Few things are more frustrating than dealing with  customer support personnel. You've bought a product or service which is not working for you, and you want somebody to fix it, help you out, refund your money, etc. without consuming hours of your time. Here are three ways to get what you want from these annoying situations:

1. The "Kindly Brontosaurus"

This technique only works in face-to-face situations, like when returning an item or trying to get a gate agent at the airport to give you something unusual, like a seat on a packed flight--from airport staff and reservation clerks.

Jessica Winter writing in Slate explains the technique as

"...a foolproof method of persuasion for securing a seat on a packed flight--and for that matter, for convincing authority figures of all stripes to give us things that aren't ours... Approach the gate agent as follows: 

You state your name and request.

You make a clear and concise case. And then, after the gate agent informs you that your chances of making it onto this flight are [zero]... nod empathically, say something like 'Well, I'm sure we can find a way to work this out,' and step just to the side of the agent's kiosk.

You must stand quietly and lean forward slightly, hands loosely clasped in a faintly prayerful arrangement.

You will be in the gate agent's peripheral vision--close enough that he can't escape your presence, not so close that you're crowding him--but you must keep your eyes fixed placidly on the agent's face at all times. Assemble your features in an understanding, even beatific expression.

Do not speak unless asked a question. Whenever the gate agent says anything, whether to you or other would-be passengers, you must nod empathically.

Continue as above until the gate agent gives you your seat number.

The Kindly Brontosaurus always gets a seat number."

The technique called the "kindly brontosaurus" because of your beatific, kindly expression and because you're as unmovable as a huge dinosaur. In other words, you must remain in position, even if you're told to return to your seat. Eventually the gate agent will give you what you want simply to get rid of you.

2. The "Good Guy Discount"

This technique was originally developed to get retail salespeople to offer you a discount but works equally well with customer support reps. The basic technique was discussed in a brilliant episode of the podcast This American Life, which Esquire magazine summarized as follows:

"As you're checking out for an expensive item, you schmooze with the cashier--or, better yet, sales associate (denoting that the person you're speaking with has a little more authority, hopefully)--and say something along the lines of, "Hey, I'm a good guy; you're a good guy. Any chance I could get a, you know -- a 'good guy discount'." And smile. And charm."

As with the Kindly Brontosaurus, the basic Good Guy Discount technique is intended for face-to-face interactions. However, due to the psychology of customer service, the technique is even more effective when applied to customer support personnel, even (and especially) over the telephone

Why? Because customer support reps are usually overworked, underpaid, and woefully under-appreciated in their own firms. To make matters worse (for them) customer support reps take the brunt of customer ire due bad product design, long on-hold times for support, and the irritating "on hold" music that companies play so that you'll get fed up and hang up.

Customer frequently and vehemently vent their frustration even though the poor customer support reps have absolutely no control over any of it. Because they're so frequently abused both by their management and by their customers, customer support reps are so relieved to hear a friendly and sympathetic voice that they'll usually do whatever is within their power to help you.

Here are the specific steps for using this technique.

  1. Greet the rep brightly and cheerfully, as you're truly happy to be speaking with them. (Note: this is easier if you decide to happy to be speaking with them rather than ticked.)
  2. Ask how their day is going. Tell them how much you appreciate any help they can provide. Apologize for the customers who are rude to them.
  3. As you explain your problem, make it clear that you don't hold the support person responsible for whatever problem you want fixed. Repeat how much you appreciate any help they can provide. 
  4. If there's "wait time" during the session (like when the rep is searching a database for answers to your question), make small talk. Nothing fancy needed. "How's the weather out there?" works fine.
  5. If the call reaches an impasse and you sense that the rep has some "wiggle room," say something like: "Hey, I'm a good guy and you're a good guy. Any chance you can bend the rules a bit? I'd really appreciate it."

You'd be surprised how well this works.

Note: the key to making this work is to reach inside yourself and find real curiosity about, and real sympathy for, the other person. The more effectively you tap in to your own empathy, the greater level of rapport you'll achieve.

3. The "Personnel Letter"

This method works best when you're asked, prior to the connection, whether you'd like to participate in a customer satisfaction survey, Here are the steps:

  1. Greet the support person cheerfully.
  2. If the support rep provides their name, note it down. (If not, remember ask for the rep's name early in the conversation using "what did you say your name was?" 
  3. Ask "Do many people stay on the line for the survey?"
  4. Regardless of rep's answer, then ask: "Do the results of the survey come up in your salary review?"
  5. If the answer is "YES," say "That's good. I'm definitely going to stay on the line because that's what I always do. Also, you should know that when I get particularly good service, I write an email or even send a hard copy letter praising the person who helped me. Would I send that to your manager?" If the answer is "NO" say "I understand. I asked because when I get particularly good service, I write an email or even send a hard copy letter praising the person who helped me. Would I send that to your manager?"
  6. Get an email address and a snail mail address if possible. If the support person won't or can't provide it say: "No problem! I'll just Fedex the letter directly to your CEO at your corporate headquarters. It will go down the chain... don't worry about that"

The rep now realizes that it's in their best interest to give you the absolute best service possible. In addition, unless the rep is very stupid, they'll also realize that letter could also contain complaints, should the support person do a crappy job. 

Few things focus the mind of a line employee better than knowing that everyone up the management chain is going to know what's about to happen over the next ten minutes.