Konstantin/Shutterstock

Konstantin/Shutterstock

The first rule of solving a customer-service problem may be to get everything in writing, but there are exceptions to every rule.

For some issues — a quick product question or a change in reservation — a phone call might still work fastest.

Or not. Phone agents can waste your time with scripts and long hold times. That’s when you need to know how to escalate your call to someone who can help you.

Here are a few tips to help you get that decision-maker on the phone:

1. Be polite.
Call center representatives are people too. Taking your frustrations out on them probably isn’t going to get you anywhere. And if a manager has a slew of calls to take or make, the one for the screaming, swearing , insulting customer may understandably end up at the end of the line.

2. Be clear.
When asking for a manager, it’s helpful to explain why. Saying, “I understand that you may not be able to help me, so I’d like to talk to a manager about your company’s refund policy,” can help the manager try to resolve your issue before they even get on the phone with you. They know you’re not just asking for a manager to vent.

3. Be reasonable.
Asking for round-trip, first-class ticket anywhere the airline flies because a flight attendant was rude to you — well, you know where that’s going to get you. If what you’re asking for doesn’t pass the laugh test, it’s less likely you’ll get the person you want to talk to you.

4. Be patient.
Attempting to escalate a call from a front line phone rep directly to the CEO of a company just isn’t reasonable. First, you’re skipping many levels of decision-makers that, frankly, probably know a lot more about your issue than the CEO would. Asking for the CEO or other very high level manager right out of the gate can sometimes get you branded as a kook and make it harder to have your requests taken seriously. Besides, even if you did get the CEO on the phone, he or she is going to end up having someone else resolve your issue in the end anyway.

5. Be persistent.
If you’re still having trouble getting a decision-maker on the phone, figure out who else can help you. (And don’t forget the first rule — start a paper trail!) For product or service issues, sending a letter to your state’s Attorney General’s office may prompt the company to have someone at a higher level reach out to you. A request for assistance from your state or federal congressional representative can also have the same effect. Use this tactic wisely, however, and only in extreme cases. Overusing it can dilute its impact.

Remember that in the end, most of the folks you deal with on the phone would much prefer to go home at the end of the day knowing they helped someone and made their company look good. If you follow these easy steps, you can help them, too.

Betsy Mayotte is a consumer advocate and the director of regulatory compliance for the Boston-based American Student Assistance.

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