How to persuade customer service reps to help you

Here's a clever tip for getting customer service reps to help you with a sticky problem that will require extra effort on their part. It's from Noah Goldestein, a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and the author of Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive (co-authored by by Robert B. Cialdini, who wrote the terrific book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion).

If you've ever contested a mysterious charge on your credit card, tried to resolve a problem with your computer, or wanted to return an item to a vendor, you've probably encountered stubborn customer service agents — people who seem nice at the outset but change their tune when they realize complying with your request will cause additional work on their part. To change their orientation toward you, try the following: If you find toward the beginning of your interaction that the customer service agent is being particularly friendly, polite, or responsive — perhaps before you get to your toughest request — tell the agent that you're so impressed with his or her service and knowledge so far that you're going to write a positive letter or e-mail about your interaction to his or her supervisor as soon as you get off the phone. After getting the agent's name and the supervisor's contact information, you can then get to the more complex issues at hand.

Although there are a number of psychological reasons for why this might be an effective strategy, the norm of reciprocity — one of the best-studied norms in psychology — is a powerful factor here: You've offered to do a favor for that person, so now that person is going to be motivated to return the favor.

Trouble with customer service agents? Try this