Beat the customer service system to return unwanted gifts, eliminate travel headaches, and get any issue resolved quickly.
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Illustration: person returning gift to store
Credit: Rebecca Hart

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Illustration: person returning gift to store
Credit: Rebecca Hart

1 Keep Things Neat

Even in the mad rush of opening holiday gifts, unwrap each present carefully. Don’t throw away a gift receipt and never open an electronics box if there’s a possibility of returning it. “Store policies about electronics especially can be tricky, since they’ll want to resell the item,” says Shep Hyken, a customer service and experience expert and the author of Amaze Every Customer Every Time. Stretched-out cords and missing packaging make others less likely to buy. Too late? Pack up the box as carefully as possible, even wrapping the cords with twist ties. You’ll have better luck at the return desk.

2 Be Extra Nice

Stand out from the crowd by trying to elicit a smile. “If you go in with a bad attitude, they’re going to fight fire with fire,” says Hyken. Introduce yourself and ask for the rep’s name. “They’re trained to use your name to build rapport—do the same to endear yourself to them,” says Hyken.

3 Empower the Agent

On a primal level, people want to succeed at their jobs, and customer service reps are no different, says Lynette Padwa, author of Say the Magic Words. Don’t make threats or immediately request their supervisor. Make the rep feel like a powerful problem solver. Hyken recommends saying, “I’m hoping you’re the person who can help me today.”

4 Ask for What You Want

Be direct. “Don’t expect people to understand what you’re implying,” says Padwa. If you’re trying to unload a gift past the return window, say you know the store has a 30-day return policy, then explain why the item should be refunded anyway. Or if they’re strict about needing a gift receipt, say, “I shop here all the time, and I don’t want to offend my aunt by asking her for the receipt. Can I exchange the gift today for something in the store?”

5 Pay Attention

It’s natural to want to multitask in these situations, but it’s better to focus on the conversation. “People can tell when you’re not listening,” says Padwa. Put your phone away, make eye contact, and be fully present in the conversation.

6 Use Twitter (Politely)

Social media is a valuable customer service tool and can often get you an immediate response. Start by sending the company a direct message on Twitter with a description of your problem and your account number. If you get no response, DM them a second time. Still crickets? “Go public but continue to be nice,” says Hyken. “When I realized I was going to miss my flight connection while midair, I DM’ed the airline with my frequent flier number, and they rebooked my flight before I even landed.”

7 Try Contacting the CEO

If you’ve moved up the supervisor chain and still aren’t satisfied, go to the top, says Hyken. Search for the president’s or CEO’s name and the phone number of the company’s headquarters. Call and ask to speak with someone in his office. While you probably won’t get the CEO on the phone, you will get his gatekeeper, who may be able to solve your problem fast.