Easy! 5 Steps to handle customer service agents

Let’s talk a little bit about customer service.

Sherwette Mansour
Aug 23, 2019 · 5 min read

While it’s a very well-known trend to companies and service providers that now is the era on which they compete on customer experience, some of them still go out of their way to disappoint us, customers.

I wouldn’t say that this is the company’s strategy per se, but it’s more about the customer service agent that you end up dealing with.

I don’t know about you, but I personally like to avoid interactions with customer service as much as I can… and if I absolutely have to do it, I opt for the e-mail, online chat, etc. I don’t want to do the phone conversation. Maybe it’s because I am a millennial. Maybe not. It’ doesn’t matter. What matters is that the mere thought of having to repeat my story more than once turns me off. I had times on which I had to repeat the same complaint, like 5–10 times to different people, just to get my issue resolved.

That kind of interaction gets to you. It definitely gets to me. In fact, I resort to my mom in some situations because she has more patience than me when it comes to those customer service conversations. God bless her. Most of the time though I have to do it myself.

If I am lucky, I would be dealing with a professional who understands how to handle disappointed customers. For the most part, you call customer service either because 1. you have a complaint or 2. you are asking about some information.

… And here comes the challenge, if I end up with someone from customer service who practically doesn’t give a damn, then, I am screwed. I bet most of you could relate to that.

So, then comes a question.

How can you ensure the customer service agent would be cooperative and help you without driving you insane?

I recently learned a trick. Thanks to consumer behavior studies… and I am going to share it with you.

Instead of testing your luck with the customer service agent you are dealing with, use the rule of reciprocation to your advantage.

Robert Cialdini explained it simply in his book, Influence.

“The rule or reciprocation… says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.”

There is a power of paying it forward, or in other words, paying someone a favor before you ask them for something… and you don’t actually have to state that it is something in return of that favor — that stuff works in the background, like magic.

Below is an experiment by researcher Dennis Regan, mentioned in the book Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion by Noah Goldstein , Robert B. Professor Cialdini, Steve J. Martin,

“Researcher Dennis Regan conducted a classic study of the reciprocation norm. In the experiment, people who received a small, unsolicited gift from a stranger named Joe in the form of a can of Coca-Cola purchased twice as many raffle tickets from him as those who received no gift at all. This occurred despite the facts that there was a time delay between the gift and the request, and that Joe didn’t make any kind of reference to the original gift when he made his pitch about the raffle tickets.”

What does this mean when it comes to handling customer service agents?

Easy! Follow these 5 steps:

  1. You know you have an issue that could be a bit complicated and needs to be handled by a customer service agent, so you call
  2. After the initial greetings and interactions with the agent, mention that you are happy with the service so far and would like to either speak with his supervisor afterward to say how happy you are or ask for an e-mail to pay the agent a compliment in writing
  3. The agent will feel grateful and indebted for this favor. You are practically helping him out with his boss
  4. Now, ask the agent for help in your complicated complaint
  5. The agent will do his best to help you out

Personally, I am going to have to call a few airlines soon… and trust me I have been trying to avoid this customer service call for about a week now. I will try this trick and see how it will pan out.


Inspired from the book Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion by Noah Goldstein , Robert B. Professor Cialdini, Steve J. Martin,

“We should also note that there’s one particular type of person for whom a little favour goes a long way — customer service agents. If you’ve ever had an incorrect charge on your credit card, tried to make a last-minute change to a plane ticket or wanted to return something, you’ve probably encountered a less than-helpful customer service agent at one point or another. To reduce the likelihood that you’ll have such an encounter, try the following: if you find towards the beginning of your interaction that the customer service agent is being particularly friendly, polite or responsive — perhaps before you get to your toughest request — tell the agent that you’re so happy with the service so far that you’re going to write a positive letter or e-mail about your interaction to his or her supervisor as soon as you get off the phone. After getting the agent’s name as well as the supervisor’s contact information, you can then get to the more complex issues at hand. (Alternatively, tell the person that you’re so happy with the service that you’d like to be transferred to the agent’s supervisor when you are done so that you can pay the person a compliment.) Although there are several psychological reasons why this might be an effective strategy, the norm of reciprocity is a powerful factor here: you’ve offered to do a favour for that person, so now that person is going to feel obligated to return the favour. And, for the low cost of writing a quick e-mail to the supervisor afterwards, you can avoid getting into a strategic chess match (and perhaps a screaming match) with the agent that ultimately may lead to disappointment and frustration. So long as you follow through with your promise, the strategy should be ethical and effective.”

Sherwette Mansour

Written by

Management consultant. Abstract artist. Interested in psychology and consumer behavior… Food, travel, photography, water sports... Spontaneous otherwise.

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