1 How To Get Whatever You Want From Customer Service, Painfully | The Billfold

How To Get Whatever You Want From Customer Service, Painfully

My mother taught me a customer-service bargaining secret that saves me hundreds of dollars all the time, but also kills me softly and slowly.  The secret is basically:

1. Anytime you have to call customer service because of a grievance (airlines, electronics, utilities, ESPECIALLY for health insurance stuff) you should always keep going past all the robots, record everything in writing once you get to a human (time/date/employee name and number/duration of contact), and eventually get to the highest manager you can.

2. Once there: State your experience with the company and demand an extremely large refund/credit/adjustment (if the situation warrants such a thing, which it pretty much always does).

3. If that doesn’t work, compile a written record and send it to someone at the company who will give you money to shut you up (generally only worth it if you’re dealing with a $700+ medical bill, in my experience).

This works almost every time, and has netted me many airline vouchers and the like. But again, this tactic will eat away at your soul. For example, this conversation with a customer service rep at AT&T, iterated about 12 times, eventually got me $160 off of my AT&T bill. It wasn’t even remotely worth it.

Laura: Hello Mr. Jia Tolentino.
Jia Tolentino: Hello, “Laura.” I have chatted with eight people today “named” “Laura” and none of them have been able to help me find my router.
Jia Tolentino: This is regarding U-verse account number 11—–01
Jia Tolentino: I need my router, which was supposed to arrive yesterday.
Jia Tolentino: I am also not a Mr. but it’s fine 
Laura: It looks like you may have questions about your U-Verse account. How may I help you?
Jia Tolentino: By telling me the location of my router and explaining why it is not in my house right now.
Laura: I am seeing the equipment is to be shipped on 06/14/2012. For any other questions please call the orders department at 1-800-288-2020.
Jia Tolentino: WHAT NO
Jia Tolentino: I don’t want to call the orders department. I called them five times yesterday. Do you have the number for the repeat-call customer center?
Laura: Yes, you may call 1-800-288-2020.
Jia Tolentino: That’s the orders department.
Laura: Yes, I apologize, that is the only department to call.
Jia Tolentino: No it’s not, and I bet you know it’s not
Laura: I understand, I do apologize, the only number we have for you to call is 1-800-288-2020.
Jia Tolentino: Do you acknowledge the existence of upper management? Can you get me to your chat manager, who may be able to disclose more detailed information?
Laura: Please call 1-800-288-2020 during your local business hours.
Jia Tolentino: Please give me your employee number and put me in touch with your manager.
Laura: Yes, it is LD12—G. One moment please.
Laura: Hi my name is Ian. I am the manager on the floor.
Jia Tolentino: Hi Ian/Laura. Thanks for helping me. I need to get back in touch with the manager who expedited my order on June 5th. Her name was LeAnn and she worked in the repeat call department.
Laura: I do show that you spoke with someone on the 5th of June. We have a phone number you can call for further assistance which is 1-800-288-2020.
Jia Tolentino: NO NO
Jia Tolentino: I do not need that number
Laura: 1-800-288-2020 is the only number we have. I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.
Jia Tolentino: That is absolutely not the only number you have.
Jia Tolentino: Do you acknowledge the EXISTENCE of a separate, repeat-call customer care department
Laura: No we do not have a separate repeat call customer care department. You can reach customer service at 1-800-288-2020
Jia Tolentino: COOL IT with the number please
Jia Tolentino: Also I just Googled AT&T customer support and found a hundred listings for repeat-call support staff
Jia Tolentino: UGH it’s fine; no worries bud! I’ll just call AT&T over and over again for 7 hours tomorrow and then get put through to this department that you are pretending doesn’t exist
Laura: Please call 1-800-288-2020 for further assistance. Thank you.
Jia Tolentino: Don’t go, Ian! You’re the floor manager and that’s all you can do?
Jia Tolentino: Can you do anything to my file; can you move it somewhere, to an urgent-complaint list; can you give me someone’s EXTENSION number?
Jia Tolentino: There has to be some way to flag my account or something so that someone will speak to me without selecting responses from a robot list
Laura: I am not able to do any of that, but if you call 1-800-288-2020 we will be more than happy to take care of that for you.
Jia Tolentino: I think I shall cancel this order
Laura: If you wish to cancel your services, please contact our customer relation specialist at 1-800-288-2020.
Jia Tolentino: HAHAHA
Jia Tolentino: GOOD ONE
Jia Tolentino: Wait, what’s the number again
Jia Tolentino: I forgot
Jia Tolentino: it’s like, 1-800 something
Laura: It is 1-800-288-2020. Is there anything else I may assist you with?


Jia Tolentino just joined Twitter in order to form a more perfect union of customer-service bargaining techniques.


22 Comments / Post A Comment

Megano!@twitter (#1,923)

Story time! I have worked at an inbound call centre (for a large American telecom, but I am in Canada). They can’t do anytrhing there, and most of the information you have you look up. Also this other department is probably not even in the same country, so if the info they have is only giving them that one #, that’s all they’ve got. Because they also have no access to Google.

Maladydee (#909)

@Megano!@twitter @Megano!@twitter ….. This call centre wouldn’t be on the prairies and start with the letter C, would it? Because I also worked at a call centre for a large american telecom in canada, and we were absolutely hamstrung for what we could do for people. At one point, they changed the number for dispatch and didn’t tell us, so when people would call asking why their tech never showed up for the appointment, we couldn’t find out jack shit.

Jellybish (#560)

When we had a technical problem with our TV last fall, I had no luck getting through to a person at the call center. I tweeted about the crappy service and had a rep contacting me within 15 minutes. (It still ended up being a lot of back and forth, but I eventually got what I wanted, which was a steeply discounted new TV to replace the out-of-warranty TV).

The shortcut is Twitter! The shortcut is always Twitter. I made a joke twitter account for my friend in college, and now I use it to tweet at companies. Successes:

April 2012: Got Capital One to refund my mom the miles from my dead father’s account.
March 2012: Got KLM to refund fully a misbooked ticket.
March 2012: After passport stolen, convinced KLM to rebook me for $150 ($800 less than I thought!)
January 2012: Got Mars to send me free coupons because I found a malformed peanut M&M and tweeted it at them for quite a while.
May 2010: Got Comcast to…well, answer the phone. Not so successful.
June 2009: Got Blue Cross Blue Shield IL to permit four prescription refills (so I could stock up for traveling).

I assume this method will stop working as more people use Twitter to complain, but I’ve found it to be remarkably effective as a way to get a good phone number.

ThatJenn (#916)

@quadrilaterals I have also had good success with Twitter in some cases! They often have someone who is authorized to put you in touch with the right person.

I have also found that waiting and calling again sometimes helps, especially if you rephrase the problem a bit. It can take a while but if you get someone sympathetic it can work. I used this to my advantage during my divorce when I was trying to change my name/address/everything before my name was legally changed (I had to wait a full year until my divorce was official to do the legal thing) and sometimes without the permission of the co-account-holder aka the guy I was divorcing: I called every few days until I got an over-30 woman, nearly all of whom had been through a divorce and were sympathetic. Probably slimy of me, but I got what I wanted and kept myself safe, which was really important at a scary time.

melis (#42)

@quadrilaterals “I found a malformed peanut M&M.” Details!

@quadrilaterals Absolutely! I bitched about my cellphone service provider on Twitter and someone PM’d me almost immediately and gave me their email in order to solve the problem. From my experience the customer service reps handling the Twitter account tend to be higher ups.

AnnieNilsson (#406)

@quadrilaterals Yeah the answer is always Twitter. Also U-verse is the WORST WORST WORST WORST and this is giving me flashback of our extended battle with them.

Faintly Macabre (#1,043)

@quadrilaterals I already sort of knew that from reading the Megabus twitter for fun (so many angry people!), but your post pushed me to go complain about my disaster of a bus trip on Friday. And now I have a free roundtrip ticket! (But I still hate Megabus.)

Oh man. My hobby for five years was fighting with Canadian wireless services, always FIDO, never ROGERS (in-joke: they are the same thing). The best was when they jacked their text rates to America just as someone close to me in America was dying of a Horrible Disease and I was texting for real every day all the time. I’d just signed with them on the basis of unlimited texting anywhere, and then I got a $100+ texting bill, which: fuck you guys for real, you know?

So I called, and called, and called again, and complained, and wept, and yelled, and escalated, and they eventually refunded it and put a forever credit of $10 on my plan. It lasted three years and only required a massive public fuckup on the part of the company as well as someone’s hideous death.

Wireless companies. The Worst. Except for possibly banks.

The best way to get past automated-voice recognition, which I discovered when drunkenly trying to cancel a lost credit card at about 4 in the morning, is to yell and swear at it. “FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING ISAAC ASIMOV PIECE OF SHIT, I WANT TO SPEAK TO A GODDAMN HUMAN BEING, NOT YOUR STUPID FUCKING ROBOT ASS.”

katiekate (#1,051)

@MollyculeTheory DID THIS REALLY WORK? i need to know if this worked (FOR FUCKING FEDEX)

katiekate (#1,051)

@MollyculeTheory Like i want their voice recognition to screen for excessive cursing. because that woman means BIDNESS.

maiasaura (#924)

My personal favorite way to get bumped up to the customer service intensive care department is to calmly, reasonably inform the representative that I have on the line that I understand my problem isn’t their personal fault, but I am very frustrated and annoyed, and could they please transfer me to someone it’s more reasonable for me to yell at. Once I did this about a million times in one week (similar router problems), and finally cried hysterical tears at the upper-level dude and ended up with high speed internet for less than $10/month for two whole years. It was awesome.

j-i-a (#746)

@maiasaura Whoa, tears! A sneak-attack tactic that I have always loved. I applaud your efforts and your success at snagging $10/month internet.

Once, in the Moscow airport, I sat down on the floor and cried for 15 minutes when the scary security guards tried to throw away a prized tub of cream cheese frosting on my way back to the Peace Corps–it was sort of the only way to communicate my anguish since I didn’t speak Russian. And eventually ze cream cheese was mine again and I rejoiced in this small, humiliating piece of eternal leverage that makes up for all the other things women have to deal with in the world.

As someone with experience working on the other end of this, I have a faster, less soul-eat-y, solution to customer service hell. I wish I could remember where I got it (because I didn’t articulate it this way first), but here goes: If you get frustrated, ALWAYS ask the customer service person, as kindly as possible, “What would you do if you were me?” This does two huuuuge things for that PERSON. 1) It gives him/her agency and power; you’ve given him/her permission to explain to you as best as he/she can steps to the quickest and best solution the company can offer, which really is that person’s goal. Really! 2) It forces that person to empathize, even if only for a split second. Remember that this person likely speaks to many angry/frustrated/confused/stupid people over the course of a day, so approaching this encounter in a spirit of cooperation helps him/her understand that you are not one of the cretins. You get it. You’re just trying to see that things are made right.

But if you just want to stick it certain companies, and don’t care about things like kindness and such to ALL people, then by all means follow this advice.

j-i-a (#746)

@David A. Arnott@twitter Aww, no, I do absolutely care about “kindness and such to ALL people.” This was just a sample of the worst chat ever. I’ve worked quite a few shitty jobs and I almost always do as you suggest once I’ve got a real person on the phone–asking people what they’d do in my position–and in many cases it does work. Didn’t mean to give the impression that I cruelly sledgehammer my way through people’s days to get an account credit, nor do I ever just try to “stick it” to anyone unless they are ruining my bank account/credit with their own lazy errors. Like, it once took me six phone calls and a written letter to get a doctor’s office to get my name, address and social correct–which left me with a $800 medical bill because they’d filed my insurance claim wrong too many times. In cases like this, when the people handling your case are so bummed out by their own jobs that they refuse to be helpful–which does happen–I just think that there’s no other way to get through other than being meticulous, professional, unemotional, and relentless.

lora.bee (#1,904)

“Orange you going to give me a break by zipping this through the credit card machine? Come on. You can do it. Zip zip.”

pizza (#599)

This works for medical bills? I just got a somewhat big one so maybe I’ll give it a try.

I threaten to cancel my cable about every six months and they always give me a discount to stay.

j-i-a (#746)

@pizza I have heard that that’s the thing to do with cable!

So, medical bills: I’ve negotiated my way out of (truly) like $12,000 of false or should-not-have-come-to-me charges this year by keeping dogged contact records and paperwork, so you really can beat your way through the bureaucracy if you need to. But mostly I was dealing with concretely wrong things, like miscoded procedures or late insurance filings or a receptionist who wrote my name down as “Angel Tortelloni.” A few times, though, when the bill was correct but way too big for comfort, I’ve had some success being like, “Can you knock off 30% if I pay it as a lump sum,” etc.

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