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TSF’s Rules for Getting What You Want When Dealing with Customer Service Representatives

Posted by Thirtysomething Finance on November 24, 2009

When she was well, my Bubbie (grandmother, to some) was 5 feet tall and 100 pounds, with a mouth like someone who was 6’6″, 250! She was always great at getting somebody to give her what she wanted, partially due to three very important tips she taught me that have served me well over the years:

1. “The Answer is Always ‘No’ If You Don’t Ask;”
2. “The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil;” and
3. “You Catch More Flies With Honey Than With Vinegar”

Her words echoed in my mind this morning when I logged in to my Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account, which I typically do every morning — but this morning, I was surprised to see a $25 insufficient funds charge to my account. Bub wouldn’t like that! I tend to run my account pretty lean and mean — in other words, I don’t keep more in my account than I’m planning on spending that month — and I also am meticulous about monitoring spending and tracking how much is coming out of my account at any time. Needless to say, I was very surprised to see this charge because I track everything so closely.

So I called them — what did I have to lose? The customer service representative (“CSR”) told me that I had attempted to make a payment to my Schwab credit card account in excess of the amount of funds I had in my account. And I realized what happened…I got a ~$350 check from work recently, reimbursing me for some expenses I’d incurred on a recent work trip. I deposited the check into my account with TD Bank, my brick and mortar institution — but when I went to pay my credit card bill, I must have accidentally had the payment come from my Schwab account instead…

So I explained what happened to the CSR, and he agreed that it was too bad. I could have easily hung up and let this be a $25 lesson, but I remembered Bub’s three rules and asked him if, as a courtesy, he would give me a refund on account of this expense. And he said yes!

And I knew he would say yes. I’ve had this experience countless times — the fact of the matter is that CSRs are authorized and even encouraged to extend these courtesies — but usually only if you ask! This phenomenon is not limited to dealing with banks — I’ve had similar successes dealing with the cable company, my cell phone provider, and a variety of stores.

When you find yourself in these situations, you must remember that nobody is going to look out for your interests unless you do. While it’s important for you to state your case and assert yourself, you do not want to be the guy or girl that is such a jerk that the CSR does not want to help you. If the CSR isn’t on your side, your job is going to be that much harder, and in my experience, you’re usually better off starting out nice before you lose your temper. Getting nasty is a switch you cannot un-flip, and if you upset the CSR, you run a strong risk of missing your objective. That said, I think there is a time and a place for huffing and puffing, whether theatrically or seriously — and as I will describe, I’ve been there before — but you never start out that way.

Here are a few concrete tactics I use when faced with these situations:

1. Address the CSR by name.
2. Be pleasant, polite, friendly, amiable — pick your synonym.
3. Ask for what you want.

and if this doesn’t get you where you want to be,

4. Ask to speak with their superviser and repeat Steps 1-3.

Of course it can be more complicated than this, but I believe these 3-4 steps are enough to get you started. As the GI Joe team so eloquently stated, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!”

This is a topic I definitely plan to blog about in the future, as I have some customer service success stories that I must share with you. In hindsight, some of these stories are almost embarrassing in terms of what I wanted and how far I went to get it — but they’ve reinforced my belief that my Bub was a pretty hip lady.

There are times when I’ve close come to the conclusion that customer service is dead in this country, but it’s not — it’s just that the rules of the game are different. That said, I believe these three rules I’ve listed here have served me well under the new paradigm.


6 Responses to “TSF’s Rules for Getting What You Want When Dealing with Customer Service Representatives”

  1. Jeff said

    I agree, if you don’t ask nothing can happen – good or bad. I was just telling someone at work today “nobody is going to look out for your interests unless you do,” it warmed my heart to see you had just written the same phase. Personal accountability is so important and most people just over look it. Bubbie sounds like a wonderful person, I love the name 🙂

  2. WellHeeled said

    Great post! Btw, I’m a first time visitor… welcome to the pf blog community. 🙂

    I’ve had pretty good luck calling customer service and asking for late fees to be dismissed. Since 2006, I think I’ve had 2 instances where I paid a bill late by 1-3 days. Both times by asking nicely (and being a good customer otherwise), I got the fees & finance charges waived.

    • Thanks very much! You’re right that your track record is important — in fact, when I spoke with the CSR, he mentioned that he could extend the courtesy because of my otherwise (mostly) immaculate history. In other words, you have to be a good customer to get good customer service! Hmm, maybe I should add that rule to the list!

  3. duddes02 said

    I have a Bubbie too! But we pronounce it “Babbie” (I think it’s German slang)

    I like you blog, so I”m officially following you.

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