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The 7 Things You Should Always Say to Customer Service

Sometimes a few words of praise can resolve your dispute with a company

If you've ever had a bad experience with customer service, it's easy to get angry and flustered.

But maybe there's a calmer, gentler way for dealing with miscommunications and unmet expectations.

Here are seven things you should always say when you're facing customer service chaos. Who knows, maybe these catchphrases can help resolve your next consumer issue.

1. "What's your name?" Without a doubt, that simple question is the single most important thing you can ask in any customer service conversation. Using the agent's name during the call also keeps things friendly and reminds him that you know who he is. (He knows that he can't put you on permanent hold or hang up without repercussions.) The more information you can get about the person — his call center, years of service, hobbies — the better.

Of course, make sure you write it all down in case you need it later. This worked for me. When I was calling to confirm my plane tickets for a family trip to Hawaii, the airline representative said she couldn't find our reservation. But I was able to tell her the name of the woman I spoke with and the names of her children. Faced with indisputable proof that — despite what their records said — I'd had an extended conversation with their reservations agent, the airline was compelled to rebook our flights.

2. "Be calm." This is something you say to yourself. No matter how frustrated you are or how badly you've been treated, you must keep your cool. If you don't, you'll give the company you're dealing with reason to dismiss you without taking care of you. When you feel like shouting, start talking softly. The harder someone has to listen, the more likely he is to hear what you have to say. Sometimes the most compelling words are those said most casually. Just remember Anthony Hopkins' smiling recollection about "fava beans and Chianti" in Silence of the Lambs. Was anything ever so ominous?

3. "We…" You're more likely to get what you're asking for if you enlist the agent in your cause. Statements such as, "I know we can find a satisfactory solution" dilute the adversarial nature of the conversation. The feeling of teamwork you impart creates a framework in which you and the agent are working together to solve a common problem.

4. "My goal is…" Be specific and realistic about what you're seeking. You should ask for your money's worth — a product that works as advertised or a service to the standard you paid for. Asking for compensation for your time, punitive damages or letters of apology are not realistic demands. State your need clearly. "If you can ship me a replacement within a couple of days, I'll be satisfied." The more you help the agent see her way to making you happy and getting you off the line, the closer you will be to achieving your goal.

5. "I'm not going away." This isn't a threat, but a promise that you aren't going to give up easily. Customer service agents toss out phrases such as "it's our policy" and "there's nothing I can do" in hopes that you will accept without questioning authority. When you don't hang up the phone, they are forced to continue dealing with you.

6. "Escalate." This is customer service speak for "take me to your leader." Using professional jargon indicates that you are a knowledgeable consumer. Telling the agent that if she can't help you, you'd like her to "escalate the call" is equivalent to asking to speak to a supervisor. Agents get dinged for every call they have to bump upstairs. So let her know that's your intention while giving her one last time to give you what you're asking for.

7. "Thank you." The agent is a human, too, and not just a cog in a corporate machine. You will enhance your position if you express your gratitude for her efforts. This positive reinforcement doesn't mean that you are giving anything up or taking less than you deserve. It does make you stand out as a good guy in the endless chain of complaining customers that the agent deals with as the regular part of her job. Simply put, people are more likely to help those who are nice to them.

If you get frustrated in your dealings with companies, make sure you don't say these things to customer service. The more you appear to be a reasonable person willing to accept a reasonable solution, the better your chances will be at getting what you're asking for. Remember, you're coming from a position of strength. You are in the right and you're asking for only what you deserve.

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For.

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