Ask the Insider
Straight from the source, tips for getting the most out of your call to customer service
By Ellen McGirt

(MONEY Magazine) – Stuart Hammond, an L.L. Bean service rep for the past 18 years, tells you what to say when the hold music stops.

Q What question should I always ask? A How to track or reference your order. We use last name and zip code. Other companies use order numbers. What no one does is track things by the name of the rep. So asking for my name, which is what most people think they should do, won't help you follow up.

Q Does yelling ever help? A If a person is relaxed, that's going to keep me relaxed. Service reps are already advocates when you get them on the phone. It makes it tough to do that when someone is adversarial.

Q What about asking for a supervisor? A It probably won't save you any time. That's called escalating, and lots of times customers do it too soon. Our 1,200 reps are empowered to handle many situations--even negotiating discounts. We can do a lot of the research on a problem--order history, address mix-ups, things like that--that supervisors just aren't equipped to do.

Q Is there a better time of day to call? After a shift change, perhaps? A We have lots of shifts, with staggered starts every 15 minutes, so there's no strategy to get you through quicker. And if you're following up on an issue, it's more important to know how to reference your problem than to worry about getting the same person on the phone. So call anytime. --ELLEN McGIRT