Press Zero: How to get great customer service without losing it


It took me less than ten minutes to cancel my home phone. During this time I spoke with two Telus customer service guys, shared a few laughs, got offered a 40% discount, and hung up victorious without having to wait the required full 30 days to be free of my phone bill. Not only did I save money, I saved a lot of time too.

customer service agent

In my *cough* humble opinion, I’ve never rocked a customer service call harder and with more squawky skill until now. So it’s a good thing I taped it. For you guys. To listen to. Ha!

So how did I make it past two customer service agents without pulling out my hair, succumbing to dehydration, or eating my landline? Easy. Take a listen to the actual 10-minute call for the joyous money-saving laughter — I’ll refer to the stellar talking points in my tips below so you too can get what you want from that dreaded customer service call sooner.

1. Know what you want. Ask for it.

It’s amazing how many people don’t know what they want. I’ve met a few of these indecisive folks over the years while working crappy jobs in customer service. They’d occupy my space in stores, blabber with me on the phone, or just stare at me blankly while attempting to make a decision. If you want something, you’ve gotta be firm and ask for it. If you wobble with your words, you may never get off the line.

The Ask:

Kerry: I’m calling ’cause I would like to cancel my landline, please.

Kerry: If we cancel it today, do I get a refund?

Don’t be an indecisive person when dealing with customer service agents. If you have a complaint, want a better deal, or require a change in service then ask for it. Be clearer than mud. If you’re a nervous asker, do yourself a solid and write down your request before reaching out to dial some service department.

2. For the love of blog: Press “0” or yelp “AGENT”

Your mission, should you choose to stay sane, is to locate the human being before getting buried in a hierarchical menu of options. Human beings can generally help you solve a problem. Hierarchical menus of options generally cause hyperventilation, perhaps hysteria.

If your menu of options likes numbers, try pressing “0” to connect with an agent. Other systems ask for your voice, so yell “agent” or “customer service” or “I’m gonna die” if a computerized lady voice wants input.

3. Track it. Tape it. Refer to it.

Customer service departments are sometimes trained to script you into oblivion while passing you through their tangled web of wonk. To avoid getting lost in their systems, download my handy Track Customer Service Calls Worksheet and keep track of agent names, times of calls, and file/case numbers to save yourself some grief if the call goes south.

Recording calls can be useful if you’re thrown some shade during a negotiation, so tapping your smartphone’s voice recording features to tape the conversation might be a good idea if you fear a less than stellar outcome. Keeping records or recordings of your issue in case you need to revisit the problem is being a smart consumer. Seriously.

4. Disarm: Ask, “How ya doin’?”

Customer service agents are people too, you know. These agents often have feelings, bad days, and dislike dealing with grumpy customers as much as you dislike dealing with them.

So to get a customer service conversation off to a good start, I often like to throw these agents off their scripted (or grumpy) game by asking them a common question: “How are you doing today?”

During my Telus call I asked both agents about their days. The first guy, Kevin, actually paused for reflection and laughed.

Kevin (Telus Agent): Good morning. Thank you for choosing Telus. This is Kevin speaking how may I help you?

Kerry: Umm. How are ya doin’ today?

Kevin (Telus Agent): (laughter) I’m well, yourself?

Kerry: Pretty good!

Treating your customer service agent like a human and getting in a few laughs at the outset not only builds rapport, but can help bolster your ask and resolve the issue sooner.

5. Smile. Be Nice. Eh!

Saying please, thank you, and not being a dick can get you far both in life and on the phone. Trying to smile while on hold or listening to Muzak is hard (I know), but being a pleasant person during your customer service call can do a lot to help win your way.

I went through my Telus call log and counted all the politeness shared. You’d think I was a Canadian, or something. Eh!

Polite-O-Meter Counter:
Number of times each word was said. Serious niceness all around.

  • Thank you, Thanks: 9
  • Exactly: 7
  • Perfect: 5
  • Good: 5
  • Great: 4
  • Excellent: 4
  • Please, Pleasure: 4
  • Alright: 3
  • Nice: 2

Check out this happy nice exchange:

Kerry: There’s very few people that use the landline these days. They just text me.

Eric (Telus Agent): Yeah, I know, exactly. I mean, we don’t even talk on the phones anymore, right? It’s all communication through email and texting.

Kerry: Well I’m enjoying our conversation right now, so it’s quite lovely.

Both: (laughter)

This call is so sweet and nice I can’t believe we didn’t all go out for beers afterwards.

6. Cut a deal. Get retention-ed. Or not.

The only certainty I have when signing up for a service is that eventually I’m going to cancel it. Over the past few blogging years I’ve cut my cable, quit my old cell for a contract-free unlocked iPhone, and now I’ve cancelled my landline.

Every time I’ve called to quit a service, the stealthy agents always try to retain my bill paying ways by cutting me a deal. Getting offered a discount on a service you’ve paid in full for eons can be maddening, unless that’s what you’re after in the first place. If you’re looking to pay less, ask for the ‘Retention Department’ where wing men and their agents live to keep you subscribed and paying.

Option One: Let the agent cut you a deal

Here’s the second Telus agent doing his best to keep me on the hook as a paying customer. Yeah, he offered to cut my bill by 40%. Sneaky.

Eric (Telus Agent): Alright, excellent. One thing I was going to mention with the phone, and this is completely optional if you were interested in it at all. For a six month period I’d bring your bill down to a cost of just $15 a month. What I’d actually do is, we could also add on a calling feature like website call display. I know you’re saying that of course the telemarketers are the main ones calling, it’s nice just to have the home phone line as a bit of a backup. We could do it for the price of $15. That call display would be added on there, that would be included in the cost, and that way you could identify who is calling, and ignore the call if need be.

Kerry: So it would be like the exact same phone line but for $15 a month?

Eric (Telus Agent): Yeah, exactly.

Kerry: So you’ve basically just cut my bill in half!

Eric (Telus Agent): Yeah, just about. It’s just, I mean, I see you’ve been with Telus for quite some time and we really do appreciate the fact that you have had your business with us for so long. And this is a way — I find that a lot of people tend to kind of miss the phone line when it is gone. They’ll say that they don’t really use it much, and you know, that may be the case, but again nice to just have there. Again, it’s completely optional and within that six months, let’s say that you are using it, then perfect, you will remain on there. And even if in the next month or two that you don’t want to use it, you say, just not using it at all, then definitely give us a call back and we can just cancel it. There’ll be no cancellation fee, or we won’t recoup any of the discount we’ve given. Basically, just lower the bill a little bit here, see if somebody might miss it in the next little while.

Kerry: That’s sneaky-sneaky! I mean, I’m still not using the phone, and for $15 a month, I’m sure I would rather put that on my cell phone bill. So, thanks for the offer of cutting my bill, but I think I’m going to pass.

Eric (Telus Agent): For sure. Not a problem. Again, just giving the options there.

Gotta love “the options” to pay less for the same damn thing. BTW: Calling your cable company and threatening to cut the cord can score you some pretty sweet discounts too. Just be prepared to walk if they do call your bluff.

Option Two: Stay strong, cancel!

Despite the generous price cut on offer, I still opted to cancel my landland. I didn’t land a refund for quitting the service mid-month as hoped, but I did manage to escape paying an additional 30 days as required by the cancellation terms of the contract. Phew. Victory.

Kerry: So it will be cancelled today, or?

Eric (Telus Agent): Well, whenever actually you’d like. I’m actually looking and your billing cycle is on the 18th of the month. So currently the bill you have right now is $23.67. That does cover you up until the 18th.

Kerry: OK.

Eric (Telus Agent): So if you like we can basically just keep it running up until that time and yeah it will just disconnect with no further charges coming from it unless there’s any long distance usage or anything like that

Kerry: If we cancel it today, do I get a refund?

Eric (Telus Agent): There wouldn’t be any credit back. We do generally require 30 days notice of cancellation, so even though it’s within the 30 days here basically until your next bill cycle comes out, we’ll just basically have the charges run up until the 18th, and that will be that.

Kerry: Ok, so I guess then if I get no refund, then we might as well run it up until the 18th and cancel it at that point.

Escaping a few extra charges is a total win, even if the final result is not exactly what you wanted.

Final Thoughts

Be prepared to escalate the call to a supervisor if your agent is unhelpful or unable to meet your needs. Since my call went smoothly, I had no need to move up the customer service food chain.

Getting what you want (or need) from a customer service call is not impossible. Start by having a goal or anticipated outcome, ask away while being a pleasant person, and cut a deal if you’re in the market for a discount. Quitting the service is cool too, though.

Lastly, if you’re calling Telus in the near future, be sure to send my squawky best to Eric and Kevin. I probably owe them a beer.

Your Turn: Have an awesome or awful customer service story to share?



  1. Ben June 24, 2013 at 5:15 am

    I do pretty much everything on your list, and happily.
    I canceled our landline years ago, and cable just recently, while upping our monthly data and speeds on our internet (for Netflix, natch), for way less money per month than we were paying.
    Most people I know complain bitterly about the poor service they get from CSR’s, but I know a lot of them are either really stressed out about getting bad service BEFORE they’ve even started the call, and/or have never had a service job, and perhaps not very sympathetic to the person on the other end of the line, and sometimes, I think fairly rude to them.
    Treating a customer service rep like a person is the single biggest way of 1) still feeling like a decent human being once you’re off the call, and 2) getting what you want. Often, as you say, you need to work your way up through the ranks, because the first person you speak to probably doesn’t have the authority to grant your wish, and yelling at them or being mean is pointless, not to mention douchey. I’ve been the phone contact for customer service before, and will hang up on anybody that yells or swears or insults me or anybody I work with. Period.

    Of course, I’ve had a few CSR’s that seemed genuinely unhappy to be on the phone, no matter my snappy repartee (most recently, an Apple rep, weird huh? they’re usually super helpful), but it usually pays to ask to be given over to someone else, or call back. I’m not above letting these guys know how unhelpful they’ve been, but be clear, firm, calm, and no swearing.

  2. Reinita June 24, 2013 at 7:02 am

    Always be nice and it gets you farther in the long run! As you say they are people too. Dealing with a nice person can (sometimes) work and if not go up a level. Nice article!

  3. Kate June 24, 2013 at 7:23 am

    There can be an additional problem working with CSRs to get what you want/need.

    Within Canada an agent might not have English as a first language but it’s pretty much guaranteed that the accent is a bonus to their perfect English. However some call centres are located overseas and you’ll often get an agent that is very difficult to understand.

    It’s not the poor agent’s fault. If companies have call centres overseas it’s up to them to ensure that the customer has a reasonable chance of being able to communicate with the real live person they’ve finally reached after ages of waiting on the line.

    Poor customer service, that.

  4. Merlin June 24, 2013 at 9:14 am

    My frustrations with call centers are usually with the runaround and re-directs you get before you get to talk to an actual person. When I was still dealing with one of the brick and mortar banks, I spent nearly an hour getting connected to wrong departments, redirects dead ends, etc. More than once I’d hit a dead end, having to dial back in and start the whole process over. My conclusion is, that the last thing most companies want is for you to actually talk to someone.

  5. Bon Bon June 24, 2013 at 9:22 am

    My kitchen tap is less than two years old, it is one that pulls out so you can press a button and it becomes a spray. The piece that makes your tap go from straight stream to wide spray was in the sink, broken off, not to be repaired. I went online to Eurostream (maker of my tap) and called their 800 number, which was a bonus and spoke to Customer Service. After describing my tap he told me a new one (not just the piece that broke off) would be delivered within 48 hours. What!!! There was no charge for the entire piece that pulls out, or the delivery. In 48 hours Purolator delivered my package (to my house). There was no card in my mailbox telling me to go to the post office to pick it up… delivered right to my door. I opened the padded envelop, the piece was wrapped in bubble wrap, unscrewed the broken piece and attached the new piece… five minutes later my new tap was installed. This is the most amazing customer service I have ever encountered. I told him I found the receipt, could I scan it and send it to him…. no… not necessary. The customer service from EUROSTREAM is the best, amazing, hassle free… What more can I say??

  6. Sue June 24, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Wow! I negotiated our landline down to $20/month (I live just a ways up the road from you) and thought I was doing well! I’m going to call back and see if they’ll bring it down further. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Pet June 24, 2013 at 10:35 am

    It often takes too long to get through to a voice at the other end so I have resorted to the “chat” service on the company in order to get things done. It’s faster and easier to be nice. Sometimes the sugary/phoney sweetness of some customer service people can be irritating. And don’t you find that “Perfect!” is getting to be overused when all that is necessary is an “OK” or “That’s fine”? And don’t get me going on “Awesome” because it usually isn’t unless you are weeping tears of joy at a true miracle of nature. Another reason for using chat…If you’re prone to saying “awesome” all the time, it takes too long to type! 😉

  8. Merlin June 24, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Another experience – a very positive one! The arm on my 4 year old office chair was breaking up from normal wear and tear, basically because I use it to assist me in getting out of my chair. Late in the day, I called the direct line to our Staples rep to inquire about purchasing a replacement part, got his voice mail. About 2 minutes later he called back, put me on a conference call with the chair supplier (Global) somwhere in the southeastern USA. He said the chair has an unlimited 5 year warranty, and would ship the part, no charge, prepaid directly to our office door. A few days later, it showed up. A few days after that, the Staples rep called to follow up on how it went. Now, THAT is what service should be!

  9. Robert June 24, 2013 at 11:22 am

    How do you cut the landline when it is the source for your internet, too? I happen to subscribe to DSL because it is the only high speed internet where I am.

  10. Tinkerbell June 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I have learned that if I do not get good service with something- I do not use the service! People who do not appreciate my hard earned dollars and treat people properly can find someone else to give them their money.

    So many things are too overpriced and it just keeps going up! So many things are also just poor quality and are just a waste of money.

    Being nice does not always work. If you complain and use authority some businesses will respect this more.

  11. RegularGuy June 25, 2013 at 6:29 am

    I started doing IVR (Interactive Voice Response) systems design when they first debuted. We had some informal ‘rules’ back then which have sadly been forgotten or ignored.

    The one we followed most was our 3 X 3 rule. Simply, it said to limit the choices to three per menu, and to limit callers to three menus before getting a live agent.

    Too many IVR designs are based on the company’s internal structure and not on what the caller(s) needs are. A company which is really on top of IVR design is constantly reviewing their top reasons for callers calling them, and adjusting their menus to meet the most frequent calls.

  12. john e June 25, 2013 at 9:07 am

    I agree with your “know what you want” statement. I recently cancelled a major credit card in a very short call to the bank. I think it is because I opened with “I want to cancel my credit card, I don’t use it anymore”. They didn’t try to persuade me to change my mind. I was surprised by how easy it was.

  13. terri ann June 26, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    Thanks for showing how it’s done, Kerry. Insurance companies (Allianz) are a major problem: they do not direct you to the manager. When you make a claim, they deny all of them, forcing all claimants to appeal. Not customer-friendly.

  14. Thomas | Your Daily Finance June 28, 2013 at 6:02 am

    I usually catch a lot of people with Good morning how are you doing? or something along those lines. Its amazing how many people they may talk to that don’t even ask or care. I make sure they know I appreciate their help and am thankful for what they are doing.

  15. Thomas July 1, 2013 at 9:35 am

    I have been a call centre operator before and I can tell you, if customers are nice to you, it makes you WANT to be helpful. Politeness always pays off

  16. Theresa July 1, 2013 at 11:44 am

    I agree to some degree, however having worked in a call centre for over 13 yrs. Supervisors can not always do more than what we do. Example a client calls and refuses to want to be identified and requests to speak to a supervisor . a supervisor will still request to identify you and cannot proceed without identifying you. example if we don’t say what you want to hear you request for the supervisor , the supervisor will tell you the exact same thing.

  17. RegularGuy July 1, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    It doesn’t happen often, but I have been ‘tricked’ by a clever call center agent after I ask to speak to a supervisor. Some systems allow agents to transfer calls to other agents. After I made my request, the agent simply transferred me to one of their peers, who just neglected to mention that they weren’t a supervisor.

    Now, I make it a point to ASK whether the new person I’m transferred to is actually the original agent’s supervisor. When they get caught doing this, most agents just disconnect the call.

  18. Gerard July 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    I’m not sure I would do the “How are you today?”, but I definitely try to use the agent’s name at the beginning and end of the conversation (I write it down so I remember it). So:
    AGENT: This is Dawn, how may I help you?
    ME: Hi Dawn, my name’s Gerard and I’m calling to find out how to…
    [bla bla bla]
    AGENT: Is there anything else I can help you with?
    ME: No, that’s great. Thanks, Dawn, you’ve been very helpful.
    AGENT: Oh!

  19. Maggie@SquarePennies July 12, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    I use the “broken record” method. I stay polite, but boring. I just keep repeating what I want over and over. It works!

  20. colin December 4, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    That phone call was far from “rocked”. Nothing at all was worthy of note. I was expecting something great from the description but nothing ever amounted. The guidelines listed above are common sense and I actually advise not using many of them. Cut the small talk and get to your point. That call could have been wrapped up in 3 minutes with the same result.

    1. Call and ask for the cancellation dept. Why give all the details to the wrong agent.

    2. Why tell them any reason other than cancel my service. You are on no contract. Get to the point and save yourself over half the time you wasted on the phone.

    Oh, and as far as the “jokes” you suggested were put in the call, I must have missed the cleverness of them as I never chuckled.


    Sorry, but someone has to say it.

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