mark on your police record.

  87. nsv says:

    When I’ve made a mistake and need help from a CSR to get it fixed, I say the craziest thing and it almost always works.

    “I made a mistake, can you help me fix it please?”

    So many customers blame everybody and everything but themselves. To hear someone actually own up to a mistake has got to be a pretty refreshing change. I sound genuinely apologetic and frustrated with myself for screwing up (because I really am,) and I’m genuinely grateful for their help in fixing it. I’ve had reps not only fix mistakes but refund fees and lower interest rates without me asking for these things.

    That, plus some inoffensive humor (computers make a great topic to joke about,) and reps usually bend over backwards to help. So hey, treat ’em like human beings and you get treated well in return.

  88. floraposte says:

    @nsv: Heh. Probably my best customer service call ever was a month or so ago, when the power went out. I deal with two huge utilities with names beginning with A, okay? So is it so surprising I mixed them up?

    Sadly, even when I realized just after starting to talk to the nice AT&T lady that I had made a mistake, she was unable to restore my power. We both had a good laugh, though.

  89. ThePantsParty says:


    If you think my comment was also directed at the many helpful, knowledgeable, true “customer service” workers out there, then your reading comprehension skills need work.

    Do you really think you can get away with a completely bullshit claim like that when all it takes is 2 clicks to be back at your original comment?? And then you have the balls to throw an insult on the end…as if you’re the one offended. Lets take a look at the comment in question, shall we?

    @Abusiveelusive: As a person who deals with you know-nothings who hate your customers, I have to ask you, what do you want us to say to get you to just do your jobs?

    Oh, I forgot. Your job is to figure out clever little ways to frustrate the customers who have issues so you’re left with just the ones who don’t care if they’re being jerked around and ripped off. My bad.

    I guess it’s pretty clear you were right…not directed at anyone in particular at all. I think you’re probably the only one on this forum who doesn’t know why you don’t get any service when you call in. In fact, some of us would actually make sure you had more problems than you started with by then end of the call.

  90. welsey says:

    In general, being an asshole to people who you want something from is not a good idea. It’s just not going to work!

    Just because it’s someone’s job to help you out doesn’t mean you get a free pass to be as much of a dick as you want. People would never think the best way to have someone do you a favor is to be as rude and unpleasant as possible, and it works the same way in service industry situations.

  91. welsey says:

    Oh, and one of the best CSR experiences I ever had was with AOL, simply because I got it canceled within the first 10 minutes plus 3 months refund because I told them I hadn’t actually wanted it or used it for those months. It’s all about being extremely polite and gracious!

  92. nsv says:

    @floraposte: Yes, but did she refund any fees for you?

  93. Best bet: Always be nice and realize that you’re speaking to a fellow human. I always get refunds when I speak in a soft voice, saying things like, “I know I’m probably not the first person with a problem to call you today,” or “Really, I’ve always loved your products before, but this one just didn’t seem to be the same quality as the rest of them.” They are willing to help me if I’m calm and just plain nice. A lot more willing than they’d be if I was a screaming person.

  94. dantsea says:

    @Triborough: You wonder why they have low prices? Well it is because they don’t care about customer service.

    You wonder why they don’t care about customer service? Because their customers want those low prices.

  95. bctampa says:

    Really like this book.
    Just posted this link over at Edmunds Car Space in the Forum for Honda CR-V AC Compressor Issues.

    There is a defective a/c compressor issue and Honda isn’t doing a recall.
    They are dealing with this $3800 repair with a “goodwill assistance” program that runs the gamut of $0 reimbursement to full reimbursement.

    There are 919 postings to date and the trouble loyal customers are having getting equal treatment are maddening!

    This situation [a/c compressors exploding] seems to be reported in dozens upon dozens of websites.


  96. g4lt says:


    I[‘m going to give you another reason not to tell the CSR to “cut to the chase” when troubleshooting. “the chase” is invariably the most expensive repair option plausible for a given situation. For example, with Dell, I’m going to guess that the first option in troubleshooting is “well, if you won’t troubleshoot, we’ll have to replace the whole computer”, presumably with a more expensive one. troubleshooting is not only the process of figuring out IF there is a problem, it’s the process of going from the most expensive repair to the cheapest repairs that can actually fix the problem. I can guarantee that complete replacement of the computer will fix anything, I can’t guarantee that replacing the memory sticks is going to fix much more than memory issues, and can’t even really guarantee that unless the memory issue is a specific subset of issues that can’t be affected by external variables. So basically, it’s your choice when calling tech support: assume that you’ve done everything and get a entirely-too expensive repair, or take five minutes and maybe find that it’s a trivial repair. Oh, BTW “I’ve already done that” is typically read as an instant shut-down of troubleshooting, especially if the CSR has something specific to do after the step you might or might not have done, hope you enjoy the full replacement to save a minute or two of doing something you might have done part of before.

  97. shepd says:

    My favourite phrase:

    “If you can’t/aren’t allowed to do X for me, please connect me to someone with the authority to do so.”

    I don’t mind playing transfer the agent for 2 or 3 hours, if that’s what it takes. Depending on the call centre’s software, the overall length of the call is what is shown on the team leader’s screen. While it doesn’t penalize the agents, when a call becomes so long it impacts their overall scores (eg: 2 – 3 hours of being transferred) you eventually catch the team leaders attention (calls like mine are the ones that get his ass hauled in front of his managers) and the problem is solved properly.

    Or, if it isn’t the weekend and I’m pressed for time, I just write a letter. More and more, that’s becoming my first line of defense: Bypass the phones, and write a letter to the CEO (which is read by some slave that isn’t the CEO, but can actually get things done, none-the-less).

    I also thoroughly document these calls. It has come in handy, more than once. One time for the company’s lawyers (the moment they read my 47 pages of documentation (!) they offered to pay me the owed money + court fees), the second and third times for one of those filters-the-CEOs-mail types. It’s the thorough documentation that overloads them and they break down and pay up. And, I like to imagine they get the manager in the call centre to remind the team leaders of how to better do their jobs, but that’s just imagination…

  98. Ninjanice says:

    Some more pointers from someone who used to be a CSR:

    1. Get a pen and piece of paper before you sit down to call a call center. Write down the name of the CSR and their ID number, as well as the date and time of your call and a synopsis of conversation. And let the CSR know you’re writing stuff down. A good CSR isn’t going to care; a bad CSR will do their job better if they know they’ll be held accountable.
    2. Think of a *reasonable* solution to your problem before you call. You can save a lot of time and frustration if you know this beforehand.
    3. Call during business hours. Some companies have US CSRs during reular business hours and outsource their after-hours calls to Mumbai. You may have a better chance getting a CSR that speaks English if you call during the day.

  99. keytone says:

    I just started working at one of these Large Corporations who outsource many of their calls and I can tell you the company in question knows it sucks. During the training process we listened to several CS calls that ranged from the polite and assertive to the screaming and crying — and I can tell you that the ones who were polite but assertive definitely got better results out of the CSRs.

    As for the outsourcing thing, my company is increasing it’s budget (granted I don’t know how much) for English proficiency testing and training.

    So hopefully our experiences as consumers will slowly improve — people will gravitate to the better customer experience.

    …or maybe my Corporate Overlords wanted to make sure I had no moral qualms about my line of work…

    disclaimer: I speak as an individual, yadda yadda, you don’t know which company I work for, yadda yadda…

  100. baristabrawl says:

    I try not to be hostile, but I always repeat the person’s name and their employee number thing. Then they know that I know who they are and I can find them again if I have to.

    I almost never yell at someone, but I do say, “Thanks” and call back until I get what I think is fair, and I’m usually pretty reasonable.

  101. crashfrog says:

    @Corydon: Oh, it was totally the hotel I was at. I would have been a lot more helpful if the management hadn’t specifically directed us not to be.

    At any rate, the Quality Inn on HW-13 in Savage, MN is a place to avoid. Unless you like drugs, hookers, and truckers.

  102. res1i3js says:

    omg, sticky this article it’s true for technical support too. I don’t want to help someone who is telling me I’m a dead man. :(

  103. yso says:

    Ask if they are a US based call center. If they say no, ask if you can get transefered to one. Esp when dealing with Citibank! 99.9% of the time, they will.