Getting the most from customer service

Michael Lux Best Of, Blog, Student Loans 1 Comment

This evening I spent an hour on the phone.  This was my 3rd phone call in 3 days and the 6th or 7th in a one month period.  To say that there has been some confusion about my monthly bill would be an understatement.

Full disclosure: this most recent endeavor has been with my cable company, but because it so closely mirrors dealing with my student loan companies, the lesson is worth repeating… Keep calling until you get the help you need.

When you make these calls, have reasonable expectations.  Sallie Mae won’t forgive all of your loans just because you asked nicely.  However, if you are making a reasonable request, when you get to talk to someone helpful, you can accomplish what you need.  Remember, pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered.

Not all customer service representatives are terrible human beings.

Its easy to be dismissive of somebody who works for a company that you have come to despise. You may even judge them for choosing to work for such an evil enterprise.  But doing so will only hurt you in the long run.

The reality is that no matter how much you hate your student loan company, it probably employees many decent people who are just trying to earn a living.  The corporate culture may not be what you want, but in even the worst companies, there are people who take pride in their work.  The trick is finding them.

Finding someone helpful…

The best approach here is to keep at it until blind luck puts someone helpful on the other end of your phone call.  Sometimes one department is more helpful than the next, sometimes managers are more helpful, but at the end of the day there is no substitute for good luck.

The key part is that you keep trying and approaching your problems from different angles.  Maybe you want to double check their math, next time you could just call for information, the time after that could be to try and change repayment plans, and the time after that could be for them to recalculate things.  Each phone call puts somebody new on the other end of the line, and each call is an opportunity to get someone helpful.

If you really want to put the best foot forward, be sure to be polite on the phone.  Treating the person on the other end of the phone will not help your cause any.  They don’t work for you and if you make it clear that you are going to be angry no matter what, they have no incentive to help.

Once you find someone helpful…

Take full advantage of the situation.  Ask every question you can think of that might ever apply to you.  Have them address all of your issues.

Best yet, see if you can get info to talk to them again.  With some companies it will be a direct dial, or an email, or an ID number of some sort.  If there is anyway to recreate your current productivity, be sure to make a note of it.

One last thought…

If you are talking to someone incompetent (which can easily happen), you may know the situation and what needs to be done much better than them.  However, if you are talking with a skilled employee who knows what they are doing, they will definitely know more than you.  The key is knowing how to tell the difference.  This is why it is critical to do your homework before you make a call.

One tactic that is especially helpful when you are trying to gauge someones expertise is to ask a question you already know the answer to.  If you ask how IBR payments are calculated and they just say, “it is based on your income and a long equation” they might not be super helpful.  If they say “it is 15% of your income in excess of 150% of the federal poverty level based upon your family size”, you may have found your expert.  Once you have someone give you answers that you know to be reliable, you can move on to the questions that you really need answered.