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How You Can Get Better Customer Service

Tips on getting the result you’re looking for when you reach out for help.

We all expect to be treated with respect, courtesy and a degree of empathy. In most cases, this is what we receive from call center representatives and others who we contact for help. But what about those times when you get frustrated that a representative doesn’t understand your problem or simply can’t solve it? Do you manage to maintain good manners and a cool demeanor?

To help understand customer service a little better, I spoke with Joe Frech, who spent 24 years as a hotline investigator in the inspector general’s office at the Office of Personnel Management. Frech also facilitated the hotline operations course at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

Here are some tips he shared to help get courteous service—and more importantly, effective results—when contacting an organization for help:

When leaving a message, always provide a phone number or other contact information.

If you leave a phone number, make sure it is connected to an answering machine or answering service. Frech says that when he returned calls, he would make three tries. If there was no answer or the call went to voicemail every time, he moved on. He was simply too busy to keep calling.

Kill ’em with kindness. Coming across as tough and demanding will not get results. Instead, do the opposite: Be polite and courteous. 

Don't use foul language. Frech said he would tolerate a certain amount of rudeness, but most staff wouldn't—and shouldn’t.

Avoid using phrases like "you people" or "I pay your salary, so you work for me." These aren’t likely to get you better service.

Don't make threats. If you issue even vague threats out of frustration, you will very likely have a bigger problem. It wouldn’t be unusual to have a federal agent or police officer pay you a visit.

If you don’t get a call back when you leave a message, feel free to follow up. Sometimes the representative gets overwhelmed with so many requests that your message is put off to the side. A follow-up call can get it to the top of the pile. But don’t call every day. Then you’re just a pest. 

If you have trouble communicating exactly what you need, it’s a good idea to have someone on the phone who can verbalize the problem for you. I’ve done this with clients who have issues with their retirement benefits. It can be helpful to have someone who speaks “personnel-ese” on the line with you.

Have your Civil Service Annuity number and other pertinent information handy, along with pen and paper to write important information given to you. This includes the name of the representative you are speaking to, if they’re allowed to give it out.

Keep the small talk to a minimum. If you were in the military, you may want to sneak that into the conversation in case the customer service representative is also a veteran. Just be aware of hints that you may be droning on too long.

Use the bathroom before calling. That may sound silly, but you might be put on hold or it might take a long time to address your problem.

Don't be offended when you’re asked questions that may identify who you are or the nature of your call. The customer service representative is only making sure they have the correct information and that they fully understand the nature of your call.

If the representative did a good job, let them know. Everyone likes to be appreciated. 

If you have been granted an exception to the standard rules, don’t share this information with friends or on social media. The same situation may not apply to others.

If you need to send an email, be sure to keep it concise. Include your phone number in case further clarification is needed. Don’t write in all capital letters, different colors or using larger fonts for certain words.

Don’t tell the representative they “don't care," even if you get frustrated. Of course they care. This is their livelihood.

Some of these things may seem cumbersome or annoying. But remember that ultimately you want your problem solved. So try a bit of kindness and patience.