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What to do while you're waiting on hold

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If you’re anything like me, you probably hate waiting on hold.

Hell, if you’re really like me, you probably hate being on the phone altogether. This is particularly true when you’re dealing with customer service.

So I’ve made it into a game, and that helps.

Everybody knows that one of the best indicators of success is calm persistence. So I use any conversation with customer service employees in order to train myself in relaxed, firm determination.

(In my case, I really need to do this, because I am by nature profoundly impatient and intolerant of stupidity.)

Yesterday, for example, I was on the phone with Videotron switching accounts from my girlfriend’s name into mine.

The guy on the other end of the line, at this point, says that this particular task is $29. To switch a name, in a file, on a computer.

Twenty-nine dollars. I suspect this is a side effect of Canada’s quasi-monopolistic practices in the communications industry. But I digress.

At this point I simply decide that I will not budge.

My theory is that we get very few opportunities in life to practice getting what we want, firmly and calmly. So we should practice as often as we can in environments like these, when it doesn’t matter.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll also notice that there are quite a few other circumstances where you have one-off opportunities to talk to people with no consequences, of which customer service is but one. You can actually use each of them to practice something– small talk, negotiation, anything.

Here are some of my favourites from yesterday. I used them to get this quasi-criminal fee waived in 10 minutes.

“I would like you to waive the fee.” (“Sir, we cannot, it’s procedure.”)

“So you’re saying you’ve never waived the fee, ever?” (Here you’re just trying to get him to admit it can be waived. And of course he says yes.)

“Ok, since you’ve admitted it can be waived, I would like you to waive it for me.”

“I just want you to know that I’m willing to stay on the phone as long as it takes to get my way.”

“I do not want a callback, and I will not waver until you waive the fee.”

Remember to always be polite when you do this. In fact, compliment the guy on what a good job he’s doing, and tell him it’s nothing personal. He will give. Time is money. He has to.

Remember not to go through life letting people trample you. It can be easy to give up. You know this– but more importantly, they know this. Therefore all you need to do is practice persistence. Literally, call it practice. It’ll work.

* Filed by Julien at 1:04 pm under random


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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32 Responses to “What to do while you're waiting on hold”

  1. Jean Says:

    Speaking as the guy on the other end of thousands of similar calls: it’s really that simple. These companies routinely overcharge and expect you to argue. If you don’t, you’re basically just a sucker to them.

  2. Graeme Says:

    I make the calls on my iphone, with headphones. Then while they put me on hold, I clean the house, or do other necessary but boring tasks.

    I can out-wait any customer service agent.

  3. Collette Says:

    “I am by nature profoundly impatient and intolerant of stupidity.” ME TOO. I mean hey, aren’t we all, but seriously: me too.

    Calm persistence. I like that a lot.

  4. Julie Angel Says:

    Love it! Inspiring, you know you should rule the world!

  5. Gilliom Werner Claessens Says:

    Maybe I’m just not that smart but I don’t understand this…
    So why doesn’t the guy just hang up on you? That way, you did not get what you called for, so you would either have to call again (in which case we can repeat this scenario as many times as necessary, until you decide to pay the fee) or you have to go through the trouble of deleting your account (which will probably cost you)and finding some other service (who will charge you just as well.
    Or am I missing something?

    • Julien Says:

      Hey Gilliom. Yes, you’re missing something, but it’s actually not known unless you have worked in customer service on the phone before.

      Agents on the phone like this basically do not have the ability to hang up on you. They are not allowed to do it unless you are being abusive. So if you are not abusive, they can’t and don’t hang up. Now if you were asking for something crazy (“I want a free phone and free service and it has to be delivered to my house…” etc.) then they’d just be like “sir, we cannot.” But since they do waive this (genuinely unreasonable) fee, and they do it often, you just have to wait it out and be more patient than they are.

      Hope that helps.

      • Marcel Says:

        With the free phone is not so unreal, in the case you renew a cell phone contract let’s say for another 2 years. Their is supposly much space for negotiation.

        Btw. I lived in Italy and they just hang up on you, more easily if you have a foreign accent they pretend they don’t understand which make it easier for them. Outside call centers and in many public things it is even worse, and they are even making hanging up an effort. For example I was calling a hospital to schedule a visit and the nurse was for an hour taking the phone and hanging up immediatly weithout saying anything instead of responding and schedule an appointment which takes 2mins. I got my appointment but it was also an exercise of patience….

      • Gilliom Werner Claessens Says:

        Interesting. I didn’t know that :)
        Thanks for the explanation, Julien.

  6. DebbieB Says:

    As someone one the C/S end of the spectrum, may I offer a bit of insight? As a general rule, most CSRs want to help out people. Most of us get a buzz from being the hero and saving a customer money, helping them resolve a problem, or pulling a miracle out of thin air. It’s a customer service thing.
    If you want to get the most out of a negotiation with a customer service rep, here are a few more suggestions on Julien’s original list:
    1. Do not engage the CSR as an enemy. In all but the rarest of occasions, the rep wants to help you. If you set off as antagonistic, arrogant, or condescending, you will have a much worse time getting resolution. CSRs are people, doing a very stressful job. They deserve the same respect any professional would expect from a client. I know many of my colleagues who will move mountains for a sympathetic caller, but will be just as stubborn and unwaivering in their adherence to the rules when the caller is belligerant.
    2. Be thankful. Fees are usually assigned as part of a contract. When you use a service, you are in essence agreeing to the terms of that contract. Fees are listed there, and you’ve agreed to them. (It’s not the company’s fault if you didn’t bother to read the small print.) WHEN A CSR WAIVES A FEE FOR YOU, it is a courtesy, not an obligation.
    3. Don’t play the system. Remember the CSR usually have six to twelve months of history on your account right there in front of them. If you call in once in a year to dispute a fee, you’ll have a better chance of getting it waived than if you call every month, on the same day, fighting the same fee. At that point, you are proving that you are well aware of the fee (that you agreed to), you have disputed it before and been informed of when, where, and how you will be assessed a fee, you’ve decided to continuing doing whatever caused that fee (using a service, carrying a balance, etc.), and you’re still trying to get the fee waived. This is no longer a courtesy; this is playing the system. Either pay the fee or cancel the service.
    4. Have a valid reason for your request. “You suck.” is not a valid reason. “I was out of town and my bank didn’t process my direct deposit on time.” is a valid reason. “I was short this month and just couldn’t meet the due date” is a valid reason, but not every month.
    5. Look for alternative solutions. If you are paying a late fee every single month on your credit card, ask the CSR if you can move your cycle/due date to a more convenient day of the month. As ridiculously simple as this option is, most customers never think to ask–and many CSRs never think to offer. Creative solutions can save you lots of money in the long run, and everybody wins.
    ALL THAT BEING SAID, I personally believe that most things are negotiable. As I said earlier, I personally will move heaven and earth to help a customer. If you really want to get the basics of negotiation–especially with customer service personnel–your bottom line should always be respect, open

  7. Natasha Says:

    This is so true. Customer service reps deal with people speaking rudely, even abusively, to them all day long. If you’re super-polite in your insistence, you will almost always get what you’re seeking. And I would add that if you are calling to complain about something to someone, say a restaurant that failed to get your delivery order right, have a desired outcome in mind.

  8. Paula Says:

    My favorite phrase to use in these situations is “That is, quite simply, not acceptable.”

  9. Tony Says:

    I hate call centres as much as anyone, especially when I get unwanted and persistent calls from people who won’t take no for an answer. But in this example, what if the employee felt the pressure you were putting him under and crumpled. Sure, you are victorious and get your way but he may be breaking the company rules. He might be the scapegoat, get fired, lose his job, income and prospects. His wife might leave him. he might hit the bottle, berating himself for not standing up to you and kill himself after a bout of depression thinking what a useless, unassertive clod he’d been all his god-awful life….

  10. G. Says:

    I love this post. I laughed out loud. Great advice – so simple… if you can just stay with it. Thanks.

  11. Matt Brennan Says:

    I had a similar experience the other day. I’ve had too many work phone calls dropped by my cell phone carrier, so I spent three hours on the phone with their customer service. End result, I’m no longer their customer. They have the authority to do anything within reason. The trick is to not hang up until you have someone willing to budge!

  12. Jamie L Says:

    lolz that’s great! I used to play games like that with telemarketers who would give freebies. I’d get them to give me the freebie but not buy their crap….I’ll have to do it again since you reminded me how fun it was.

  13. Scott Says:

    Simpleton

  14. Scott Says:

    You are a quizzical individual in both your style and content. What you describe here, I could do professionally. You are not going to rule the world, but many of your words inspire those who are exposed and bright enough to comprehend. Isn’t it a bit funny to integrate how some self-improvement exercises also assist in honing our ability to manipulate others with greater ease and subtlety. Makes me smile….Loyal reader~…s

  15. joe blow Says:

    If I know ahead of time that I will be on hold, I like to use my headset rather than my regular phone and jerk it with both hands.

  16. Melissa Says:

    Waiving a fee isn’t a big deal.
    I roll my eyes at people that call in and think they’re a big shot because thier installation is free.
    Enjoy your service, deuchebag.

    • kindness first Says:

      I roll my eyes at people who don’t know the proper spelling of douchebag. And I don’t think it’s about “manipulating” people, Scott. It’s not about meanness or “putting one over” on someone, it’s about being human, treating others humanely, and expecting to be treated the same.

  17. Elizabeth Potts Weinstein Says:

    Sometimes it’s just about who you get. For BofA, on the phone they told me no, when I talked to the phone supervisor he said no (and he said it was “impossible” and was strangely hostile towards me), when I went into the branch and talked to the branch manager they said no. When I went through the BofA twitter account, they DMd me a special phone number to call. The woman I talked to was super super nice to me, and said yes. :)

    • Jon Says:

      Larger companies like BoA are notorious for not waiving fees after the second occurrence and even the first occurrence can be a big deal. They’ve got the service, you don’t. If you want it, you have to pay for it. I don’t always agree, but unless it is a fee they didn’t inform you about….they rarely budge. You have to prove conclusively they are at fault….and even then you’ll have headaches sometimes.

      It’s amazing how people think a company somehow owes them something beyond the contractual service. It’s a good idea to determine who is at fault first before making any requests.

  18. Jill Says:

    I have also worked in customer service too, these are all very good points, especially the part about being courteous! When I was a CSR, if you were nice to me, I was more likely to help if it was in my power & transfer you to the appropriate area, if you were rude, I’d give you the number & you are on your own!

    The automatic menus are what drive me crazy. A helpful site I use to talk to someone is gethuman.com.

  19. Rob Zachritz Says:

    Well, thank you very much. I practiced on AT&T yesterday morning. You saved me $149.

  20. Justin Says:

    Just had an incident where my card was declined on an online store purchase (which was fraudulent). I emailed customer support asking for a refund. Once they confirmed it was fraudulent, they said this:

    “We cannot reverse the charges for those purchases without your card issuer initiating the refund request.”

    I politely requested once more that they clear my card. Just ONE email later:

    “We have cleared the outstanding balance on your order.”

    It was beautiful. Julien, you’re the man.

  21. Marie Taylor Says:

    I’ve worked CSR jobs since I was in high school, and did it all through college. Trust me, we often just hang up! If a supervisor asks about it, “It was a mistake”. They hardly ever ask, and generally don’t care to research it that much. Honestly, I would go out of my way to help someone who genuinely needs it, but I refuse to be intimidated or manipulated by someone who just feels entitled. Arrogant condescending customers don’t get very far with me, nor do they get far with a lot of other CSRs.

    Unless the company has made a mistake, waiving fees is a courtesy. These fees are almost always included in any “Customer Agreement” (or whatever the company chooses to call it). No one owes you anything because you didn’t read. And speaking in a nice tone, while still being a pompous ass, doesn’t earn you any brownie points.

  22. Walter Weeks Says:

    Such methods can work brilliantly. It is important to remember that you must stay calm throughout the whole process in order to get the best deal. Customer service operators will simply ignore you if you are rude and impatient and are expected to be given the best deal without fighting for it. Patience is key in such circumstances.

  23. Paul Says:

    I’m on hold right now! waiting to cancel my internet! :)

  24. jessica Says:

    i work in a manger empower position and if i state that it is procedure you would have to pay no if ands or buts if anyone ever tried this on me i would just say at the end this is how my senario would go
    “I would like you to waive the fee.” (“Sir, we cannot, it’s procedure.”)

    “So you’re saying you’ve never waived the fee, ever?” (Here you’re just trying to get him to admit it can be waived. And of course he says yes.)

    “Ok, since you’ve admitted it can be waived, I would like you to waive it for me.”

    “I just want you to know that I’m willing to stay on the phone as long as it takes to get my way.”

    “I do not want a callback, and I will not waver until you waive the fee.”

    while i apreciate your persistance in the matter it is a standered fee and unformtinantly i will not be able to waive this 29 dollar charge for you
    if you still wont waiver id ask you to hold while i get my manager on the line to reiterate what i have informed you of they would and youd get upset and eventually hang up because just like you would not budge neither would we and we would eventurally sound like a broken record because we would stick to the solution we provide

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