In this harsh, unfeeling corporate world we inhabit these days, it's hard to believe the power of talking to a real-live person. If you have a speaker phone option (which makes waiting on hold much, much easier so you can do something productive with your time instead of badly doing something with the phone held to your ear by your shoulder), it's the tool that will save you time, aggravation, and money. Just wait for the end of the menu of options when you call the customer service number, when the option to talk to a real, live person is finally offered. They do that on purpose, hoping to triage away your time-consuming question with automated systems, but don't lose hope. There's always the live person option at the end.

Calling up our car insurance company, in just seven minutes (including hold time), I saved $100/yr off our premium. I'd say that was an excellent use of my time.

And I'm always amazed at how easily credit card companies will forgive a late payment if you take the time to call. For example, a credit card payment I made that posted one day after the due date.

As a result, I was charged $33 for a late payment, as well as the one day's worth of accrued finance charges at their usury rates. I knew that I could ask to have the late fee and charges removed if I called, as I had never been late with a payment before, not to mention that it was delinquent by only a day. And those fees were ridiculous!

Sure enough, talking with the customer service rep in a calm tone, I was able to get reversals on all the charges. I didn't have to beg; she was the one who suggested it.

Now, you may wonder why these companies would want to do such a thing. It's because the customer service reps are really combination sales rep/customer service....while waiting for their "system to reflect the changes they made," they make some kind of pitch. In the credit card company case, it was for credit card payment insurance in case I lose my job, and in the car insurance case, it was to set up my account for automatic payment of my premiums (premia?).

While canceling a hotel reservation, I was offered a time-share trip. When I called my bank for an incorrectly levied fee, they hawked their new six-month CD's. I just firmly reply, "No, thank you."

I have also noticed that sales people of all kinds have been extremely friendly and grateful since the beginning of the year, and I think it's absolutely due to the economic downturn. They really are grateful for my patronage, and they'd rather forgive a late fee or give a discount instead of losing a customer entirely.

I know everyone has a nightmare voice menu horror story, but in recent years the technology has improved, especially with the large, multinational companies like banks and insurance companies (come to think of it, the very ones who caused this economic downturn), and they really are emphasizing good quality service as part of their "stated values and mission" (I actually heard that once), so see how much money you can save.

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