How To Handle A Customer Service Representative With A Bad Attitude

Customer service representatives (CSRs) can be largely hit or miss, regardless of whether you are calling your credit card company, an airline, a hotel, a rental car agency, etc. Unfortunately, that means at some point you are going to deal with a CSR with a bad attitude. Here are some of my tips for how I handle CSRs with a bad attitude.

The idea for this post came about after I had an exceedingly poor experience with an American Airlines CSR on the phone. I generally find AA CSRs to be either extremely competent and helpful, or extremely unhelpful with attitude. There does not seem to be any middle ground with them. Contrast that with Hilton Honors where I find their CSRs to always be helpful and competent. Unfortunately, when you call in you are the mercy of the phone system with which CSR you are paired with. For some reason, this issue always makes me think of the Family Guy episode where Peter works the phones as a CSR for the Pawtucket Brewery.

Peter Griffin Meme

In my case, I was trying to get AA to change a connecting flight for me to an earlier flight as space had opened up. The CSR clearly did not want to have to go through doing this and tried everything to get me to keep my current reservation. At this point, I had a few options.

  1. Hang up and call again (HUCA) – This is probably the option I use the most in this scenario. I generally will thank the CSR for their time, hang up and then call in again. This option works best when you are an elite with a dedicated customer service number or the call wait times are not very long. There are situations where this is not the best option though – like in my case. In my case, even though I had called in to the AA Platinum Desk, I was using Skype from Singapore and due to some weather in the States, there were decently long wait times. If you do not want to have to go through the queue again your only option is to try and make the best of the call.
  2. Try to make the best of the call – This option will apply to most people as the call wait times are usually fairly long on the general phone lines. When you are trying to make the best of the call, it is important to remember to be as nice as you can – even if you are frustrated or furious. The old adage goes “you win more flies with honey,” and that most certainly applies when dealing with CSRs. The CSRs are much more likely to help you when you are not being a total jerk to them. I have successfully turned around a few calls by just being nice and trying to joke with the CSR. As always, YMMV with this tactic though.
  3. Ask to be transferred to another CSR – This option can be helpful if you have a CSR who you can tell has no real desire to help you with whatever you are asking about. In fact, the CSR may be delighted to pass your problem off to one of their co-workers! However, this option does not always work as sometimes you will be told that there is no one else that can help with your issue or that the CSR you have on the phone can handle it. In that case, you can either insist on being transferred to someone else, or simply try and make the best of the call.
  4. The nuclear option (a.k.a. asking to speak to the CSRs supervisor) – Sometimes this option simply cannot be avoided – though I do try to avoid it if possible as it is usually easier to HUCA. Requesting a supervisor get on your call can go one of two ways – 1) you will seriously piss off the CSR and they will make your life as difficult as they possibly can during the remainder of the call; or 2) the CSR will not want to deal with their boss coming down on them for the issue and will thus kick their game into high gear to help you without their supervisor getting involved. In the few instances I have had to get a supervisor involved, scenario 1 is always how it played out. With that said, supervisors are sometimes the ones in the best position to get an issue resolved for you, so sometimes it can be a wise play.

I am always amazed at how easily a poor interaction with a CSR can ruin my views of a company. It is important to remember to keep your cool though and avoid yelling or threatening the CSRs during your conversation. As a lawyer, I cannot tell you how many times I have laughed while being at an airport and overhearing someone threatening to sue over whatever issue they were experiencing. The sad reality of the situation is that most lawyers would not touch a case like that unless you could afford to pay them thousands of dollars in a retainer – and both the airlines/hotels/rental agencies/etc. and the CSRs know that.


In short, stop threatening to sue the airlines/hotels/rental agencies/etc. Everyone knows you are not going to follow through on your threats, so it is really an ineffective tactic to get your issue(s)/problem(s) resolved. Instead, as much as you may not want to, try killing them with kindness. I have generally found that CSRs deal with a lot of crap during their day and that they appreciate a customer who understands that the delay/issue/problem is not that particular CSRs fault. Once a CSR recognizes you as one of those customers, they are generally going to give you better service than you would have otherwise received as the jerk who yells at them, demands things be done and threatens to sue them.

Final Thoughts

A bad CSR can really ruin the goodwill a customer has with a company. By and large, if you encounter a CSR with a bad attitude, your best bet is to simply thank them for their time and then hang up and call again in hopes of getting a better CSR. Unfortunately, bad CSRs are just part of this miles and points game that we play.

What is your worst CSR experience story?

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