3 Smart Money Tips: How to Get Great Customer Service

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Smart Money: Tips for Great Customer Service

This week at work, I made a transition from sales to customer service.

I love doing customer service; in fact, it’s kind of a dream job for me. I’ve often thought maybe I could market myself as a tough case specialist, where businesses could farm out their worst customer problems to me.

Unfortunately,  a lot of businesses don’t really care that much about customer service.

They have it, but they don’t care that much about it. Especially they don’t care about  persistent customer service problems. Those are considered a “cost of doing business,” as in: we’re going to aggravate people.

Oh well. They’ll just have to get over it.

You can’t please everyone all the time.

Some other businesses also don’t care about customer service, but in a different way. They just want it to go away. This is why you can return stuff to big industrial stores without so much as a by-your-leave.

It’s because they know it’s cheaper to take it back than it is to have a staff to talk to you about your concerns. Buy a dress, wear it to the prom, and return it the next day.

“Is anything wrong with it? No, I just don’t want to pay for something I’ll only wear once. Okay, here’s your money back.”

It’s the cost of doing business.

Personally, I think there’s huge opportunity in customer service – not just for the business, but actually for the customer too. This is where relationships are forged. This is how businesses find out what customers want.

What they love, and what they hate.

What they’ll put up with, and what they’ll go on the Internet and complain about.


It’s a feedback loop, writ both small and large.

In my job, I’m the person you get when the line call center operator aggravates you and you ask for a supervisor.

The person you get at that point is not a supervisor in the sense of having higher authority. Instead, she is a person who is paid to listen to your concern/complaint and then offer you options. Usually, these options are not the ones you really want, and usually they’re considerably less than what you asked for.

But since they are “special” and “restricted,” and since you have to go up the chain of command to get them, you feel somehow better when the call is over.

Example: You call your bank to see if you can get your ATM daily limit raised from $300 to $400 because you’re going out of the country in a few days and you want to be prepared in case of an emergency.

Call Center Operator Answer: “I will help you with your question. Please hold one moment. (Long pause while operator reads call center operator instruction book.) Thank you for patiently waiting. I’m sorry ma’am, but the only way to do that is to complete an application, and it takes about two weeks to process, plus another week to mail the determination to you. I’m sorry that I cannot help you with this request.”

Provided  you are not the defeatist type, you then tell the call center representative how much you’ve done for this bank. How many fees you’ve paid. How much money you’ve deposited over the years. How much interest you’ve paid for car loans, student loans, and credit cards. What an excellent customer you’ve been.

How they OWE you, and how you’ve never asked for anything – until now. And  now, when you need just a small thing, they turn you down flat, after all your years of faithful patronage.

Is there a supervisor available?

Sure, ma’am. Please hold and I”ll transfer you.

Now you are loaded for bear and prepared with all your evidence, which you launch into the moment the supervisor answers your call. She listens quietly, asks a few follow-up questions, and says, “Just one moment while I pull up your record.” Then she says, “I can’t raise your limit without a written application. But here is what I can do. If you have an emergency, you can call us and we may allow your debit card to go into overdraft status. This will cost you $10 per $100, calculated daily, but at least you know it’s there if you really need it.”

In truth, this person has done nothing for you, except tell you about a little thing called a “payday loan,”  which carries an interest rate that in some circles is referred to as “the vig.” But because you’ve been turned down once already, this feels kind of like a victory. Isn’t it great that there are supervisors available to help in times of need?

Do I sound cynical?

I know I do. But the truth is, I actually really like this kind of work. I like to smooth ruffled feathers and calm troubled waters. I like to find win/win solutions. I like to talk to someone who starts out feeling disappointed, stressed, or unappreciated, and have them wind up feeling understood and valued.

And you know what? Often times, it actually works that way.

So I thought I’d share with you 3 smart money tips about some of the things that persuade a customer service supervisor to go out of her way for you.

Tip #1. Go Ahead and Howl, but Be Willing to Calm Down.

I don’t generally mind the howlers. I start work at 5 a.m., and for the first three hours of my day I get the East Coast customers. They are more brusque than the Midwest or West Coast customers. They sometimes sound, to my laid-back California ear,  like they are yelling.

Last week, I asked a lady not to yell at me, and she shouted, “I am not raising my voice. Believe me, you would know it if I raised my voice.”


But anyway, I really don’t mind an angry caller. It means there is something going on that she really, really cares about, and it also means she is completely willing to tell me exactly what is wrong. There’s no guesswork on my part.

All I ask is that if I take accountability for something, or sincerely apologize for a negative experience, please be willing to dial it back a notch. Be willing to accept the possibility that I am a good person who really does want to help. You’d be amazed how far that takes you with a customer service supervisor.

Tip #2. Leave Your Trumped Up Apologies At The Door.

The opposite of the howler is the apologizer. “I’m sorry to take up your Friday afternoon with a complaint, but I just am really concerned about something and I feel like I want to talk to someone about it. I’m sure we can work it out quickly, and then you can forget all about this intrusion into your day.”

Gag me. Can you spell passive-aggressive?

False apologies do not ingratiate you to a customer service supervisor, who would prefer you get to the point and say what you mean.

Tip #3. Be Open Minded.

Sometimes you buy something with an expectation of what it’s going to be, and then it turns out to be something else. This is always a surprise when it happens, but it’s not always a disaster. The form a product or service takes is not the same thing as the result it delivers.

Say you buy some vitamins advertised as “fruity,” expecting that they are going to be chewy and taste like fresh citrus. Then you pop one in your mouth and discover they are hard and taste like raspberries. This is only a disaster if you were shopping for chewy orange-flavored items, and ONLY chewy orange-flavored items will do.

It’s not necessarily a disaster if what you were shopping for is the result you get from the mega-super women’s high potency formula vitamin pack. If that’s what you wanted, let’s talk about that – not the chewy oranginess of it.

Perhaps the customer service supervisor will tell you, “We don’t do chewy because we found that people snacked on them and got too much vitamin, which isn’t good for you. Instead we give you something to suck on, which acts as a time-release and improves your body’s absorption of the proper dosage of vitamins.”

Doesn’t that sound reasonable, even though I just made it up?

My point is, be open! Realize that you were not buying the chewiness and the citrus flavor. You were buying the vitamin. And hey – you got the vitamin, right? Case closed.

So there you have it, 3 smart money tips from the horse’s mouth. And that’s my dream job: to talk to people like you who care about how they spend their money and their time and who want to work things out.

Ask for the supervisor, try my tips, and let us know how it goes.


  • Catherine

    It’s so fascinating to watch you take this dream journey.

    I’ve seen how you love problem-solving and I can understand how this should be a part of your dream job.

    This is exactly how the dream journey goes.  It’s really an exploration of yourself — what you like and don’t like.

    It’s as if you really embark on a journey to get to know your true self, gathering facts along the way, and suddenly one day you “wake up” to find you are keenly aware of what you love and don’t love.  This is why dreaming can take more than a year.  Sometimes it takes a full year of writing just to clear everything away to see what it is that you really want.

    Sometimes your dream will look very different from what you thought it would look like at the beginning.

    Then the real journey begins.

    How are your fellow customer support co-workers doing?  That’s something to take in as well.  It’s unusual to see anyone doing phone-related support past 18 months, because that’s when burnout hits. I saw this at NAMC.  Some phone support staff couldn’t make it a year.  NAMC tried to avoid this by rotating them into other jobs during the day, keeping phone support under 6 hours, making everyone take their breaks and lunch, and give them projects off the phone to try an postpone the 18 month drop off.

    I bet people love you on the phone!  I let my ex-husband handle problems where I have to phone it in.  I have no patience for it.  He’s great at it.