Be Polite, Not Pushy For Better Customer Service

Does the squeaky wheel get the grease or do you draw more flies with honey than vinegar? Consumerism Commentary endorses the latter method when it comes to getting the best customer service possible, making the case for why politeness gets you farther than pushiness.

A few tips from the post:

â– Write down (or just temporarily learn) his/her name. Use it conversationally, but especially near the end just before whatever changes that need to be made are about to be made.

â– Acknowledge that he/she is an independent, intelligent human being with feelings. They will reciprocate that point of view on you, too.

â– Remember their position: they’ve been talking to people with problems like yours for hours. Believe it or not, they like it when they’re able to help. Give them a chance to help you.

Have you found that kindness is the best complaint policy?

Customer Service: Politeness vs. Demands [Consumerism Commentary via Lifehacker]
(Thanks, GitEmSteveDave!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I tried the angry approach once (I’m usually polite) and it didn’t go well in the sense they made us jump through some hoops. We called back, got someone else, and didn’t have to do much to get what we want. I pose that CSRs pull out all the bullshit to piss you off if you act angry.

    • bonzombiekitty says:

      I can only speak for myself, but when I did tech support if and a “customer” (was in-house tech support for a large company) yelled at me, I’d do the bare minimum necessary and follow the rules to the T. Could I ignore steps F through Y in order to get to Z? Yes. Am I supposed to? No. Am I going to do it if you’re being a jerk? No way – I’m not going to reward people for being jerks to me.

  2. capitalismhellyes says:

    Never, ever yell at a tier 1.

    • nbs2 says:

      Unless they refuse to acknowledge that you’ve called them out of a lie.

      • domcolosi says:

        No, I think his point still holds most of the time, especially when the “lie” is something someone else has told you. You shouldn’t get all pissy because of something someone else told you.

        In fact, even if you think the CSR lied right to you and then contradicted himself, pissing him off isn’t going to make him want to help you.

  3. icntdrv says:

    I’ve worked in several customer service positions. Let me tell you, polite people ALWAYS got better treatment than the rude jerks who stomped around demanding things. I had the ability to give away $20 worth of inventory without managerial approval just to maintain customer satisfaction, but we could spot the people who wouldn’t be satisfied regardless, so they got NOTHING.

  4. cynical_reincarnation says:

    in any customer facing job, there is always a more drawn out way to do something.

    Keep that in mind.

  5. leprechaunshawn says:

    The nice approach generally works better than being rude. I’ve got a perfect example:

    I’d been looking for a specific NY Yankees had. had it. While I was on their website I saw that you could sign up to be on their email list and receive 25% off your next order. I signed up and got the discount code. When I tried it, it wouldn’t apply the discount. I called their customer service number and was polite in explaining my situation. The rep I spoke with ended up giving me a bigger discount than 25%, the hat was originally $33.99, with the 25% it should have been $25.49. She set me up with a price of a flat $24.00 dollars. I thanked her for that offer and explained that I only needed the standard USPS shipping for $4.95 and she gave me UPS Next Day Air for free, New Era charges $26.95 for that!! I got what should have cost me abouot $52.00 for $24.00.

    Moral of the story: Be nice to people and they’ll usually be nice to you.

    • leprechaunshawn says:


      I was looking for a NY Yankees HAT, not a NY Yankees HAD.

      Damn me trying to post before I’ve had my coffee.

      • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

        i thought you were looking for the New York Yankees with printed on them
        thanks for the clarification

        my blood sugar is low.
        this may not be as funny to others as it is to me.

        • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

          It actually is funny to me, but only if i mentally put myself in the mood I’m in when I have low blood sugar… in the high 50s or so.

  6. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Sometimes if you’re calling for a local service that’s not local to you (like flower delivery), it really helps to work with the people calmly. I called a florist to deliver flowers to my in laws and holy moly the florist was slow in taking my order. They seemed to be very accurate, but it took nearly 40 minutes to put in a really simple order. They were very nice, but I had to remind myself that in some places people work at a slower pace than I might expect from living in a city. There were times I got really annoyed that things were taking so long, but they were so apologetic about it that I would probably use them again if the flowers turn out spectacularly.

  7. nbs2 says:

    I’m generally polite to CS folks. I’ve only had to get angry three times, twice with Chase, once with UPS.

    The first Chase was because they completely botched clearing the title to my wife’s car. We were selling it, and couldn’t get the title transferred. Fortunately, the guy was patient with us while we worked to get through Chase’s failures. Chase got yelled at.

    The second was when the Chase rep flat out lied to me about my credit card’s history, claiming that I wasn’t eligible for benefits for six months until after I had the card, and that I would need to pay for things that were already covered by the annual fee I was paying. Chase got yelled at.

    The last was when UPS could not get a pricey package to me. They actually overwrote my address with my old address and delivered it there. But, they wouldn’t tell me where it was delivered, just that it had been delivered. I didn’t have it, my wife didn’t have it, the complex office didn’t have it. The signature didn’t match us or our neighbors. Trying the old address, on a whim, wouldn’t have worked since they had gone out in the interim. Only that they got back the next day helped matters. In the meantime, UPS got yelled at. Well, not yelled. I just accused them of being racist, that they didn’t want to deliver packages to brown people.

    Politeness is important, but it isn’t an excuse to be run over.

  8. dulcinea47 says:

    I worked in a call center and I can say this is 100% true. I had the ability to give discounts/ express shipping/ etc. to people with problems with their orders and they were a lot more likely to get it if they were nice. Why would you want to help someone who’s being a total jerk to you? If you put your mind to it, it’s possible to express your frustration with whatever problem is going on, without being nasty to the customer service rep who probably isn’t the one who screwed up to begin with.

    • Ladybird says:


      In my days on the phone, people who were polite always got better customer service. The customer that never missed a payment and screwed up one ringtone download? Free download. The customer with chronic static issues that walked through all the troubleshooting steps and had a sense of humor about it? Phone under warranty (even though warranty expired the week before) with free overnight shipping for not being a total ass.

      Folks who gave me lip got put on hold a LOT. People who proceeded to curse at me got straight dial tone. I’m always overly polite to CSR’s and 99% of the time, I get what I’m after (refund, free shipping, replacement).

  9. jiubreyn says:

    The first two times I have to contact a CSR (or equivalent) for an issue, they deserve to be treated with respect. The third and subsequent times I have to call back for a resolution, the earrings are coming off.

    • LandruBek says:

      How can you tell whether they’re wearing earrings?

      • redstapler says:

        Lol I will assume an attempt at levity and thank you for the chuckle. Otherwise, well… let’s not go there.

    • Tom Foolery says:

      So you’re polite to the first two, but if they don’t solve your problem you call back and take your irritation out on a third rep, who had nothing to do with the failure of the first two?

  10. HannahK says:

    Some CSRs are naturally argumentative people who will defend the company like your refund is going to come out of their own paycheck or something- even if their real job is more about customer retention, they can’t seem to contain themselves.

    I always make sure to be very friendly and say “I know you’re just doing your job”. It keeps the complaint from becoming a battle of wills between you and the CSR, and reminds them that they don’t have a personal stake in the outcome. This always has good results for me.

  11. burnedout says:

    There are differences between live and phone interactions – you have to be polite + a leeettle pushy on the phone to get anywhere because it’s too easy to ignore you. Cross into rude or unreasonable and a CSR will flag your file and it’s cruddy service forever when you call.

    Live and in person, though, it depends on what you want – rudeness will get you what you want short term, but long term assistance only comes from a pleasant and cultivated relationship with a sales staff. For example, I worked at the same clothing store for almost 8 years (high school, college and some grad school). Over time I collected a few regulars – pleasant ones and some people I wished I could ask to never come back.

    One of the latter was a woman who was just DEMANDING every time she walked in the door – the majority of her requests were reasonable, but she was so condescending and rude every time she came in the store that we all would just grit our teeth and work to get her back out the door as quickly as possible.

    One day she was there when another regular came in – this woman was sweet as sugar and the summer before she got matching t-shirts for her daughter’s class trip to somewhere. At the the time she needed 40 shirts and she came in towards the end of Back to School so tracking them down in the right sizes took three days and dozens of phone calls but we got it done and she sent the nicest letter to corporate (and a group photo) about how our store helped her out (it made the front page of the company newsletter). Anyway the day before I called her to let her know our first shipment of summer shirts came in and she showed up to dig through the boxes with us and she was on the sales floor gushing to crabby lady about how awesome we were. So, nice lady picks out her shirt and gives us the size list and leaves and crabby lady grouses at the register that she’s in several times a month and spends a lot of money and no one has ever gone out of their way to be nice to HER…

    So I looked her straight in the eye, covered my nametag, and said, “what’s my name?” She looked blank. So I asked, “when’s the last time you ASKED us for help rather than ordering us around?” Blank. “Did you know that you have made two of my employees cry because of how you talked to them?” Blank again, but getting defensive. “Listen, we’re here because we’re paid to be, but we’re not on commission. We like the clothes and we like working with people…who are nice to us. If you want to get what you want from a sales staff, the trick is to make them want to do it before you even think to ask, and that won’t happen when you treat them like servants. I have 8 sales people working today and 4 demanded to take their breaks when you walked in the door – what does that tell you about the type of person you are?”

    She got misty, bought her stuff — and never came back (at least not on my shifts). We were happier for it. Downside, corporate probably would have kicked my ass, but upside the staff got me a cupcake for sticking up for them :)

    • semidazed says:

      You are my hero.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      Daaang, that’s a great story. A lot of people are rude and don’t even realize it–I’ve been guilty of it myself. It’s important for people to be aware of how they’re behaving. Anyone can have a bad day, anyone can be in a bad mood.

      I’ve postponed shopping trips when I was feeling crabby and contrary specifically because “That nice girl at the bookstore doesn’t need to share my bad mood.”

  12. Alys Brangwin says:

    I worked in a campus computer store for three years, and we dealt with all parts of the university community. We had to follow lots of laws, especially those regarding software and computer purchasing, but there was a lot of situations that could go either way. If we asked the manager and added “The customer is being very nice/patient/understanding,” he’d say go ahead and do the transaction. If we came back to the office and said “This asshole wants to buy this and I told him we can’t do that,” then the manager would walk out and explain to the asshole that it wasn’t going to happen. We bent the rules for the nice people, never the assholes.

  13. sponica says:

    My friend works at the T-Mobile Customer Service Center in Maine….she said that the suicide hotline she manned in college was less emotionally taxing. She’s constantly at the bottom of the list when all 700+ employees are ranked based on calls completed, etc. Callers like her bc she doesn’t chase them off the phone but the bosses aren’t too thrilled with her performance. She’s kind of like Mr. Incredible when he worked at the insurance company, secretly helping little old ladies find loopholes and keep their coverage

  14. semidazed says:

    I work as a sales associate in retail and I’ll tell you, I am much more inclined to slide a little bit on the rules with someone who is polite and courteous versus someone who walks in with an effing attitude. If you’re an abusive butt-pain, I don’t care how much money you’ve spent at our store. If you’re a jerk, I don’t even want you to come back. When someone comes in with that kind of attitude (and I feel I give a lot of leeway for people), I repeat the appropriate corporate policy to them… when they ask for a manager, I tell the manager about the customer’s behavior and that I repeated the corporate policy. The managers generally will do the same.

  15. jariten says:

    I’m typically nice to begin with…but you’ve really got to read the folks on the other end.

    Was a “Customer Associate” for 3 years and a floor supervisor for another 3 at Convergys back during the 90s and based on that time plus what I’ve dealt with in personal dealings since I’ve found the following:

    Some reps are truly helpful and will do whatever they can within their power to make things right and will even call a supervisor it they’ve exceeded their compensation cap. These are fairly rare. Being nice here is helpful.

    Some just want to keep their stats in the good and, depending on the call center, may dole out whatever they can as soon as they can to keep their call times down. These folks don’t want to have a lovely conversation about the weather or have you guessing where they’re from based on their accent. They can come across as rude to you…but they’re just trying to be expedient. Best to be forward and succinct.

    Some are timid. These can be lead to where you want by essentially directing them to do what you think you deserve. These people are also typically scared to death to escalate to their sups which you can also use to your advantage.

    Quite a few just don’t care…at all. These guys will typically do whatever is easiest. I typically will escalate rather quickly when I get that type on the line as giving reimbursement often requires them to expend extra effort which they’re loathe to do.

    The worst are the ‘company loyalist’ type. These are the ones that nearly always assume that a customer is wrong and the company is right. They do not believe that misunderstandings should be remunerated. With them there is no middle ground. They will argue with you, imply you’re a fool, refuse to transfer you without badgering (and they’ll often attempt to pre-grease the supervisor to deny your requests when they do), and generally make your day bad. It’s often best to get transferred as soon as you find out you’re dealing with this type or hang-up and call back to get someone else. These will also leave notes on your account telling other people not to help you or that you’re a difficult customer or whatever which can be long lasting unless you have a supervisor delete them.

    There’s also every mix in between so your best bet is to try and quickly ascertain what you’re dealing with a tailor your strategy appropriately.

  16. Darkrose says:

    I’ve worked tech support before and typically the nice, understanding people get more than the nasty people, at least from me. Pushy people typically serve to just piss me off and instead of gettnig a nice fat credit, they will get exactly what they deserve, down to the penny.

    Services out? Great! There’s your $1.47 credit. Argue with me about it? Great, well I rounded up to the day anyway, even though the customer was down for an hour or 2, so they’re already getting more than they should.

  17. Shmonkmonk says:

    Asking a CR for their name puts them on the defense because most assume you are asking so you can report them. This might work in your favor but, often times, they will view you as a hostile customer and treat you as such.

    I work as a retail manager. We have our company mandated policy and we have our humanity and common sense. Policy always favors the company and protects their assets. Want to return something without a receipt? Sorry, policy says you can’t. Want to return something the day after the 30 day window? Sorry, it’s against policy. Want us to hold your son’s perfect gift until your next pay day? Sorry, policy says you can’t. Want us to give you a price adjustment after something went on sale? Sorry, policy says we don’t do that.

    But, you know, we’re human, we’re consumers too. We know how it feels to feel like someone is being unfair and screwing us over. Chances are, we probably think our policy’s a bit too strict as well. Retail employees are human with empathy and, believe it or not, a lot of us genuinely want to help you out. I mean, don’t you, generally, enjoy making people happy, we do to!… But not if you’re an a-hole with a huge sense of entitlement.

    Basically, chances are, you probably don’t like our policy and, guess what, we are not, in anyway, required to bend the rules for you. Most of the time, we will be more than happy to make the exception if you’re just decent. We’re not asking for on the knees, hands clasped groveling, just basic manners.

    When a customer comes in DEMANDING I do this and that, threatening my job, calling me names, etc. I shut down. At that point, my goal is to get them out of the store ASAP. “Nope, sorry, it’s policy. Sorry I can’t help you out, here’s who to contact in HQ. Goodbye, have a great day”. If they’re polite I’m all, “Sure! We can work something out! No problem!”

    Oh, and threatening to report us for NOT bending the rules for you never works. Go ahead! Here’s my boss’s email, phone number, and here’s my name, the store number, etc. No one gets in trouble for following policy. If my boss wants to know why I didn’t just give in instead of pissing off a customer all I have to say is, “Um, that customer was really shady,” and, all of sudden, you’re a potential thief and I’m in the clear.

  18. Its_Miller_Time says:

    I worked in both customer service (Call Center and Face-to-Face). I can agree with the general statement in these posts that nicer attitudes get you better service. One thing I always did, was that if the customer came on the line/in the store pissed off, but acknowledged the fact that it was not my fault, I would still help them to the best I could and to rectify the situation. I tried to empathize with them and could understand their situation and would be pissed off too if it happened to me.

  19. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    The other week after a particular awful fiasco with our household’s phone plan, my roomie, who spent several hours on the phone trying to get our broken household account fixed, escalated to the CSR’s supervisor specifically to gush at him about how awesome the CSR was and how much she helped him.

    It was pretty cool.

  20. burnedout says:

    I did have one instance where I was kind of a jerk to a CSR but totally got more than I asked for just to get me off the phone. Best Buy screwed up an exchange and the store staff was useless (big surprise) so I thought I’d try corporate. Anyway, I got a CSR who wouldn’t budge on helping me so I just kept talking to her about it – I didn’t lose my temper or say anything mean, I just kept trying to reason with her. Anyway, she offered to transfer me to a supervisor and then “accidentally” dropped the call. So I called back, asked for her and kept talking. After an hour and a half I asked if they’re rated based on call time. She was cagey so I asked when her shift ended. There was a pause and she said, “I think I can take care of this issue for you.” I got more than I asked for and then I asked for her supervisor’s fax # and sent the gushiest letter of thanks for her patience on the phone. Hopefully that helped counter the two hour phone call…

  21. [MG]LooseCannon says:

    “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is a cliche because it’s true. However “The nail that sticks out, gets hammered” is also a cliche because it’s true. When it comes to customer service and getting what you want, persistent and polite is being a squeaky wheel. Persistent and abrasive is being a nail that sticks out.

  22. MercuryPDX says:

    I always play the polite card first. If I feel my Blood pressure rising, I make it a point to pause and say “Please understand that I’m angry about the situation and I am not yelling at you. This is very frustrating.”

    I will always take it out on the company, but never the person on the phone unless they get surly with me first.

  23. MrBounce says:

    I only get huffy with CSR’s when THEY are the ones who get huffy at me first. While I get they go through annoying customers one after the other, it should be part of their job to NOT show that annoyance to the next customer because it just rubs the customer the wrong way. In a lot of ways it’s cyclical, a crabby CSR will perpetuate their own crabbiness by making the customers who come to them even madder than they were.

  24. goldilockz says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that you get more flies with honey. Politeness goes a long way, after all the first person you talk to is more than likely NOT the cause of your problem. If THEY get rude, all bets are off though!

  25. dangermike says:

    I have to agree with the politeness thing. I always say please and thank you, or when retail clerks ask how I’m doing, I usually turn around into “Good, and you?” and you can usually hear the appreciation in response. And sometimes it really pays off, too. I just had a buck double with three! patties. (It was awesome)

  26. It'sRexManningDay! says:

    Whenever one of his employees would compain about something minor, my dad’s stock reply was always “the squeaky wheel gets replaced.”

  27. calchip says:

    Funny that in this posting Consumerist is saying it endorses this method, when I remember reading a posting a while back endorsing Ron Burley’s method of resolving complaints by getting the rep on the phone and saying “you ARE going to resolve my problem today” and essentally trying to be controlling and demanding.

    If I remember correctly, the CSRs who posted in response overwhelmingly said that method didn’t work. Glad to see that Consumerist has changed its tune.

  28. Big Mama Pain says:

    Being nice must work because I have literally never had a customer service problem-ever. Not even with a collections CSR I dealt with years ago. I’m also not a self-entitled asshole, so I’m not inclined to go running to Consumerist if I didn’t get cookies in my freaking ice cream-so perhaps being a little more laid back about things helps, too.

  29. PAZ002 says:

    I work as a technical support rep for internet and telephone services at a local cable company. I can tell you that you will get more support out of me if you are nicer and not an @$$hole the whole way through the call. I can’t tell you how many people say they are IT or build computers for a living and already did all the troubleshooting and asking me to schedule a tech…but to find out the power is unplugged or their equipment is the issue. People that are polite to me and let me do my job get so much more out of me troubleshooting wise, plus if I have to send a tech I work with them on getting a tech out when they want him and even give some money out if it is a chronic problem.

    Politeness gives you so much more with a customer service rep and I wished that people understood that and weren’t such jackasses.

  30. devilsadvocate says:

    Hi I work in a call center and I have to say, being a nice guy never gets you anywhere as a consumer. Many times I want to transfer the customer to speak with retention department to get what they want, but they simply don’t get angry enough to say the magic words – cancel my account. Unless they threaten to cancel, mention a competitor, or other ‘triggers’ I have to look out for during the call, I have to tell them, repeatedly, no.

  31. RvLeshrac says:

    If you’re on the phone, you’ll get better service if you’re polite.

    If you’re in person, well… I’ve never worked at a company where I’ve seen management do more for a pleasant customer than they will for someone being a complete jackass.

  32. odd_ferret says:

    I have worked in customer service all my life and know the nicer you are, the more people want to help you.

    I’ve gotten so much stuff when I was having issues with AT&T a few weeks ago. Being nice, despite the fact that the first person I spoke with outright canceled my account when I just wanted to change my services, got me not only $200 rebate, but also the highest tier internet connection for free for 6 months.

  33. parmonie says:

    I’ve been working in gas stations for the past 5 years. We get all kinds of people in here, most of whom are generally nice. Located right off of a highway exit, we’re the busiest store in the company’s small chain, having diesel, a Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway AND a mini post office (contracted postal unit). I’m generally patient with most people, especially very young children, the elderly, disabled and soldiers (we’re by an Air Force Base).

    Last Monday, a woman came in to buy Newports ($7.91), 1-liter soda ($1.69+ deposit= $1.74) and a blunt wrap ($.73). Her total was $10.38. She handed me a winning scratch ticket worth $5. I deducted the $5 from her total, which was now $5.38. She handed me a $10 bill and 38 cents. I punched that into the register and gave her a $5 bill back.
    “That’s not right,” she said.
    “Are you sure? Let me pull up the receipt.”

    I pulled up the receipt and showed her. A line had started forming behind her. I explained everything in a calm manner, as I always do, and even showed her on a calculator how it came to be $5 for her change.

    “Lady, I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you, but that’s not right. I need more change back than that. I gave you $10.38 worth of cash and a ticket. You owe me more than that! What the hell are you doing here anyway? You obviously can’t do change,” she yelled.

    This is the point where, after being calm and presumably helpful, I was taking it personally. I don’t normally get this upset with people but this woman was refusing to see how this worked out. She started swearing at me, calling me stupid. I handed her the receipt and told her she could see the manager in the morning if she still felt there was a discrepancy in her change. As far as I know, she never talked to the manager about it. I told the manager what happened and she said the woman needed to go back to 2nd grade and learn money.

    I’ve learned in this business that customer service and retail jobs can be quite taxing on one’s emotions and patience. I’m always kind an understanding when I’m the customer because I’ve been on the receiving end of a customer’s anger and frustration more times than I can count. I make it a point to be calm and collected when I have a problem that needs solving.

    Since we get a lot of customers using their cell phones while at the register, I take an approach that I deem appropriate. If the customer is talking on a cell phone, I don’t say a word to them. Not one. Some get upset and angry, but it’s horribly rude to talk while being waited on. If they happen to be on their cell phone and give me a debit card, I run it as credit. I mean, they didn’t TELL me they wanted it as debit, did they? One customer was on his phone and complained to the person on the other end of the line that I hadn’t greeted him or said anything. I told him, “Obviously you don’t want to talk to me since you’re on your phone. I’m giving what I’m getting, sir.” He hasn’t been on his phone in my line since.