credit cards

Tapping credit card customer service

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Highlights
  • Some companies are making valid efforts to enhance customer service.
  • It's easy to fly off the handle, but it's best if you remain calm.
  • Whatever your credit card issue is, it always helps to take notes.

While some credit card companies are making valid efforts to enhance existing customer service programs, in other instances customer service representatives "are trained to stonewall you," says Peggy Morrow, a customer service consultant who runs Peggy Morrow & Associates of Houston.

The evasiveness isn't personal. Becky Carroll, author of "The Hidden Power of Your Customers," says some contact centers measure an employee's success by how quickly they get a consumer off the phone, and oftentimes a curt rep is simply trying to keep his or her job. At the other end of the spectrum, service-oriented credit card companies have moved toward measuring success by whether a consumer is satisfied on the first call.

Fortunately, whether you're trying to solve a problem, hoping to get a fee waived or looking to lower your annual percentage rate, there are some surefire ways to get a credit card customer service rep on your side.

It pays to be kind

It can be easy to fly off the handle at a customer service rep, especially if it's taken 15 minutes or more to actually get one on the phone. However, it's best to remain calm, experts say.

"Most reps I've spoken to have said if a person gets nasty, they're less likely to do something for them," Carroll says. They may even use your bad behavior as an excuse to end the call. To avoid having to restart your quest or wind up blacklisted, stick to words and phrases that won't put a person on the defensive.

"Start off by saying, 'I know this isn't your fault, but I need your help to fix this problem,'" says Morrow. This will help ensure the rep takes your subsequent statements professionally, not personally. You also can establish a connection with a credit card customer service rep by referring to him or her by name. Just be sure not to ask for it in the middle of a tirade.

"I thank them using their name so they don't feel like I'm checking up on them, even though I am," Carroll says.

Secondary tips and tricks

If your call is related to a request and not a problem, swap out declaratory sentences and instead utilize polite questions.

For instance, if you're trying to get a late payment waived, ask, "Would you look at my record?" says Shep Hyken, a customer service expert and author of "The Cult of the Customer." Then ask: "Based on that history, is there anything you can do for me?"

Similar tactics can be used when trying to lower an annual percentage rate, or APR. For instance, if your credit score has improved significantly since you first applied for a credit card and you can afford to do a new inquiry, you might want to ask a rep if he or she can take a look at your current credit report.

Whatever your issue is, it also helps to take notes. Write down the date and time of your call, the name of the agent who handled your complaint and some specifics concerning the discourse. These details can be used as backup later, if you feel a credit card customer service rep is being uncooperative and you need to take your complaint to someone higher up the chain of command.

"It helps give you a little more leverage to get through," Carroll says.

The next level

If your failure to make any headway is causing you to lose your cool, it may be time to politely end that particular phone call. Getting off the phone will prevent what Morrow calls "being emotionally hijacked." It also will give you a chance to try again.

"If you catch a different rep, you might catch a different answer," Hyken says. "Some are more interested in helping you. Some just want to address the issue and move on."

Remember, some credit card companies might prohibit entry-level agents from granting certain requests. If you feel you're simply being read lines from a script, it may be time to ask to speak to a manager.

"It's appropriate to say, 'I'm sorry, but I'm not satisfied, and I'd like to talk to a supervisor,'" Morrow says. If this direct report is being just as difficult, you can ask to speak with his or her boss as well. "You keep going up a level until you get to the secretary of the CEO," Morrow says.

Take to the Web

You also can try lodging a complaint online instead of over the phone, as many issuers have focused customer service efforts on improving digital communication. This includes adding features such as click-to-chat assistance, detailed FAQ sheets and the ability to email a complaint.

"The vast majority of our customers interact with us online, so we've invested substantial resources into enhancing that channel," says Sukhi Sahni, a spokeswoman for Capital One. Discover spokeswoman Kathryn Henry also advises consumers to make full use of an issuer's website.

While online channels minimize direct contact, they may be beneficial to customers prone to outbursts since it's much easier to curse aloud than put an expletive in writing. Additionally, if all else fails and you're not getting any help, you may want to contact your issuer via social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook.

"Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets ahead via social media," Carroll says.

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