As anyone who has worked in the service industry will tell you, you aren’t going to get anywhere by being mean to your sales person/bartender/customer service/airline representative. There are things they can do to help you – when they’re on your side – but when you turn them against you, consider your ship sunk. Nothing will make them get the kitchen to rush your food, or shift things around to fit you on that flight. Even though any good customer service representative will tell you they are doing everything in their power, if you yelled at them, they’re probably not.
With this as my rule of thumb, I’ve managed to get my food and get out the door when the kitchen is slammed, return pairs of boots that are over a year old, and get upgraded to first class on “sold-out” flights. Here’s how.
Use a friendly tone. If you’re really pissed, they will hear it in your voice, even on the phone. Take a few deep breathes, force a smile on your face, and then talk.
Be on the same team. Start by empathizing with the person who needs to help you. If bad weather threw your travel plans off course, I lead in with, “I know you’ve had a million people calling you, trying to change their flights.”
Make your case. Have a logical reason why you need the change you’re asking for. Will your friend be stranded at your destination because the rental car is in your name? Are you going to miss the wedding if you don’t get there sooner? Customer service representatives are people too. Try to pull on their heart strings a little bit.
But keep it short. They don’t need a 20 minute sob story. Summarize your spiel in a couple sentences.
Come with a plan. If you’re looking to be rebooked on a flight, research the options that are available online. Give them the flight number you want. Tell them you see that seats are available online. Ask them to give you one of those. If you’re trying to make a long-shot return, make sure you have your receipt ready, and the item you’d like for an exchange in hand. If you give them a solution, they’re much more likely to just go ahead and use it to get you out of their hair.
Be persistent. Offer to fly into or out of a different airport. In bigger cities, there are often options in another close location. Ask the same question, multiple times. If they say, “I can’t upgrade you to first class.” You say, “Other airlines have done this for me in the same situation.” If they say, “There is no connecting flight.” You say, “Can you look into other options out of that city on your partner airlines?” If they say, “There are no flights.” Hang up, call back, and try again. Sometimes just getting a new, more empathetic person will be enough to get your way.
Use a little humor. Joke that your friends are so hangry you’re worried for your safety. People are more willing to help you when you make them laugh.
Say thank you. Say it early, and often. Tell them you really appreciate them trying. You’re thankful they’re investigating other options. They are making your life by helping you out. If you’re already expressing gratitude before the job is done, they feel more obligated to give you a good outcome.
Say it again. Then, when they’ve finally caved and given you your way, thank them again and get outta there fast before they can change their minds!
Image by Petras Gagilas.