(First published March 2015)

In my last post, I wrote about recently giving a refresher program on manners to some men in a long-term drug rehab. While we talked about a wide range of ways to use good manners, but this particular one – the subject of this blog – never got mentioned at all. Of course, I only had one hour, and there was so much else to discuss!

But the program got me thinking, and then a response from a reader on it solidified a thought I’d had about courtesy and customer service.

Have you ever noticed that in almost all articles on good customer service, the focus is only on the customer service agent? We talk endlessly about giving them great training, showing them how to solve most any problem (other than just hanging up on the customer), and words they can use to hopefully keep the conversations positive with good end results.

What’s amazing to me is that we so rarely talk about the other person in that conversation: the customer! The most-likely upset / frustrated / angry customer who has called about a problem. I mean, really: When’s the last time any one of us called a company’s agent to say “I hope you’re having a great day!”?

I think this is a conversation worth having. Yes, we call when we’re upset; we have a problem of some sort, and we want someone to fix it. NOW. We’ve just sat through four or five minutes of the company’s latest “phone tree” system, and we’re crazed.

But why take it out on the CSA who has the bad luck of getting OUR call?

Here are a few ways we customers can make a difference – in these conversations and any others where we might be not at our best:

  1. 1. Write down your main point or points. Why exactly are you calling? What exactly is going on that shouldn’t be? What do you want the agent and/or the company to do for you?

As Stephen Covey famously wrote as his #2 point in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the end in mind.”

2. Ignore the aggravation that the dreaded phone tree system caused. If we allow ourselves to get upset with the idiotic and endless questions and options, we’ll be crazed once we’ve actually reached a live operator. Just breathe and push the required buttons (or hit “0” on the chance that it’ll cut through to a live person). Or say “agent” or “representative” many times; one of them will probably work.

3. Remember: Courtesy starts with you. The agent who takes your call didn’t cause your problem, and he or she is more likely to work well with you if you’re not yelling or cursing. Remember honey vs. vinegar . . .

4. If you’re really angry, at least admit it right up front, saying that you know the agent didn’t cause your problem, and you’re not at your best right now. At least the agent will be forewarned.

5. Use “please” and “thank you” as often as you can, especially when requesting or after getting something you asked for. Make the agent glad you are happy with the results.

6. Keep your voice calm and as friendly as you can manage. If you can manage a smile, even better. Your voice will reflect it. It’ll help both you and the agent.

7. If the conversation isn’t working well, quietly and firmly ask for a supervisor. Repeat as necessary. Sometimes, despite both sides making a good effort, something isn’t working out. Don’t beat up the agent; that person may have very limited power to actually do what you want.

I know there is no amount of money that would persuade me to take any sort of customer service position; for me it would be way too stressful. And that thought is usually enough for me to keep calm as I call a company’s customer service department; I remember that I’m talking to someone who makes a living dealing with difficult situations. And that person can and will help me, if possible.

I would really appreciate your feedback on this!  

What kind of customer are you? How do you keep your cool? 


If you like FREEBIES — and who doesn’t? — and you’re interested in knowing a little more about American grammar and usage, click HERE for a FREE copy of my booklet “Colons & Commas & Dashes, Oh, My!”

Originally published at www.linkedin.com


  • Susan Rooks

    The Grammar Goddess | Editor / Copy Editor | Corporate Educator | Blogger | Cruciverbalist | Happy Woman

    Grammar Goddess Communication

    I help authors of anything business-related shine by finding and correcting their typos before they publish. My clients, who are bloggers, best-selling authors, web content creators, ghostwriters, even professional résumé writers, write nonfiction books, annual reports, blog posts, and tech articles. Their articles have appeared in a wide range of publications and venues including CNBC, Huffington Post, Inc., Forbes, and regional magazines. My only goal is to help all writers look and sound as smart as they are!