Being Nice Really Does Work

So my Comcast Xfinity On Demand went out, and I called up the help line, had to wait five minutes, then got connected to this really nice woman named Lauren. Described the problem and error message, told her I had already reconnected and done a cold boot on the box, and that my cable and phone were fine. She sent a zap to reset the box, and then we sat and chatted for five minutes while we waited for stuff to reset.

It kind of made more sense than just sitting there in silence, so I asked where she was, and she is in Pittsburgh, and both of us agreed that we are sick and tired of snow and that neither of us can find rock salt anywhere, talked about the Olympics and her favorite sport is hockey, so we talked about the Pens and how disappointed we have been with the Steelers lately, and so on.

At any rate, the problem is now fixed, but honestly, 90% of the time when I call help lines I am not mean or irate, but matter of fact and stern and forceful about what I want done, but this time, I just decided to roll with things. And you know what- I didn’t get agitated or internally angry, she was super pleasant and the issue was resolved, and it was just nice.

I am going to make a very concerted effort to not be such an angry person in the future. I’m not outwardly angry, and I never berate folks just doing their job like Lauren (because I was in retail and the restaurant industry and I know how awful people treat those workers), but I’ve spent too much time internally angry and bitter.

This approach seems so much better for everyone.

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47 replies
  1. 1
    Keith P says:

    Just don’t let them talk you into phone service. I had a “nice” chat with Xfinity several months ago and then agreed to their phone service all to just lower my monthly bill. It took an extra half hour to sign up, and then when I got my bill, it was almost $100 more for the first month and $50 more the subsequent months. Needless to say, my followup call wasn’t so nice.

  2. 2
    GregB says:

    Balloon Juice won’t be the same without your unprovoked and intemperate rage posts.

  3. 3
    Linda Featheringill says:

    No salt in WV, either, huh? Wow.

    We got 18 inches of snow and I’m still shoveling snow. We had to dig our way out at the front door in order to start work on the white stuff. Stuck vehicles. Tree branches everywhere. Icy front steps.

    But we do have power and that is great.

  4. 4
    Hawes says:

    I’ve stopped yelling at idiot drivers. Made me much happier. I used to think there was a cathartic release involved. Turns out, it just makes you angrier.

  5. 5
    Schlemizel says:

    I make a point of being nice and friendly, it is not going to hurt & it makes everyones day a little less distasteful. The only time I broke that rule was when my Comcast cable & internet both went black at the same time. I called in & they wanted me to test the TV even though I had explained the Internet was dead also so then he wanted me to test the internet, he wanted me to reboot the router and to unplug & plug in the cable box and a lot of other stupid stuff that was obviously not going to get us anywhere. After the 7th or 8th stupid thing with me asking each time “Why am I doing this? What are we going to learn from it?” and him not being able to tell me & got very angry and sort of yelled at him when he asked me to go outside and disconnect and reconnect the cable into the house.

    Turned out it was a linesman who thought he could switch out a component in a minute but broke something & we we down over an hour. An actual tech person would have seen the whol block was out in a minute had the phone guy simply forwarded the ticket to them.

    But those folks get a lot of abuse, its not right and it does not improve your chances of getting good service, don’t do it.

  6. 6
    Dolly Llama says:

    Geico’s people are the gold standard for customer service over the phone, as far as I’m concerned. They don’t give you an “automated” option, and whoever you get on the phone — and I’ve called a bunch of times over things that weren’t really the company’s fault, just shit I had to chance — you can hear them smiling over the line. Even when, undoubtedly, they’re not really smiling. Whoever heads that operation up is the queen or king of telephonic customer service in America.

    ETA: And I am not a Geico shill, promise. Just get my car and motorcycle insurance from them, that’s all.

  7. 7
    Ash Can says:

    Just don’t get carried away and stop throwing f-bombs at us.

  8. 8
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    This approach seems so much better for everyone.

    Not the “efficiency experts” at the call center, who absolutely loathe long call times, because it means that the average call time is inflated and some asshole MBA will have a reduced bonus at the end of the year.

  9. 9
    PsiFighter37 says:

    Am I going to get sideways looks here if I ask you if you got her number?

  10. 10
    Schlemizel says:


    What helped me a lot was to realize that everyone screws up once in a while behind the wheel. If you have a thousand cars on the road during your daily commute & 1% of them make a mistake thats ten mistakes every day. Think about the time you screwed up & realize you were part of the 1% on that day. You didn’t mean to do it & you try not to do it again but shit happens. Just let it go when you see someone else being part of the 1% that day.

  11. 11
    MikeJ says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    some asshole MBA will have a reduced bonus at the end of the year.

    No, their bonuses will be fine. It’s the poor schmucks in the call center that will get the worst of it.

  12. 12
    RuhRow_Gyro says:

    I know a lady named Lauren and she is really nice too.

  13. 13
    Citizen_X says:

    I understand Tibet has a lot of nice pink salt.

  14. 14
    Suzanne says:

    Funny you mention. My mom was over at my house today, so we called and got most of the way through signing her up for health insurance. Their Social Security database was down for maintenance, and my mom is on SS, so she won’t be able to pick out a plan until later in the week, but the woman taking her call was just so polite and helpful. It was really a great experience.

  15. 15
    raven says:

    When the moon is in the Seventh House
    And Jupiter aligns with Mars
    Then peace will guide the planets
    And love will steer the star

  16. 16

    I am always nice to the customer service people because basically that’s what I do at my job, although it doesn’t involve cable TV and being told to upsell the caller when what they really want is to get their signal back.

    I always make sure I make them laugh. It goes a long way. I’ve gotten credit on a bill for an outage, a free upgrade on an airline ticket, and when I’m asked to do the survey afterwards, I rate the customer service with the highest mark possible, even if I hate the company they work for. They get minimum pay, long hours of abuse from strangers, and if I can compliment them or thank them, I’ve done them something their employer doesn’t.

    ETA: Yelling at cars in traffic here in South Florida is problematic. There are enough folks out there with bad attitudes and SYG on their side. I invoke the FIDO rule: F*ck It, Drive On.

  17. 17
    MrSnrub says:

    Six months ago I had a moment of zen, and I let go of the petty anger that I used to churn up and store inside my heart. I was quick to anger, often felt misunderstood, and didn’t even realize I was doing it.

    I wish I knew how I let go, because I’d put it in a bottle and sell it. I’m much happier with life and myself now.

  18. 18
    Yatsuno says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: All call centres are loss leaders on the books. That’s why the massive rush to outsource to India and the Philippines happened, to help those bonuses at the top. There are also quite a few in Canada that handle US companies but they tend to get brought back in-house after the expense of the outsourcing and inevitable quality problems take over. Then another enterprising MBA gets the idea again and the cycle repeats.

    @Dolly Llama: Last time I saw a starting salary for GEICO call centre workers it was $17 an hour in the San Diego area. They get paid really really well.

  19. 19
    PurpleGirl says:

    My sister at one time wanted my parents to buy me my own house. I wanted a Co-Op. With my own house I’d have to handle problems like plumbing, painting, shoveling snow, etc. At the Co-Op, I have access to a maintenance department that does that stuff; especially cleaning the sidewalks of snow.

    ETA: I knew what was best for me.

  20. 20
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Citizen_X: Not unless they import it from Pakistan.

    It is mined in the Khewra Salt Mines, the second largest salt mine in the world, located in Khewra, Jhelum District, Punjab, Pakistan, about 300 km from the Himalayas

  21. 21
    Baud says:


    Then another enterprising MBA gets the idea again and the cycle repeats.

    It’s the circle of derp.

  22. 22
    Eric U. says:

    I try to be nice to people I talk to for customer service. Sometimes I have to remind myself many times that it’s not their fault.

    OTOH, I’m a really horrible person when someone calls me when they want my money. The degree granting institution where I earned my doctorate has lost the plot and they no longer call me “Dr. U.” Since they built a new alumni center behind our building and took 25% of the parking spots out of our parking lot (which are never more than half full) I keep meaning to make time to walk over and personally request that the calls stop.

  23. 23

    @Mustang Bobby:

    being told to upsell the caller when what they really want is to get their signal back.

    Back in the Jurassic Era, I worked as a phone drone for a cable internet provider. How long ago? It was BEFORE the mandate to upsell. When it got implemented, I punched out. Definitely one of my better calls.

  24. 24
    Eric U. says:

    it must be hard to upsell a customer who doesn’t have service. If your cable is out, you can’t call to get it restored. I suppose it’s a double win for the cable company, but I’m surprised the customers fall for it. We just added our land line to our cell. Saved us $30 a month. Granted, we don’t need the land line at all, but my spousal unit can’t seem to grasp that.

  25. 25
    p.a. says:

    @GregB: in 5, 4, 3, 2…

  26. 26
    NotMax says:

    @Dolly Llama

    Pass that along to your right-wing acquaintances or relatives, and remind them whence the first 2 letters of the company name:

    Government Employees.

  27. 27
    different-church-lady says:

    Sometimes when I’m really rightously angry, right off I’ll say to the service rep, “I’m really frustrated and going to get all shouty here, but it’s your company I’m pissed off at, not you, so please don’t take it personally.” It usually goes pretty well from there, partially because I usually don’t get all shouty after that.

    ‘Course it really really REALLY helps when you’re not dealing with a rep in an overseas call center who doesn’t know how to do a single damn thing to help you other than to follow the script they’ve been given and the prompts that show up on their screen. (Verizon, I’m looking at you.)

  28. 28
    RSA says:

    I am going to make a very concerted effort to not be such an angry person in the future.

    One of the side benefits is that when you do get angry, you can add a huge dollop of righteousness to the feeling–you’re usually not like this… (This is the way it works for me, at least.)

    @Eric U.:

    The degree granting institution where I earned my doctorate has lost the plot…

    My undergrad university has gotten on my nerves a couple of times, through a lack of basic business etiquette. I’m polite to the fundraisers, because they hire current students to make the calls, but they’ll actually need to set something right if they want any more money from me.

  29. 29
    Irony Abounds says:

    So “Lauren” said she was in “Pittsburgh” did she? And did she have a Hindi accent as she described how cold it was in “Pittsburgh.”

  30. 30
    different-church-lady says:

    @Eric U.:

    Granted, we don’t need the land line at all

    Not unless you’d like to actually hear the person you’re calling.

    Someday someone will come out with an app that allows smart phones to make phone calls. That person will get rich.

  31. 31
    different-church-lady says:

    @Irony Abounds: Heh. Long time ago I was buying some little piece of gear and a guy with some kind of sub-continent accent said “Good Afternoon, Mac Connection.”

    “Afternoon? It’s 11 PM.”


    “Good evening, Mac Connection!”

    We had a nice little chat about how the weather and what time it really was where he was.

  32. 32
    hilzoy says:

    Being angry at people without enormous provocation has always seemed to me like saying: some person just treated me badly; I will respond by handing over to that person my emotional equilibrium, thereby compounding the harm s/he has done to me.

    Makes no sense at all. I value my equilibrium, not to mention the stuff I could be doing instead of stewing, too much to throw them away.

  33. 33
    John Weiss says:

    “I am going to make a very concerted effort to not be such an angry person in the future.”

    Good for you John! One of the (infinite) steps to wisdom.

  34. 34
    DecidedFenceSitter says:

    I always try to treat the person on the other end nicely.

    Even when I’m furious.

    Occasionally this means I speak with a very clipped tone of, “Please escalate me to the next tier or your supervisor, you do not get paid enough to deal with me right now.” But by that point they will just need to open my record and they will know why I’m calling because it’ll be the third or fourth time that day.

  35. 35
    Lyrebird says:

    @Dolly Llama:

    And I am not a Geico shill…

    Word. I have GEICO car ins bc I didn’t own a car for a long time and had to join a relative’s insurance. After a minor car accident (other driver’s fault) and dealing with their and my insurance companies, I thank my lucky stars for GEICO’s customer service. The anthropomorphized gecko has nothing to do w/my support.

  36. 36
    Lyrebird says:

    @Eric U.: Heck, my grad institution tore down more than a third of the available grad housing while I was there… way to make the TAs feel valued.

    Like others, I don’t wanna blast the undergrads doing the dialing. I try to offer a “that’s great” before my magic “and now please put me on the no call list” phrase.

  37. 37
    mai naem says:

    I have to admit I seem to lose it on the phone. I am usually dealing with Verizon, Cox Cable or XM. I’ll be polite on the first go-around but once I’ve been transferred a few times. If they handle my problem quickly and appropriately I will tell them they did a good job. I hate hate hate the outsourced stuff because they don’t appear to understand what you’re asking for and they just repeat their little script. I had to call Cox around Xmas after hrs because my remote wasn’t working and I needed a new one and all I wanted to know was what their Xmas eve hrs were. It got transferred to India and they woman would not move beyond “Do you have an account with us?” and I’m telling her that does matter I just want to know the retail store hours in Phx AZ. I told her this 3 times and she just kept on repeating her script and I finally told her IT DOESN’T MATTER, ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME? and she replies “You don’t need to be rude to me” BTW, I had called the phone numbers of three retail stores during and after hrs and they were all forwarded to the main Cox number. Cox who advertises business phone service does not even have an individual phone number for each retail store.

  38. 38
    Jay C says:

    I was surprised recently, when calling the customer-care line for a big online discounter/retailer (Mrs. Jay had returns to deal with, which may have aggravated her migraines: so I got that job) to hear the lilt of Irish brogues on the other end: they told me the company had had a call center in New York, but had closed it and outsourced the call to a facility in Ireland. They were quite nice, though: even though it crossed my mind that this wasn’t the sort of “Celtic Tiger” business they were used to…

    And yes, while it’s nice (as a policyholder) to know that GEICO is a good company to deal with for claims and problems, I’ll be just as happy never to have to put it to the test.


    IIRC, GEICO got its name from its original customer-base, said Government Employees having been considered (back in, I think, the ’30s??) for whatever reason) better risks than the general pop. : they’ve since branched out…

  39. 39
    stinger says:

    When I get good customer service, I make a point of asking to speak to the rep’s supervisor to commend them. Both rep and supervisor are invariably surprised but delighted.

  40. 40
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Irony Abounds: Thankew for bringing back to mind a scene from one of my all-time favorite flicks, Short Circuit: (For the uninitiated, Ben is quite obviously of South Asian descent, with the accent to match.)

    Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg): Where are you from, anyway?

    Ben Jabituya (Fisher Stevens): Bakersfield, originally.

    Newton Crosby: No, I mean your ancestors.

    Ben Jabituya: Oh, them. Pittsburgh.

    The best part of that movie was hearing Stevens mangle not quite beyond recognition every idiomatic expression & turn of phrase he could get his hands on. The second best part was Number Five, the robot (“No disassemble! No disassemble! Number Five alive!”) who gets his own share of one-liners…

  41. 41
    former Walmart lady says:

    I now work for the Health Insurance Industry as a customer service rep. We are generously paid call center standards, have generous PTO and not bad benefits. Although looking at the union Railroad policies all day, I must admit I should have attempted to try for the local railyard jobs, holy cow, $250 deductible, and 100 % of eligible expenses for both In Network and Out? Sign me up.

    In any case, here’s my take on the call center life and customers.
    1. I will NEVER treat you poorly. We are cogs in a machine that makes profit off our health, and it sucks, and I will work as hard as I can to make sure the benefits you are signed up are utulized how they should be. Even if you are yelling at me, trying to intimidate me, or just being a downright fuck because you can, you will never make me less behave any thing less than professionally.

    2. That said, be nice. You know why? Nice will get you things that me being just professional won’t. Nice will get you my insider tricks, Nice will make me go above and beyond, such as, calling your doctor to get the correct CPT code. Nice will make me reach out to the claims rep and ask what the hell do you need more medical records for, she sent them five times, to discover that they aren’t sending in the brain images with the psych testing med records. Being professional just means I read the claims notes, see they are requesting medical records again, and you need to send them. Nothing in my job requirements and structured call handling requires me to do that, so if you are being a dick, I won’t go above and beyond. I will answer the question you asked and that is it. For example, yes i am sorry that your over eighteen year old son is a drug addict and needs treatment, and I am sorry that you pay the bills, but per HIPPA over eighteen requires a signed release of information act, and i will get fired for disclosing information to you without one on file. If you are pissy and call me names because of this fact, I will tell you where to find the form, I will give you the official ROI phone number from the official phone list. What I won’t tell you is that fax # has a fifty/fifty shot at working and i won’t give you the other fax number and tell you to send it to both. I won’t get fired for following the rules, and you may get what you need and you may not. There’s a difference between professional and going above and beyond and I just don’t go the extra mile if you are an ass.

    3. On that note, don’t use my name four times in one sentence. No, really don’t. I read the same lifehacker article you did, and from a call rep perspective, i know you are trying to manipulate me. It’s just cheesy and makes you sound like “Peggy” from Russia.

  42. 42
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    When dealing with “customer service” reps everyone should keep a couple of things in mind:

    First, recognize that these folks are essentially human shields for the rapacious owners of the business: Their primary task is to intercept the anger of customers who are paying good money for shitty service & absorb or deflect their fury before it can reach the rapacious motherfuckers who are really responsible. They do this day in, day out, to scratch out a living for themselves & their families, & it ain’t their fault.

    Second, recognize that going ballistic on the call-taker is like pissing your pants in a blue serge suit–you may get an immediate nice warm feeling all over, but no one’s going to notice, & in a few minutes it will leave you cold (& smelling bad to boot). Eyes on the prize: What is important is to exhaust every means of getting your problem solved.

    I learned this literally half a lifetime ago, when I was wheeling my luggage up a platform in the Frankfurt-am-Main Bahnhof ready to board the waiting train when it pulled out on me. (I had misread the timetable.) As I watched it glide away the thought sprang into my head: You can pitch a tantrum (which was my wont in that era) or you can very calmly go back to the information kiosk & see if there’s another way to get where you’re headed in time. I did the latter, there was, & a valuable life lesson was thereby learned.

    Third, recognize that while the reps’ primary job description may be “human shield,” they are generally not the sort of folks that like being bastards, & will do whatever they can reasonably do to help out a polite & reasonable caller.

  43. 43
    Missouri Buckeye says:

    @Uncle Cosmo:

    Back when Short Circuit came out, I thought Stevens’ “Indian” accent and malapropisms were funny and would repeat some of them myself.

    Given time and cultural sensitivity, I see it now as being equivalent to a minstrel show being done in blackface.

    It’s really too bad, because I liked the movie back then, but it’s an understatement to say that it hasn’t aged well.

  44. 44
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Missouri Buckeye: We will have to agree to disagree. I consider Ben’s malapropriety an object lesson in the iffy & fragile nature of idiom/figurative language/slang: A turn of phrase that’s even a skosh off goes from witty to wacky in a New York nanosecond. And that’s what I still can’t help but laugh at.

    On my birthday about 20 years back my parents gave me a pressure cooker made in India. (Useful gift though I still don’t use it enough.) Having been victimized repeatedly by computer/electronics manuals composed in some Far East version of English, I opened the use & care manual with some trepidation. By page 5 I was prepared to nominate the unknown author for a Pulitzer–it was that well written (in British English).

    Between that and many professional encounters with colleagues from South Asia, I could not possibly believe that these folks are either stupid or illiterate. It’s a question of unfamiliarity rather than intelligence & it can happen to anyone. (I remember a comment from the American author of a book on French slang who as a teenager first visited his mother’s relatives in France–stories of his excellent command of the language having preceded him–& committed three horrific linguistic faux pas in his first ten minutes. Same difference. YMMV)

  45. 45
    Missouri Buckeye says:

    @Uncle Cosmo:

    I agree about seeing humor the foibles of language. In 2010 (the 2001 sequel), there are some funny sequences where the Russion keeps getting English idioms mixed up (“easy as cake”, “piece of pie”), etc. But the actor doing that was actually Russian.

    The problem with Short Circuit is that Fisher Stevens is in “brownface” playing an Indian. Was there no Indian available in all of Hollywood to do that role?

    If it had been done by an *actual Indian*, I wouldn’t have had such a problem with it.

  46. 46
    steverino says:

    I did my time on the front lines at an ISP, and also as manager/hiring guy for our 5-person help desk. I, and my people, *wanted* to help you, and that makes the difference. Now I am up a level dealing with IT pros at another ISP and acting as the go-between for them and, say, AT&T. I am always nice to the AT&T folks. We’re a step back from the customer (though I am *their* customer) and can deal objectively with the problem while having a nice chat.
    As for driving, I have (in my middle-age) learned to be amused rather than annoyed at the people that have to rush; I have an hour commute, and I tend to see the people that zoomed past me 30 miles back be in the lane next to me when we hit the pre-city traffic. My ride is my “relax” time.
    I am glad to hear Geico stepped up their game; I use Amica and their support is first-rate. When I was in the Navy a lot of my friends used Geico and I heard several horror stories. That was 15+ years ago, though.

  47. 47
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    If I have a good experience from a call center rep, I make a point of asking to be forwarded to their supervisor to then give them some kudos. I figure it’s the least I can do given they have to deal with irate customers all day.

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