How To Get What You Want Without Really Trying


The other day I was out grocery shopping, and I saw a sweet deal on my favorite soda. I go through the stuff like most people go through water, so I jumped on it. When I got to the counter it didn’t ring up correctly, and I brought it to the clerk’s attention. He said it would ring properly after the sale finished, but it didn’t so I brought it to his attention again. Long story short, the soda was mislabeled. I had to go through a bit of a song and dance, but I got my money back (and the soda too!), which was pretty nice.

The experience reminded me that I’ve had plenty to say in the past about bad customer service, but having been on both sides of the retail counter plenty of times, I’ve also seen plenty of bad customers. While the retail experience has been perfected from art to science (quite literally), the retail customer doesn’t seem to have changed much from the dark days when I plied the trade. For those of you who might find yourselves in a customer service crisis, here’s some tips on how to get the most out of the situation.

Be Polite – I can’t think of a single situation in my life (other than a fistfight) that hasn’t or couldn’t have been improved by being polite. I’ve seen a lot of people try to intimidate store clerks and managers, either physically or socially, and I have to tell you it almost always backfires. Being polite at the least keeps the situation in the realm of negotiation, which means you might get something, rather than demand, in which case you’re far more likely to get nothing.

One of my favorite misconceptions in retail is “the customer is always right”. I don’t just mean this as a factual misconception, I mean this as a misconception in the sense that anyone in retail does or should believe this. Maybe if I only had a handful of customers come in on a regular basis and my livelihood depended on them, then maybe I would consider this phrase, but still unlikely. In this day and age, when most retail is as anonymous as an online chat room and I have no reason to believe I will ever see you again, why should I go out of my way to put up with your crap? Because you’ll badmouth me to all your cheap friends, who are as likely to pull the same stunt as you are? Yeah, that’s a threat.

Here’s another way to look at it: suppose I came to your office one day and told you that you were doing everything wrong. I (very loudly and obnoxiously) explain how you should be doing your job, running your business, and handling every situation, even though I clearly have no idea what I’m talking about, and chances are better than even you saw be stealing some rubber bands from the supply closet fifteen minutes ago. Then, to top it all off, I insist that I know how to run your business because I worked in a similar business for a summer in high school, thus implying that any idiot can do it.

Would you at all be inclined to give me anything I want under those conditions? If so, you’d be the first.

Be Patient – The next biggest sin I see people committing (and I do this too, but I try not to) is that they assume there should be someone ready to help them as soon as they need it, especially if they feel like they’ve been wronged somehow. I get this, I do. You paid good money for a specific product or service, and that product or service was not produced. You want satisfaction, and the longer you have to wait, the more you feel you are being cheated, because your time is also valuable.

Here’s the thing: They’re (usually) not making you wait on purpose. Most stores understand that having an unhappy customer standing around fuming does not make them look good to the other customers. But there are other customers to consider, and that’s assuming someone is even aware of your needs. Then there are certain procedures they need to follow, which if they don’t could mean they lose their job, which means a lot more to them than your displeasure (and trust me, they will never get fired just because you asked to speak to the manager and they were following the procedures).

Most of all, if there’s any flexibility to be had in this situation, you want it to work for you, not against you, and the fact of the matter is you are not in the position of power that you think you are. They might prefer not to lose you as a customer, but the more of an asshole you are the less they care, and there’s no law against not giving in to your unreasonable demands. Even on the (very off) chance they’re in the wrong, what are the chances you’re going to sue over a can of tomatoes or even something as big as a sweater? Slim to none, and they know that. So cool your jets.

Be Flexible – This one’s a little tough to internalize, but it’s important. Most people go into a customer service situation expecting they are there to right a wrong. Not so. You are going into a negotiation, and the rules are a little fuzzy. There may be laws that apply, but do you know them? Do you really think the kid behind the counter does? And does anyone really care? There’s store policy, but that usually has some leeway to it. And then there’s custom and convention, which are pretty weak guidelines at best.

So understand that you are not there to right some moral wrong. You have a situation you want resolved, one were you feel you were not treated fairly, and you have a specific preferred resolution in mind. That’s nice. You might even get that. But be open to the possibility that there are in fact laws, policies, or even customs and conventions that are going to work against or even completely prevent you getting exactly what you want. And that’s even assuming you are completely right about the situation, which I’ve seen all too many times isn’t the case.

So now what? Well, you can resort to screaming and demands and see how far that gets you (usually escorted out of the store), or you can be flexible. Oftentimes unless you are completely in the wrong store managers will prefer to find a negotiated middle ground where the customer walks away feeling satisfied, and you can use that fact to your advantage. If you were expecting a full refund, maybe a partial refund, or a discount on a future purchase or exchange. Be open to alternatives.

Be Firm – This goes hand in hand with being flexible. Unless you are completely in the wrong (in which case you should make as quick of a retreat as you can), stand by your guns. Don’t let the manager or anyone else try to bully or snowball you. I’ve seen plenty of times where they will pull out a circular or ad and say something like “that was last week’s sale” when they forgot to change the signage in the store, even though we both know their own store policy is to honor their posted prices.

There’s no need to be a dick about it, but make sure to stand your ground and be aware of your position. The best thing to do in these cases is to simply refuse to argue with them. If they pull out the circular, nod and say something like “I’m sure that’s the case, but the posted price on the shelf was different.” This way you aren’t engaging them, but you are refusing to be scared off as well. And notice: still polite. Eventually (if you are patient) they will likely offer some recompense. If you’re flexible, you should be able to get something satisfying.

UPDATE: Within a few days, I got a chance to test out my own advice. Check out what happened.


123 Comments on “How To Get What You Want Without Really Trying”

  1. meganyarnall says:

    Agreed! I think what all of this can also boil down to is – don’t assume that you are entitled. Once you remember you’re not entitled to someone helping you immediately, or giving you exactly what you want, being patient, flexible, etc will follow.

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      An excellent point! Just because you are paying for an item or service does not mean you are paying for exclusive, personal attention, nor are you paying for someone fulfilling your every desire. If you are, you have way more money than I do (in which case may I suggest donating to the Bob Bonsall Retirement Fund?).

  2. We are spoiled rotten, and it shows in the way we treat servants. We should be servants first and masters second. In order to be seen as royalty one has to act as such. The best way to be the part is to remember your former state!

  3. Midwestern Plant Girl says:

    I totally agree with you & have used your same ideals since my Momma taught me.
    My favorite quote about business: “Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick two.”

  4. Haha the title pulled me in! Great post, thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      Thank you for letting me know that! I actually do put a fair bit of thought into my post titles (although it may not always seem that way), so it’s nice to know it worked. 🙂 Cheers!

      • Artemis says:

        hi! just want you to know the title did it for me too! but you make a lot of sense here so no wonder you’re freshly pressed! thanks.

  5. Storm says:

    Nice! Just like working in a hotel too. If you come to the front desk with a problem, but you’re not screaming or yelling, we will probably upgrade you or comp the night. If you are screaming and yelling, we will apologize, try to fix your problem, but no upgrade and no comp. Yes, I have experienced the whole “people know your job better than you” even though you’ve been there three years and have done the same thing every night for said three years. So annoying. Sometimes it is the customer in the wrong, not the employee. The customer is for sure, not always right.

  6. whysamiam says:

    Great tips! Generally what I do already. It’s quite surprising how often I have to complain these days about mis-sold goods.. Cheers, Sam

  7. Great advice as I’m just about to phone American Airlines and complain about the service I received (and my three year old son) while trying to check into a flight. A flight which I was informed was closed (even though I’d be waiting over 2 hours to check in) and that I’d have to wait and fly stand-by, though was then told I’d be better booking a flight for the morning and to find a place to stay the night. Thanks American Airlines. Their overbooking cost me nearly $300. Great post!! Congrats on being freshly pressed…

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      This would definitely be one of those cases where “polite but firm” will be handy. Also, as a friend pointed out in a recent/related post, know what resolution you want to achieve. “Do you want the situation to get resolved/improved or do you want to be right/have other punished. If you want the latter, you’re probably rarely going to get the outcome you want. If you’re mainly interested in improving things, the points above will go a long way.” http://www.heelsfirsttravel.com/2013/03/25/how-to-get-what-you-want-without-really-trying/ (She’s a travel blogger, so she might have some other tips you’ll find handy. Good luck!)

      • thank you so much! will definitely check out. I’m more interested in making them aware of the poor handling of 18 travelers as well as recouping some of my incurred expenses – if only a voucher for future travel – something to acknowledge the disappointing treatment as well as the expensive results…thank you!!

  8. […] How To Get What You Want Without Really Trying. […]

  9. zehirablog says:

    I have just recommended this to my husband who also works in retail – great post!

  10. jezzarath says:

    As someone who has worked in retail for the last 10+ years , you couldnt be more right!
    Its amazing that people think that by being rude and abusive they will get there own way. Sadly what people fail to realise is that 9/10 what ever the think they are entitled to there not and it is simply store/company policy that allows them to get the refund/echange etc. Often the final say is down to the manager and if you have spent the last 15 mins abusing his/her staff or him/herself chances are they are going to tell you to get lost – politly ofc 😀
    Its also worth remembering to put the same amount of time and effort into praising a member of staff to their manager/company as you would complaining. There is very little that is as motivating being told what a good job you are doing, not by your boss but by the people you are serving.

  11. I remember my first day working as a clerk in the shoe department of a major department store. A woman came to me with one shoe and wanted the mate so she could buy them (only pair left in that style and size). It was a sale day, and very busy. I was running around the stockrooms and the floor trying to find the missing shoe or find a more experienced clerk to help me find it. All the while, the customer is yelling at me that she can’t wait because she has meat in the car (why go shopping at a time like that?). I wanted to find the shoe. I was on commission. But after she gave up on me and left, I found out the pair of shoes was already sold. The customer who bought it only took one shoe home and called looking for the missing shoe my impatient customer was trying to buy. Sometimes clerks want to give you what you want, but if it isn’t in the building, they can’t. (Also, it’s easier for people to think clearly and help you when you aren’t yelling at them.)

  12. very interesting, tottally agree

  13. Nice post…be persistent but not pushy as it’ll work to your disadvantage! Great article..

  14. cdanie11e says:

    Minus the “flexible” part I can totally see my grandpa writing this post! He’ll bring it to the attention of a clerk if he even sees a $.5 difference in something ringing up other than what he expected! Now me… I’m too lazy for all this. I’d rather just pay the money and be out with my expensive pop in hand, but great tips! I think more people should keep these in mind when they plan on “complaining” …. less ‘complaining’, more reasonable conversation … worked for you!

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      I’ll admit, I’m somewhere in between. I’ll generally let it slide if I think my time is worth more than the effort it would take to bring it to someone’s attention, but usually if it looks to be more than a dollar or so I start to get ornery (which probably says more about how I value my time than anything else). My Not So Humble Wife is the exact opposite: she hates it if I even look at a coupon, and heaven forbid I try to call over a customer service rep (unless there’s an egregious amount of money on the line).

  15. Reblogged this on Totally Inspired Mind-Where Positive Minds Congregate and commented:
    Here is a great story by the blog called “My Not So Humble Opinion” for you to enjoy!
    Paulette Le Pore Motzko
    Totally Inspired Mind

  16. samademi says:

    This is a good post and the title also did the magic as i just scrolled through the freshly pressed and it caught my attention without much stress. Well done Boss

  17. Eyagee says:

    Might as well also mention that ‘everyone has a boss’. Nothing like getting a response than by going up the food chain when all else fails.

  18. joedalio says:

    As a former customer service supervisor, I can say these tips work wonders. In fact, they work in any situation. I am now a teacher, and my classroom is a much more pleasant place when I practice these guidelines and teach my students to do the same. Thanks for the great post : )

  19. I’ve always found being polite tends to work well in most situations, retail or not. Great post!

  20. northernmalewhite says:

    “How To Get What You Want Without Really Trying”

    Lower your expectations

  21. tara says:

    This is so timely. Thank you. In my not so humble opinion, you think happy. 🙂 ~ Tara Estacaan

  22. osherb says:

    A nice post! Please check out my musik blog! And follow.
    Cultclassik.wordpress.com

  23. rmedina49 says:

    Great advice! thanks!!

  24. Excellent reminders! We need them, don’t we?

    When we respect people, it’s like god or grace or whatever you want to call it, is in the room. So much good can happen when we don’t fight for what we think we deserve. So much more comes to us when we take the time to inspire others to extend a more natural and reflexive care. People are like mirrors, most of us, though some of us a bit broken. I really can’t help being nice to someone who is first nice to me. Why don’t people understand that? I wonder sometimes.

  25. jhn2479 says:

    Reblogged this on YDT SocialZing and commented:
    Great read! Tips can be applied to most aspects of our lives.

  26. shalilah2002 says:

    I was a salesgirl once. I smiled until I felt that the smile was pasted on. I am following you. I new to this. You may check my blog.

  27. […] How To Get What You Want Without Really Trying: (Spoiler warning: The answer is “boobs”.) […]

  28. […] How To Get What You Want Without Really Trying. […]

  29. davidatqcm says:

    Reblogged this on The Hobart Chinaman and commented:
    Good old fashioned advice, take a spoonful.

  30. natty2b says:

    Very good advice and I completely agree, however I’m pregnant just now and feel my patience is somewhat lacking. So much so just last week I was actually screaming down the phone “I’m going straight to trading standards, I’m pregnant, arrrggghhh” only for the girl to reply with “you better watch your blood pressure”. Quite witty when I look back but it really made me even more mad.

  31. I totally agree with this as both a customer and a customer services provider for the last 8 years. .. nothing gets a team apologising and bending over backwards like a calm and firm person who can highlight clearly the issue and what is wanted without being insulting. Also a very well placed ‘thank you for you help but I would like to see/ speak to your manager/head office’ usually does the trick!

  32. Lila says:

    Love the reminder.

  33. […] How To Get What You Want Without Really Trying. […]

  34. Odhran O'Mahony says:

    Very well written. Good advice!

  35. This post and comments should be printed, bound, published, and a required read for all customer service rep’s. A warm fuzzy for effort and a reminder to all of us. Great article!

  36. We need to respect the merchant as a consumer and vice versa! Awesome post!

  37. quorumdms says:

    Excellent! These are tips with share with our customers calling our support desk!

  38. Created ~ Create.it says:

    Great points! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  39. berylville says:

    Insightful post. I thoroughly agree with you as I have worked in a customer care position recently. Following your points guarantees a win-win in most cases.

  40. my partner pointed out that i can be quite confrontational towards staff if i feel they are doing something wrong…i’ve taken it on board and have promised to be more polite…your post has just made me chuckle at my bad habit – apologies to all the staff 😉

  41. […] recently, I wrote about how to address a customer service situation from the customer’s perspective. As luck would have it, I ran into just such a situation these past few days, and I wanted to share […]

  42. […] was chatting with Bob, who recently penned How To Get Everything You Want Without Really Trying, about a customer service issue he was having. And he was angry, really angry. Angry like having a […]

  43. If there is a name plate on a crew’s shirt, call her/him by their name. Smile. Say thank you. It means a lot.


Leave a Reply to It’s Not Your Fault But Only You Can Make It Better Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s