How To Get What You Want From A 1-800 Customer Service Number

rexusa_1770776aPhoto: Cultura/REX USA.
The Billfold — which, mind you, is not another personal finance site — aims to do away with the misbelief that talking about difficult money issues is uncomfortable. Instead, they've created a space to have an honest conversation about how we save, spend and repay our debts. Or, why we'll buy a dozen oysters before we pay our rent.
My mother taught me a customer-service bargaining secret that saves me hundreds of dollars all the time, but also kills me softly and slowly.
First, anytime you have to call customer service because of a grievance (airlines, electronics, utilities, especially for health insurance) you should always keep going past all the robots, record everything in writing once you get to a human (time/date/employee name and number/duration of contact), and eventually get to the highest manager you can. Once there, state your experience with the company and demand an extremely large refund/credit/adjustment (if the situation warrants such a thing, which it pretty much always does). If that doesn’t work, compile a written record and send it to someone at the company who will give you money to shut you up (generally only worth it if you’re dealing with a $700+ medical bill, in my experience).
This works almost every time, and has netted me many airline vouchers and the like. But, again, this tactic will eat away at your soul. For example, this conversation with a customer service rep at AT&T, iterated about 12 times, eventually got me $160 off of my AT&T bill. It wasn’t even remotely worth it.
Laura: "Hello Mr. Jia Tolentino."
Jia Tolentino: "Hello, “Laura.” I have chatted with eight people today “named” “Laura” and none of them have been able to help me find my router. This is regarding U-verse account number 11—–01. I need my router, which was supposed to arrive yesterday. I am also not a Mr. but it’s fine."
L: "It looks like you may have questions about your U-Verse account. How may I help you?"
JT: "By telling me the location of my router and explaining why it is not in my house right now."
L: "I am seeing the equipment is to be shipped on 06/14/2012. For any other questions please call the orders department at 1-800-288-2020."
JT: "I don’t want to call the orders department. I called them five times yesterday. Do you have the number for the repeat-call customer center?"
L: "Yes, you may call 1-800-288-2020."
JT: "That’s the orders department."
L: "Yes, I apologize, that is the only department to call."
JT: "No it’s not, and I bet you know it’s not."
L: "I understand, I do apologize, the only number we have for you to call is 1-800-288-2020."
JT: "Do you acknowledge the existence of upper management? Can you get me to your chat manager, who may be able to disclose more detailed information?"
L: "Please call 1-800-288-2020 during your local business hours."
JT: "Please give me your employee number and put me in touch with your manager."
L: "Yes, it is LD12—G. One moment please."
L: "Hi my name is Ian. I am the manager on the floor."
JT: "Hi Ian/Laura. Thanks for helping me. I need to get back in touch with the manager who expedited my order on June 5th. Her name was LeAnn and she worked in the repeat call department."
L: "I do show that you spoke with someone on the 5th of June. We have a phone number you can call for further assistance which is 1-800-288-2020."
JT: "No. I do not need that number."
L: "1-800-288-2020 is the only number we have. I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you."
JT: "That is absolutely not the only number you have. Do you acknowledge the existence of a separate, repeat-call customer care department?"
L: "No we do not have a separate repeat call customer care department. You can reach customer service at 1-800-288-2020."
JT: "Cool it with the number please! Also I just Googled AT&T customer support and found a hundred listings for repeat-call support staff. Ugh it’s fine; no worries bud! I’ll just call AT&T over and over again for 7 hours tomorrow and then get put through to this department that you are pretending doesn’t exist."
L: "Please call 1-800-288-2020 for further assistance. Thank you."
JT: "Don’t go, Ian! You’re the floor manager and that’s all you can do? Can you do anything to my file; can you move it somewhere, to an urgent-complaint list; can you give me someone’s extension number? There has to be some way to flag my account or something so that someone will speak to me without selecting responses from a robot list."
L: "I am not able to do any of that, but if you call 1-800-288-2020 we will be more than happy to take care of that for you."
JT: "I think I shall cancel this order."
L: "If you wish to cancel your services, please contact our customer relation specialist at 1-800-288-2020."
JT: "Haha! Good one! Wait, what’s the number again? I forgot. It’s like, 1-800 something...?"
L: "It is 1-800-288-2020. Is there anything else I may assist you with?"
Jia Tolentino just joined Twitter in order to form a more perfect union of customer-service bargaining techniques.

More from Work & Money