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Repeat After Me: What to Say to Get Better Service

Talking Points to Improve Your Customer Experience


Dealing with customer service representatives can often feel like a losing game. The retail salespeople act like they’re reading from a script while car dealers always appears to be one step ahead of you in the negotiation process. But the trick to improving the experience is just knowing what to say.

We asked experts in a wide range of industries for their tips on talking points you can use to navigate potentially difficult customer service situations. Whether you’re hoping to get compensation for bad service at a restaurant or trying to convince a stewardess to let you change your seat on a flight, here’s what you can say to come out ahead.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Responding to Bad Restaurant Service


Of all the scenarios on our list, bad customer service at restaurants may be the most common, and in certain cases it may also be the hardest to fix. While there are times you may just have a bad waiter, it’s far more likely the long wait and mistaken orders are the product of factors beyond your waiter’s control.

“The waiter can only do so much. Two guys might not have shown up for work that day, or the dishwasher in the kitchen might be broken,” says Steve Dublanica, author of Waiter Rant, a book about his experience in the restaurant industry. For that reason, he says restaurant-goers need to be reasonable about their service expectations and diplomatic in how they respond when the service seems bad.

To start, Dublanica suggests stating the problem matter-of-factly to the server. “Usually, the waiter will want to take care of that problem, unless you get a waiter who runs and hides,” he says. “Those are the worst.”

If this doesn’t resolve the problem or if you’re hoping to get some kind of compensation for the poor service, Dublanica suggests calling the manager or owner over and again being clear and unemotional about your complaint, by stating what went wrong, how long you’ve been waiting and what your expectations are.

As part of this conversation with the supervisor, Dublanica suggests hinting at how valuable your business can be for them, by using the following line: “We’ve always liked it here and we know tonight is probably an exception to the rule, but can you fix this so we can continue to come here and bring our friends here?”

Chances are if this doesn’t resolve the issue to your satisfaction, either the restaurant is particularly lousy or your expectations are just crazy high. There is one last card that certain customers can play before giving up all hope, though.

“Let them know that you are the person who does office parties or events at your company,” Dublanica says. “People will snap to for that.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Complaining at a Retail Store


Whether you’re trying to get a store to accept a return without a receipt or looking to complain about a customer service representative who was rude, there are a few simple talking points you can use to address the issue and potentially get a discount in the process.

“The first thing you should do is to ask to speak with a supervisor. Usually they are the person in a position to help you,” says Jeanette Pavini, a shopping expert with Coupons.com. “There is always someone above that person who you can go – until you get to the CEO of the company.”

Once you’ve pinpointed the right person to speak with, Pavini recommends being polite but persistent in making your case. She suggests starting with the following line: “I’ve been a very loyal customer and I really like your company, but in this particular situation, I really need your help in resolving these concerns.”

From that point, sprinkling in a little bit of research can make all the difference. For example, one might refer to a competitor’s policy or prices by saying, “I know over at such-and-such, they are able to do this. Now, I want to stay with you, I’m happy overall, but this is kind of a deal breaker for me.”

Likewise, Pavini says shoppers should check online to see if others have complained about similar issues. If so, referring to these complaints can make your own that much more convincing to the manager you’re speaking with.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Upgrading Your Flight Experience


Given all the extra fees and security procedures travelers have to deal with when flying, passengers could be forgiven for wanting a little something extra by the time they get on the plane, whether it’s a better seat or some extra food. As corny as it may sound, the secret to upgrading your flight experience is just being pleasant to the staff.

“Speak nicely and dress nicely. That’s my secret to getting better service when I fly,” says George Hobica, president and founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. “People just don’t do this anymore.”

Whether you’re looking to get free food or a better seat, Hobica says the trick is to dress well, make eye contact with the staff, ask how their day is going and then politely make your request. He has used this tactic to get an upgrade from economy to business class. In other cases, he says it may only be enough “to get the full can of soda rather than just a pour, but it’s something.”

On occasion, Hobica says he’s seen passengers go one step further and hand out food or even gift cards to flight attendants and other passengers to switch seats and get the royal treatment on their flight. Others have gone so far as to claim to be engaged to get an upgrade to first class. But for those just looking to get a refill on their drink and maybe a seat by the window, a little sweet talk should be good enough.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Negotiating With Your Landlord


Landlords may not viewed as customer service representatives in the same way as someone who works at a clothing store or restaurant, but they dictate the terms of sale for one of the most significant expenses consumers have. As a result, knowing how to talk through the terms of a lease with a landlord may not only have a major impact on your quality of life while living in that rental, but can also save you hundreds if not thousands a year.

For new tenants, the trick to negotiate with a landlord is to show how good a lessee you will be. “Landlords like simple situations – someone with no pet and someone who is in a long-term relationship,” says Pierre Calzadilla, manager of the rentals division at Trulia.com. So if you hate dogs (or don’t own one) and love the person you’ve been with for seven years, emphasize those details to your landlord.

If you’re dealing with an individual landlord rather than a large property management firm, Calzadilla also recommends offering to pay several month’s rent upfront in addition to the security deposit. The incentive of having more cash upfront may cause the landlord to cut the overall rental price down significantly.

It’s a little easier to negotiate with a landlord for those who are already tenants. In these cases, the tenants can simply play up the fact that they have a history of paying rent on time, and that they are quiet and respectful.

“You have the truth and data on your side,” Calzadilla says. “It’s cheaper for a landlord to keep a current tenant than to go find a new one, so if a landlord knows that they have a winner already in the apartment, they are more likely to be flexible.”

Photo Credit: NobMouse

Getting a Better Deal on a Car


Even the savviest shoppers might feel taken advantage of when shopping for a car, given how expensive it can be when all the amenities are added in, but there are a few tricks to get a car sales rep to be a bit more flexible on price.

According to Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds, there are typically four talking points buyers can use to get a better deal. These include being willing to take out a loan with the car dealer, offering to trade in your old car to the dealer, citing a lower price on the same car elsewhere and strongly suggesting you are prepared to buy the car that same day. In each case, the trick is to be a little coy about it and offer the dealer a potential incentive to be more competitive.

For example, when it comes to offering to trade in your old car (which dealers really want now because used car prices are going up), Reed suggests saying the following: “Well, you know what, I have this [Toyota] Camry and I was thinking of selling to a private party, but I would consider bringing it in if you give me a better price.”

Likewise, noting that you’re ready to pull the trigger today serves as a powerful incentive for sales reps eager to make a commission. For that reason, Reed recommends saying something like, “I’m pretty tired of shopping around. I’ve been to three or four dealers, so I’d really like to wrap this deal up today if we can agree on the price.”

If all that fails, your last-resort negotiation tactic is simply threatening to walk away.

“They would probably jump at you and throw themselves bodily in front of you to prevent you from leaving the car lot and doing that,” Reed says.

Photo Credit: David Hilowitz

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Seth Fiegerman is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can follow him on Twitter @sfiegerman.

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