Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Have you ever seen someone slam their phone down after a conversation with a customer service agent, and hear them declare with exasperation that you “cannot. get. ANYTHING! done” over the phone? I disagree. You can get things done on the phone. You just need a little help from The Best Version of You.

The Best Version of Me is unfailingly kind to whomever she is speaking with; she’s excessively nice, she’s friendly and cheerful and polite and she’s not at all stressed, even in the most stressful situation. The Best Version of Me is the one who gets things done over the phone, and she’s so good at what she does that my friends will hand me their phones and plead with me to call their class registrars or credit card companies or banks. They know I know how to work it on the phone. And I do.

Case in point: Denver International Airport, two days before Christmas. There’s been a lot of bad weather, and there have been a lot of delayed or cancelled flights. It’s a madhouse—lines are backed up at all the check-in stations, security is a nightmare, people are sleeping on floors using their carry-ons as pillows. As my plane unloads, I feel it in my gut: I’m going to miss my connecting flight to Chicago. And I totally miss my flight. Half the people I flew with miss their flights. Tempers are frayed and everyone is really upset. A woman bursts into tears, sobbing that she’ll “never get home in time now.”

We all file over to a Rebooking Station, which is really just an official-sounding name for a holding pen with lots of phones to call the airline. We form a line for the phones. As I wait, I notice something: Everyone is either shouting at or crying to or speaking kind of…nastily with the anonymous booking agent on the other end of the line, as if the agent were stupid or purposefully unhelpful. People hang up almost violently, then inform their travel partners that they’re stuck in Denver, that no flights are going out today. Probably 15 people have gone ahead of me, nine of them heading to Chicago. No one has gotten a flight.

My turn for the phone comes. This is it: Time for The Best Version of Me to come out and take over. Guess who got the last seat on a flight to Chicago that was leaving in 45 minutes, even though nine other people were in line ahead of me? YA GIRL.

Here’s how it’s done:

Repeat after me: Low and slow.

“Low and slow” is something I learned about in a speech class in high school. It’s shorthand for “speak in a lower-than-usual tone, and speak slowly and clearly.” It corrects a problem you might not even be aware of: When you’re nervous or stressed, your voice tends to rise, and you talk faster. People can hear that, and it subconsciously signals to them that you are stressed, which may make them feel stressed. Talking extra lowly and slowly might sound funny to your ears, but to someone who hears upset or unhappy people all day, it conveys that you are a relaxed, clear-headed person (or at least sound like one). Low and slow, y’all. Perfect for phone interviews, hard conversations with family members, and asking your bank to erase overdraft charges.

Sound friendly, and be very polite.

I’ve been a phone customer-service agent (twice!). Believe me, no one is nice to you. Ever.

The people you talk to on the phone when you have a problem (customer service agents, flight rebooking agents, et cetera) are people, just like you. They like when other people they deal with have manners and are polite. They don’t like to be yelled at, panicky-cried at, or threatened, because they are human people who are just meeting you for the first time ever. Unfortunately, a customer service agent’s job is to deal with unhappy people, and the majority of those people are stressed, angry, upset, and downright rude. Imagine if you were calm, cheerful, and friendly to the agent you were talking with on the phone. Imagine if you were the only person they had a pleasant conversation with all day. They might try to actually help you with what you need, because you’re helping them have one less crappy interaction.

Who would you rather talk to: a person who greets you with, “Hi-I-just-missed-my-flight-and-now-I’m-going-to-miss-my-cousin’s-wedding-and-I-don’t-know-what-to-do-apparently-there’s-horrible-weather?-but-it-looks-clear-enough-to-me-I-just-can’t-
believe-this-what-am-I-even-supposed-to-do!!!!” in a panicked, rushed tone of voice, OR a person who greets you with, “Hi there! My name is ______, how are you doing this evening?” in a friendly voice?

Smile while you talk.

Did I just tell you to smile? WHY, YES I DID. This is old but good advice: If you smile while talking to someone on the phone, they can somehow hear that you’re smiling, and it makes everything just feel friendlier. Try it by calling a friend—see if they can tell when you’re smiling as you talk. It makes a bigger difference that you might think.

Y’all, that’s it. That’s all The Best Version of Me is doing when I get people to do me “favors” or help me over the phone. I’m just being a friendly person with good manners when the customer service agent on the other end of the line may not be used to dealing with relaxed, nice people. When you call upon The Best Version of You to be kind, patient, empathetic with folks, you may find that it comes back to you tenfold. ♦