Tips for calling a customer service line… and be nice.

A few years ago I worked at an inbound telemarketing firm in the customer service department. I left because I couldn’t take the stress anymore. I also suffered physically as I gained weight and took up some bad habits like drinking more. Add to all of that the fact that my mother died while I worked there. When I came back from a week’s bereavement leave we had taken on a new client that made the job worse. I don’t even remember who it was anymore—some suppliment pills based on acai berries—but they refused to give money back under any circumstances. Between that and all sorts of fine print that customers wouldn’t have seen led to the company I worked for to take on extra employees essentially to handle complaint calls. After about a month I quit.

I won’t spend this whole post complaining about a job that I left years ago. Instead I wanted to take a slightly more positive spin on it and offer some tips to consumers when dealing with customer service representatives on the phone. This isn’t so much for customers than it is for the employees who work in customer service departments at these firms. Hopefully when reading this you might have a little more empathy for the person on the other end of the phone when you call to complain about the overpriced steam cleaner you ordered after watching an ad for it on late-night T.V.

If I’m not there anymore, why am I still concerned? Because I still get flashbacks to that job. These thoughts started swirling around in my head recently after having one. (As a side note: would this qualify me for medical marijuana?)

1. You’re probably not speaking to the company directly.
If the customer service number you’re calling is about a small-time product like the aforementioned steam cleaner, a cure-all book, or a diet pill program, you’re most likely not talking to an actual employee of the company that sells it. They hire these inbound telemarketing firms instead to both take sales and customer service calls. The person on the other end of the phone may still refer to himself or herself as a representative of the company, because for the moment he or she is. But he or she may also at different times in the work day represent some other product. This is cheaper for the companies than hiring their own employees. On your end, it doesn’t seem like much of a difference as the person you’re speaking to was trained in the product or service and how to take your call. However, a successful inbound telemarketing firm will take on several clients and their individual policies can be a headache to sort out.

Overall, this point is more important as it leads to the next one:

2. You can ask to speak to the manager, but don’t expect to.
…And even if you do, get ready for a disappointment. These managers are trained employees for the same firm as the service representatives that take the calls. Likewise, they are bound to the same rules and policies laid out for them by the clients the firm takes calls for. The managers will be more likely to be more strict when enforcing those policies than the service representatives. They’re usually better at politeness and convincing you to keep the product or accept a no-refunds policy, but they’ll be following the same rules as the person you spoke to at first. Sometimes the customer service representative that takes your call might not follow the rules and will give you more than what the manager would. It’s understandable if you get angry but sometimes it’s better to cut your losses.

Keep in mind that generally, the manager is an office manager whose main priorities are the firm they work for and not the client they represent. From what I remember, the most common role that they have in relation to the other people in the office are to tell them when they can take a smoke break.

3. The person you’re speaking to doesn’t have the best job security.
When I had that job I remembered that I was treated well by the company, with a high entry-level pay and decent management. In fact, I remember thinking that the company was one of the best that I ever worked for but the job itself sucked. Had I stayed, however, I would have gotten laid off anyway in a few months’ time as the place went out of business. I have heard stories of other people who did jobs like that in other firms which also closed. I’ve witnessed a few more on top of it. If they are able to manage going from company to company they’ll do okay, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll find anything. There always seems to be a need for companies like that as other companies are always trying to sell cheap crap and services that consumers will go for… and then complain about. Still, that doesn’t mean that they’ll be hiring.

4.While you might not want to admit it, you’re most likely at fault.
Let’s face it, you probably didn’t read the fine print on the website for those diet pills. You might have not caught the exact words that the sales representative said to you when ordering the steam cleaner. But these companies are very meticulous when they write the terms and conditions page or the script that the sales rep. is reading. They also know how to bury this information so you don’t see it right away. If you’re tired when you make an order (remember, these ads are on late at night for a reason) you won’t see it. But it’s there. Read everything word for word and ask questions. Don’t agree to anything that you don’t understand. A lot of times these companies don’t just sell you one thing. You most likely signed up for future shipments of something that you don’t want.

You’ll notice that I singled out particular kinds of products and services. I don’t know how larger companies like cable providers operate. They might have their own representatives that you talk to as well as more lenient policies. But there are other companies that offer things that are just legal enough to not be considered scams. A good general rule is that if you saw it advertised on television with a phone number, don’t call that number. If you see an ad on the Internet that looks suspicious, don’t click on it.

But should you buy something and then have to call the customer service number, try to show some courtesy. The person on the other end is getting yelled at all day by people who don’t understand what they got themselves into. He or she is just trying to do his or her job. Get angry, sure, but not with the person on the other end. Just cancel everything and try not to order from that company again.

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