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Customer Service Helpline Tips

If you've ever called Customer Service through any company on any given issue, you've heard the words, "Thank you for calling [insert company name] Customer Service, my name is [name here], how may I help you?"  Sometimes this is a pleasant experience, and sometimes it is not.

This page will hopefully help alleviate some communication barriers and provide a more constructive and productive phone call rather than a frustrating experience on both sides.

First things first, we'll lose the jargon talk about computers, about days going slow or being too busy, or just the kind of day where everything seems to go wrong.  We all know that they happen, but that's no excuse for unprofessional etiquette on the part of both the customer service / technical support representative and the caller.  In fact, I daresay that being a rude caller is one of the worst things to be just to get something accomplished, sometimes at the expense of the representative who is simply doing their job.

So, let's lay out some ground rules that I think should be applied to everyone, caller and representative / tech a-like.

  1. No name-calling.  This is the equivalent of being a four-year old.  "You won't do what I tell you?  You're stupid!  YOU STUPIDHEAD!"  Sound familiar?  We need to recognize that we're all adults, or at least most of us in the tech support / billing / customer service / etc side should be.  That being said, if you are an adult, and this is the first thing you say to a customer service representative, you're basically acting like a four year old.  No one likes to see an adult have a temper tantrum.  So, just stop.
  2. Understand we aren't gods.  Asking us to what physically cannot be done is simply asking for the impossible.  Just because you called, it doesn't mean your problem will automatically, and magically, get fixed.  Follow instructions, and while the problem may not get completely fixed, we can help get it to a manageable level.
  3. Don't ask for "free service" or "free stuff".  This, in particular, is for customers who've got cable or satellite services.  Just because you've been a customer for x amount of years, it does not entitle you to "special" status.  It certainly doesn't earn you any "free service".  So, just don't ask.  It's not fair to others who pay loyally while you sit there and whine about having to pay the same amount everyone else does.  Just because your neighbor "Susie" got a good deal because she is a new customer, it doesn't entitle you to that same promotional deal.
  4. Don't ask for a supervisor unless it's a real problem.  Just because we won't give you a full refund, or give you free service like in the scenario of #3, it doesn't mean a supervisor will do some sort of an override.  Many times the supervisor is bound by the same rules as the company.  And while no one ever likes to hear "It's company policy.", the fact of the matter is that it's true.  It's more often a company policy than anything else.  And not even a supervisor-level representative can do anything about a situation that is dependent on your demand for some free service or full refund.
  5. Please read the fine print.  Seriously, I cannot stress this enough.  I, myself, am partially blind, and even I go through the fine print even if I have to pull out the magnifying glass to see and read it.  Often, this legalese of the service agreement or product warranty will tell you what rights and privileges you have if there is an error, or if there is a remedy to your situation.  Many times, I've had to point out to customers that, for a specific product I had to take support calls for, under no circumstances was our company (at that time that I was employed) responsible for any illness or injury suffered or the loss or disruption of a company's ability to do business by the use of our product.  Or in some cases where I worked in the travel industry, the same applied for folks who wanted to get a full refund due to their travel plans being affected by weather-related events.  If they had read the fine print, they may have known that some acts of nature were not covered for full or even partial refunds.
  6. Ask questions.  But please, don't ask dumb questions.  Know your product or service.  When I worked technical support, the number one issue that techs hated were the questions like "What's a CD-ROM drive?" or "Where's the power button?"   Seriously, please at least have some idea of what you're calling about.  If you're calling over the phone where Skype (a video calling service / product) is not used, there's no way for me to know without asking you some pointed questions to find out what it is you are calling about, I have no idea.  This is like every tech I've ever worked with.  
  7. Documentation.  This is both our protection and for yours.  First, if the call is for a product, document the model number, the serial number, when you bought it (best guess is fine, or if you have a receipt which is even better), and what happened when the problem occurred are extremely helpful information to the customer service / technical support agent.  Also, if you feel a representative that you've gotten through to not helpful or is rude, please document their name and what time you called.  Chances are, if you can get that information to the next agent you call, our supervisor(s) can often times pinpoint the individual and "retrain" them on proper etiquette.  But most importantly is just to document the hell out of whatever the problem is, whether it's with a product, a service, or both.  
  8. Don't panic.  Just because we may not be able to fix your problem on the initial phone call, it doesn't mean there's no solution.  We have alternatives, options, and other ways to combat an issue you have with a product or service, but unless you have a business in which the survival of it running on a day-to-day basis relies on you using your product or service, there's no reason to make it a disproportionate problem (blown out of proportion).
  9. We're human too!  Don't forget that above all else, we're only human like you.  We'll occasionally make mistakes, do things oddly, or sometimes have a really bad day like anyone else.  It doesn't mean that person is automatically a bad apple.  However, there are some individuals who are so turned off from their job that occasionally, yes, they do tend to not do anything more than the minimum level of help.  But again, we're all only human.  Not Gods or Wizards.  Believe me, I wish I were a wizard.  Like Gandalf the Grey.
  10. Try to relax before calling.  Many times, more than I care to count, the consumers of America are notorious for calling customer service or technical support, or any other department where you have to make a phone call, when the consumer is highly emotional, upset, angry, and/or frustrated from their ordeal, and of course they take it out on the first person that they can lash out at with a measure of impunity.   Before you call, it's highly recommended to document the incident or error, document names and numbers, dates and times, and then before you call, do yourself and everyone you do have to call a favor.  Take a few deep breaths for a good 10 minutes to relax.  Unless someone is dead or near death, there's no reason to trigger angst and take it out on the representative.  Some companies now implement the following policy:
a) If a customer is abrasive, using profanity or derogatory remarks against an employee, or is using threatening remarks, that employee must warn the customer that such behavior is not tolerated and the call will be terminated if the offenses continue.

b) If a customer repeatedly calls to harass, or otherwise, badger an employee, that customer will be banned from calling for service or support.  

Not all companies do so, but some of the ones that I've worked for have that policy in place.  And, just so we're clear, the calls are randomly recorded (for some companies, but I think ALL companies should be doing it), so if you think by lying about what a customer service rep said will get you sympathy points, chances are your call was recorded and has been discussed at some point.

The bottom line is that's the worst thing to do is to be the kind of customer you yourself wouldn't want to have to deal with at your job.  If your job is being an ass-hat or a bitch to people all day long, which I doubt, then I'd kindly ask to do the customer service people a favor and do not bring that sort of attitude to the phone call.  Most tech support and customer service people really do want to help, but the last thing we want to have is some idiot make our day miserable because the customers themselves are having one, and won't be happy until they bring everyone down with them.  

Need to vent?  We can understand that, but your best bet is to take five minutes hitting a pillow non-stop before venting out on a representative that doesn't deserve it.

That said, have a pleasant day.


~Jeffrey R. Kuntzelman ©2015