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The cable is out — again! — and you’re ready to give the company an earful. Before you make that phone call, keep in mind that the customer-service rep on the other end of the line is a real person whose performance (and well-being) depends at least in part on how you handle the situation.

Research from Stanford’s medical school shows that the human brain suffers physical damage after listening to 30 minutes of complaining. The resulting neuronal changes in the hippocampus can also make problem solving more difficult.

Consider that the average call-center rep handles 50 calls daily, many of which are abusive. Reps are often yelled at, belittled, and threatened — despite the fact that they have little power over company policies or operations. Turnover rates and, sadly, suicide rates among these workers are high.

So, the next time you call customer service with a problem, opt for a more thoughtful and positive approach with these simple strategies:

  1. Be prepared: Having all of the necessary information related to your complaint (e.g., account, model, and serial numbers) can help you stay calm and collected when asked for details.
  2. Avoid delays: Sites like and allow you to bypass automated phone prompts. Reaching a real person faster might help you keep your cool longer.
  3. Stay civil: Whether you’re talking via phone or online chat, try using a “complaint sandwich,” suggests Guy Winch, PhD, psychologist and author of The Squeaky Wheel. Start with something positive (“my new washer worked great at first”), followed by the problem (“suddenly it’s making a weird noise”), and then end with a positive statement or request (“I’d be grateful if you could help me resolve the problem”).
  4. Say thank you: If a customer-service rep is doing a good job trying to help you, let him or her know you appreciate the effort. Even a few kind words can make a huge difference, and they might inspire that person to keep up the good work.

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