Hack Your Customer Service Rep

Hacks come in all forms, and psychological hacks are no different. [Noah Goldstein], a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago, has written a book in which he details scientifically proven methods of persuading others. One of these methods stands out as being particularly useful at alleviating one of the most aggravating aspects of modern life: dealing with customer service representatives over the telephone.

The trick? Be nice, compliment the rep on doing a good job, and offer to write a letter of recommendation. Since it stands to reason that the customer service rep is probably having a crappier day than you (imagine having to talk to a hundred annoyed people five days a week and you’ll get the idea), making the rep feel appreciated is likely to make them want to do more for you in return.

[photo: brycej]

[via BoingBoing]

21 thoughts on “Hack Your Customer Service Rep

  1. Wow.. I seem to remember my mommy teaching me this “hack”:

    “Be nice to people and they’re more likely to be nice to you back.”

    But then, she wasn’t some sociology academic, so his version is far more authoritative…

  2. LoL…”imagine having to talk to a hundred annoyed people five days a week and you’ll get the idea” unfortunately some of us don’t have to imagine. Tech Support FTL ( for the loss =/ )!!!

  3. Hey, I found out that this works on *other* people, too! Talk to your Starbucks coffee-maker nicely and they’ll tend to give you that extra shot of caramel; Have a friendly chat with your bank teller about their family and that transaction will go nice and smoothly; It even works on people at the supermarket: “Excuse me, I just need this bag of chips, would you mind if I went ahead?” works *wonders*.

  4. I appreciate this hack. I work for an Internet Service Provider as a over the phone computer tech. It is true though that if a customer is kind and courteous. I will go the extra mile for them. If they call me all the names in the book, I give them what they ask for, nothing more. This hack does work

  5. as a theme Park employee, yeah that stuff does work. buttering me does rings a hazard to me….just don’t say kinds words, take kind actions (tips, direct request for super’s, etc etc) [and yes I have a good memory].

  6. LOL, you have to understand, i work in customer service. this psycho babble, while it might make sense in the abstract, is exactly the thing that sets our alarms off. when a customer starts being nice, i immediately start searching for motivation. and those who ask where to write a letter to, and “what is your rep id” and all that crap, they are the ones waiting to ambush you.

    there are customers who try to bully, those who try the sympathy route, those who are sicky sweet. all are dangers.

    you want me to respond and help you? try honesty. before you call me, try some self-honesty too as well as some personal accountability. i didnt get your paymnt? big deal, cancl the check and pay me with a cc. dont cry about cancl chk fees bcz we dont control the mail. your late and your service is shut off? pay your bill. use the energy that you planned on using to beg, plead, scream and cry into getting a second or third job to pay your bills. i have 3 jobs. get over yourself and work harder.

    being nice is an alarm. being a screamer gets you ignored. being pleasent and honest is the way to go.

  7. Agreed with 7.

    Work for australia’s largest ISP as a supervisor.

    When doing call quality (listening to consultants handling calls), we always look for the people trying to be a-little-too-nice so that we can see what the consultant does when treated really well, and how much the consultant gives about an account to an unauthorized person. They’re trained not to, but it happens.

  8. i just hope I don’t end up talking to 7 on the phone. for the most part the author is right, it does work. the idea is nothing new though. it’s called social engineering, duh. a hack that is honestly more likely to work than anything else.

  9. Techniques that I’ve found work extremely well — and can be trying on the patience to keep up.

    #1. Treat wait staff, store clerks, CSRs, airline desk people and flight attendants, and even (gulp) TSA idiots — as if they’re human beings. Have a conversation, make a non-abrasive joke, etc.

    On a flight to London from Boston in Virgin’s “Upper Class” several years ago, I had a minor problem with a video unit. I know it wasn’t going to get fixed. I doubt I could have fixed it if I’d had tools with me. I am very sure the attendant had not chance. So what? I wanted to sleep anyway. We chatted a bit and I went to sleep. When I woke half way through the flight, a bottle of water was already waiting next to me. As I got off the flight, a bottle of Champagne was quietly tucked in my carry on bag with a thank you note.

    #2. At any good restaurant, instead of guessing from a memu of items you don’t know – ask the wait staff what they’d pick. Admit you don’t know things and that you’re in their capable hands.

    Once of the best meals I ever ate was at an expensive place in Texas with a menu in French. I don’t speak French. Others at the table took guesses. I went last an asked the waiter. He asked me a few questions about things I liked and don’t like, then just said “Ok, I’ll take care of it.” — and I had appetizers, salad, meat, and dessert like I’ve never had before or since.

    The key in these things is that if you don’t have the power in the conversation, don’t pretend that you do. I know more about fixing my PC than any kid working as a CSR — but if I’m trying to get warrantee service, that doesn’t matter. If I start trying to direct the conversation I’m just going to make him defensive. I tell them I am experienced and have done x, y, and z — then let them lead me down the stupid decision charts they use. In the end, I get what I need.

    Piss off your CSR, DB Admin, Airline reservation agent, or TSA idiot, and they can make your life a living hell for that short piece of it they control. Treat them as a peer, and they can smoothly get things done that you didn’t even know they had authority to do.

    Its basic human nature.

  10. All my VW’s from 95 up have an alarm, it checks the hood and immobilizes the car :)

    Unfortunately I am not a VW mechanic and not privy to that system, but here are some ideas that should work on most older cars.

    Find a point that the ignition power will surely be, AKA the coil. Connect the Coil to the battery with something that won’t fall off as you are driving.

    Find the solenoid wire and clip a temporary alligator clip to it, touch to battery power(which can be found at the alternator if it is closer) and it should start. Clip the alligator somewhere you can reach it again (that won’t touch power) so that you can start it again (or on an old ford use a sturdy screwdriver to short across the solenoid).

    Use a black dusty wire and chances are you can claim you needed to check the oil if somebody bothers you.

    I had to use this once actually, a friend had the transmission interlock wires melt and ground on his exhaust shield. This meant no start and stuck in 2nd gear. I just disconnected the wiring harness on his nissan (right near battery), and clipped the jumper to the wire on his solenoid, it fired right up.

    you can do this on any car, but you ought to be a professional mechanic, and ideally a factory certified technician of every model that has alarms/interlocks.

    No reason to steal a car if you are this good, you can make a very good living as a mechanic without doing anything illegal. (near three figures if you are intelligent and good at troubleshooting, maybe more if you moonlight or run your own shop)

  11. @ 7, that is great, now if only everyone would stop falling for scams.

    This works because people are gullible. You can try to keep tabs on them, but this sort of thing will always happen.

    Call during midnight 1am 2am 3am, or whatever, keep calling and get somebody gullible. You just need to find somebody with less focus or intelligence than you are willing to expend to get what you want.

    I had a Computer teacher that told us how he got SBC to bump him to 6Mbps when he had the basic, he kept calling and complaining that he wasn’t getting the right speeds, he got somebody to bump him to the next higher one 2-3 times.

    Of course he was asian, so he probably faked a Ms. Swan (MadTV character) style of getting what he wanted, in the skits ms swan always annoyed people until they just gave her what they wanted by pretending to be stupid and ignorant. People are willing to put up with that for foreign people sometimes. Of course the foreign people who take advantage of it give foreigners a bad name.

    this is simple confidence trickery, it has probably the oldest hack (the wheel? or tricking your neighbor out of some food? In fact I believe it is biblical http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob#Birthright )

  12. i love that hackaday posted something like this, but honestly this guy doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. often persuading people cannot be taught, it has a lot to do with years of life experiences interacting with people (i.e. NOT at your job). im told im good at it, an i owe a lot of it to the fact that i was a social outcast in middle school and spent most of my time watching people. by high school, i was applying tactics i had learned, and my first semester of college i received bids from three of the four fraternities, who can be some of the best people at this sort of thing.

    i now persuade people for a living btw, and am starting law school in the spring if anyone is wondering.

  13. This is plagiarism…

    I believe the New Testament spoke of something similar two thousand years before this article was written. Old news.

    This really needed to be reiterated?

  14. @ 12…
    computer tech support, phones… of course.

    I see what you’re saying about calling over and over, but the late night part… forget about it.
    2 reasons…

    1) Working late (even 7, 8, 9 at night sometimes…) it’s a closer pack of people. The place I work right now there’s only myself and 4 other people taking calls from 8 at night until 6am. If a call comes in, and it raises flags… everyone knows. And quick. Trying other people is just going to big bold flags marked to your account… everyone notates every call, like it or not.

    2nd reason… As much as everyone wants to be the over achiever and the best at their job… in a call center environment, the best person usually the person with the lowest call times.
    Furthermore, think about from the Rep’s point of view… it’s 2 am… why the are you bothering me about slow speeds (or whatever issue you’re trying to convince me to trick the system in your favor)
    I’m sitting in front of my computer with minesweeper on pause trying to get you OFF my phone… and usually… the fastest way to get a customer off the phone, is to deny their request for extra items.

    Sympathy is the quickest way to get me off your side. Anger is right behind sympathy… I’m not going to help you. If anything, I’m going to notate that we should enforce our mundane policies evey stricter because you’re an asshole.

    I have to agree with the part about being completely honest up front.
    From time to time I get people that call in and say “This is what I did, this is what it’s doing. How can I avoid this in the future”
    Even if what they did… is completely and totally unrelated, at least you’re trying to help me help you.
    I’ll be more willing to give you a credit/bonus/something to that effect in the future.

    just my $0.02

  15. One other thing… if you DO actually know what you’re doing, and you’ve tried A B and C… let the rep know that you do tech support for others, and you’ve tried A B and C… they’re going to ask a few questions to confirm… but it’s a big relief on the rep for the rest of the call.

    instead of saying “Click on start, go to control panel, network connections, right click LAN, go to properties, blah blah blah”
    if they know that YOU know what a mouse is, they can just say “let’s check out the LAN connection’s properties” and be done with it.


  16. The thing I like most about this hack is it work best against companies that treat their employees badly.

    “Overtime and bad benefits? Wow, that compliment made me feel really good.”

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