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How to make that phone call

You may need to phone an organisation or business for:

  • advice
  • information
  • to make a complaint
  • to apply for something
  • to resolve a dispute
  • to provide information about yourself.

What to expect

Organisations vary in how they handle calls and how long they make you wait. But the following are very common:

  • you have to wait a long time to be connected to a call handler
  • you are asked by a recorded voice to answer a series of questions before you get to speak to a person - this can be frustrating if none of the choices offered match the issue that you are calling about.

Some organisations will answer calls quickly and provide helpful staff who can deal with you query efficiently.

Preparing for the call

Before you make the call, it is helpful to gather information that you may need and have it ready to hand, for example:

  • if you are phoning about a payment - such as a gas, electric or council tax - make sure you have a copy of a recent bill. Your bill will include an account or reference number. Find any numbers that you might need before you start the call. Some people like to mark the relevant numbers with a highlighter
  • if you are phoning about benefits or tax make sure you have your National Insurance number to hand. You will find this number on most official letters
  • if you are phoning to make a complaint, it can really help to write down the key points before you call
    • write down key dates or events
    • write down key facts such as the names of people you have spoken to and what they have said
    • write down what it is you are unhappy about
    • write down what it is you want to happen, for example, that the organisation changes their decision or that you get a refund. You might need additional advice to check if you are entitled to a refund.

Top tips

  • if your phone has a 'speaker' function, use it so you are hands-free to do other things if you have to wait a long time to be connected to a call handler
  • give yourself enough time to make the call
  • find a quiet place where you won't be interrupted
  • have a pen and paper ready before you make the call so you can write down information
  • ask for the name of the person you are talking to and write it down -  it means if you have to complain about them not being helpful, you can identify them
  • write down the date and time you made the call
  • ask for written confirmation of a verbal decision if appropriate.

Stay calm

Stay calm even if the process is taking a long time or you are not getting what you want.

Remember:

  • all call centres and most organisations have very clear policies about how to handle angry callers to protect the staff that have to deal with the calls – if you are abusive to the person taking the call they may simply hang up. You may also end up on a list of people that the organisation is not prepared to deal with over the phone
  • it is fine to say you are frustrated and that you are not happy with the service you are receiving. This will be more effective if you say it firmly without shouting
  • the person answering the phone will usually have a limited series of actions they can take. They may not be in a position in the organisation to take the decision required to solve your problem
  • if you do feel you are being obstructed or that the person you are speaking to is simply not able to help, you can ask to speak to a more senior member of staff. If that does not work, you can ask for the operator’s name and how to make a complaint. 

If you have difficulty using a telephone you can get help from a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

 

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