Dread Those Customer Service Phone Calls? This Trick Could Make Them Way Better

Spoiler alert: A little niceness goes a long way.


Ah, those dreaded customer service calls. By the time you get through the keypad directions and listen to 20 loops of that yawn-worthy hold music, you’re already reaching the end of your rope. Your word choice during the call, though, could affect the kind of service you get.

A University of British Columbia study analyzed 36 hours of customer service calls from a Canadian insurance company. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that rude customers were more likely to get worse service. And, it turns out, it was how they showed that anger that made the difference.

Some customers framed their frustrations in terms of the product (“this product is garbage”), while others made it personal against the phone operator (“your product is garbage”). More than 35 percent of callers who interrupted and used “you” and “your” when showing hostility received service problems. Such issues included workers raising their voices or making blunt comments, according to the study, which was printed in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Meanwhile, when customers were nicer, 5 percent or fewer of them experienced customer service problems.

The researchers guess that when complaints feel like a personal attack, rather than a gripe with the product, phone operators put their defenses up, making it harder to resist reacting rudely. “If customers change their language so that it’s less about the employee and more about the product or problem in question, they can improve the quality of the customer service they get,” says lead study author David Walker, assistant professor in the faculty of management at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, in a news release.

But what should you do if you are fuming, but don’t go want to deal with crummy customer service? The key is to sprinkle in some nice words here and there. In the study, callers who used upbeat words like “good,” “happy,” and “fun” weren’t linked with rudeness from customer service reps, even if they were aggressive with the operator at other points in the call.

So the next time you want to give your phone company an earful, try to be nice—or as nice as you can be. Brief moments of positivity really can make a big difference—for you and for the person on the other end of the phone call. It helps them help you.

MORE: Instead of Complaining: 7 More Productive Things to Do When You’re Annoyed

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.