I had to telephone my bank, as my security device stopped working. The staff member said:

Before we continue with the nature of your call, are you interested in completing a survey

I wasn't. So I interrupted him:

Sorry. I waited 25 minutes on hold. So I'm in a hurry. Can we please discuss my kaput security device?

After he said that he'd order a new one, he asked:

I'd like to inform you that you're prequalified for our Visa

I already received a letter about this, and wasn't interested. So I interrupted again:

Sorry, I need to

Before I could finish, he interrupted back:

Please don't interrupt me a second time. This is rude.

What could've I done better, without waiting for him to finish his off-topic spiels?

I usually wait for representatives to end the call voluntarily as they please. After fulfilling requests, most ask: "Is there anything else I can help with?" I say no, thank them, and then we say bye.

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    Is this bank really so small that every single staff member you could call would know who you are, and who your family is, and therefore be able to gossip about this and how you handled it? If the other staff aren't as gabby, then I would think you wouldn't need any of these solutions to handle a conversation with them, just with this grouchy person. I would also add that if the bank was this small, then this customer service agent should be concerned, being rude back to a long-time customer. – Kendra May 14 at 19:24
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    @Kendra I prefer not being the target. But the bank is small, and I know that they have a written record for their customers, as they've referred to it in the past. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal May 14 at 19:42

14 Answers 14

I can't answer from the UK perspective, but in the US, you have a couple of things happening here.

First of all, these reps are "encouraged" to get people to do these surveys and to try to sell other products. That's what got Wells Fargo in trouble here. I suspect that your rep had the same kind of "encouragement"

It seems to me that starting an interruption with "I'm sorry" or "Excuse me" is a tactful way to do that. If I need to, I do that: "I'm sorry; I'm not interested at this point. I'm calling about [x] and would like to focus on that right now." Generally, though, those sales pitches don't last long so I don't need to interrupt them very often.

The other thing that is going on is that, from a US perspective, that rep was behaving in a way that is not acceptable. You aren't yelling, swearing, or insulting. You're in a hurry. US representatives are expected to tolerate that; telling a customer that they are rude is not generally considered acceptable. I wouldn't get into an argument with a representative about that but if I felt strongly I'd call that number back and ask to speak to a manager about our interaction.

Please don't interrupt me a second time. This is rude.

Wow! That's an extraordinarily rude thing for them to have said. If someone on a telephone banking line said that to me I would consider issuing a written complaint to the bank a justified response.

What you do was a perfectly polite way to deal with them. It is your time they are wasting with this behaviour and politely cutting them off is an entirely reasonable thing for you to have done. There is no need for you to change your behaviour because you dealt with a bad telephone representative of your bank.

(I am from the UK, and have worked for a bank calling customers although not receiving calls)

I would like to pose a counterpoint to your question about tactfully interrupting someone over the phone. I understand you would like to end these conversations in a hurry and we have all been there; Being on hold is the worst.

having been on the other side of the phone, perhaps this information can help you to better understand the situation and make a more appropriate choice:

As someone who used to work inbound phone sales, these things are absolutely required and are monitored for. When you skip them, you are usually sat down with the recording of the phone call and then asked why didn't you offer X services. Even if it was quite obvious the person was in a hurry or they were not interested in anything you are still required to offer. We know you don't want it, and most days we hate asking because usually it is met with hostility and it's frustrating to have to deal with it 40 times a day.

With that being said, you mentioned you spent 25 minutes on hold already. These pitches usually take 5 seconds or less, I would imagine that if you were extremely busy, that waiting 25 minutes would also probably have been an issue and you would have called back at a different time when you had more time to spare. Please understand that these are things that have to be offered, even if you call them 10 times a day. The fastest way to get through it is to just say no thanks to each offer which may take 10 seconds extra of your time and be on your way.

Also if you inform the operator that you are in a hurry, it will help let them know and usually will say something like "okay I have a few questions I need to ask you as required by the company, I will go through them really quickly so we can get you on your way but please understand they are questions I have to ask."

In the end, it's an unfortunate part of phone sales and even in-person interactions, but unless a person is willing to risk being fired or reprimanded, there really is no way for them to skip over required job tasks and just a small amount of patience can help it go by smoothly for both sides.

Direct answer:

It's probably going to be considered rude for you to interrupt someone no matter what, and so the soul of tact in these cases is to express that you regret your rudeness but that your immediate situation requires you to be rude anyhow. It's important to keep in mind that politeness/graciousness will necessitate that you present yourself as the primary actor in this framing (i.e., it's not someone else's actions that require you to behave rudely, even if that is essentially the case).

In a situations like the one you've described, I've been successful with an apologetic tone and a clear reason why I can't listen to the whole pitch at the moment. I wouldn't necessarily say things much different from what you did say, but I would emphasize that the issues causing me to be rushed are on my end and not theirs:

"I'm sorry, I need to get back to work pretty quickly so I don't think I'll have time for the survey."

rather than

"I've been on hold for 25 minutes already!" [Implying that because of that I don't have time for your survey.]

Your question is specific to making an interruption, so this is a bit off-point, but I also often (not always!) find a break fairly early in the pitches which allow me to respond in the natural flow of conversation and not require an interruption. The full line might have been something like "I'd like to inform you that you are pre-qualified for our Visa card. Could I tell you a bit more about that?". Those extra few words would have cost you very little time, and you could have given a polite "no".

Extra Context:

I think that a major point in this situation is that you were involved in a professional interaction with an employee of a bank with which you've chosen to do business. The rules and context for this will be different than would be the case with a social call.

As a professional interaction with an employee (in-house or outside contractor), it's important to recognize that this person probably had zero interest in talking to you about a survey or any Visas you may have been pre-qualified for, or really anything at all. It was almost certainly a mandatory part of his or her job to say those things to you. Further, it's likely that many of the customers this employee talks to are dismissive of those pitches, much as you were.

The employee might have been especially frustrated that day (or in general), and I won't defend his or her response to you (which I feel was both inappropriate and unprofessional). But from the employee's perspective, you might have seemed short-tempered and dismissive, to the extent that you were preventing him or her from doing an unpleasant but nevertheless absolutely required part of the job. Had this person not mentioned those things to you, it might have been grounds for being disciplined (including potentially getting fired).

You won't know the exact situation on the other end of the line, but given that the employee likely needed only seconds' worth of additional time (at most) to recite their required lines your insistence on speed could easily have seemed a lot less reasonable to him or her than it would to you.

I think the other answers do an excellent job of pointing out that any room for improvement on your side is small. You really didn't do anything wrong, and, while some minor adjustments to your phrasing might have made your interruption slightly more palatable, you certainly weren't rude.

One thing not addressed in the other answers (besides seeking escalation to a supervisor, which I think is good advice), however, is dealing with the specific scenario you described: a CSR (customer service representative) who accused you of being rude for interrupting.

As David pointed out, this may have been a deliberate attempt by the CSR to guilt you into being more receptive to a sales pitch. Or, they may just have honestly felt you were being rude. In either case, I believe the appropriate response is to point out how rudely you have been treated.

Simply point out your perspective, which the CSR has obviously lost sight of:

I'm sorry, but I've been very polite considering that I've had to wait on hold nearly half an hour, and now, rather than quickly resolving my issue, I have to put up with you wasting even more of my time. I understand that you are probably required to do this, but I'm only interested in getting my issue resolved. Calling me rude for being frustrated with poor service only makes me unhappier with your company.

Any response that is not fundamentally an apology should be responded to with a polite, but firm, request to speak with a supervisor.

There aren't any interpersonal skills at play here. The rep is following a script; from your perspective, that script is a maze, and your job is to get to the end as efficiently as possible. If they tell you that you're being rude when you interrupt their offerings, that's because it's in the script.

Ask to speak to a supervisor three times. I've never encountered a situation in which it doesn't work. The first two times, they'll discourage you from speaking to a supervisor. They may even tell you there aren't any supervisors, they're all busy, or your case doesn't qualify. Ignore it; each time, ask to speak to a supervisor.

This works for automated systems, too. No matter what the system tells you to do, ask to speak to a support rep. You can interrupt most of them mid-sentence, rather than waiting for a prompt. It'll take 3-4 times. It'll tell you that there's no way you can speak to a rep without providing specific information first. It's lying.

  • This is a good overall strategy to handle a customer service rep on the phone, but I'm challenged to see the interpersonal skill that answers the question of how to tactfully interrupt this person. – baldPrussian May 16 at 19:09
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    Interpersonal skills require a strong understanding of context. The context here is a support call. You, as a customer, are under no obligation to treat this like a conversation, and doing so will likely be detrimental to your cause. Once you get your case elevated to someone who isn’t going to give you the runaround, then you can worry about social formalities. Until then, your mission is to fast forward, and there’s a sure-fire way of doing that coded into every script: ask for a supervisor three times. – Zenexer May 16 at 19:56

I usually say "Pardon me, I'm on a cell phone and I'm worried the connection will drop. Let's focus on my immediate problem while we still have a connection."

It also has the merit of being true. I am on a cell phone, and my carrier isn't top tier (which would be Verizon or AT&T here).

I use that as an excuse to shove aside distractions like that. "Can we talk about this credit card offer?" -- "Hold on, are we totally wrapped up and done with the card replacement? My phone could drop at any time." "Yes, that is complete." "Okay then." "Sure, this new card has a 27.4% int--"

And then sure enough, my cell connection drops.

I probably need a better carrier.

You were not rude, at all, so to answer your question: Do exactly what you already did.

I just wanted to provide a bit of insight from someone who previously worked in this industry for many years, as to why you got called rude. (Which was very inappropriate.)

The bank agent may well be being paid a bonus for every sign up they get on the card and/or every positive feedback survey they get, or at least will get better 'stats' - which often leads to financial or other rewards, or keeping your job, at least.

As a result, agents will, over time, come up with their own methods to try and manipulate you into a position where you are more likely to accept. It's nothing the bank will do officially, just the result of what happens when you reward bad behaviours.

This one is similar to the 'God bless you' trick used by beggars - it's meant to shame you into complying.

Other tricks to watch out for: 'These damn corporations, I'm just a working stiff like you, I'm on your side' and 'I'm just trying to help you'.

The rep was trying to guilt you into listening their spiel, possibly because that's what they are expected to do by their employer, or possibly because emotions during a long day got the better of them. There was nothing you could do to prevent that, other than listening to their spiel.

Personally, my rule is to treat phone reps with common decency, but also treat both their and my time as valuable, meaning I act exactly the same way you did. After their escalation, since the problem was resolved, you had at least 2 good options:

  1. Stop listening, say goodbye, then hang up.
  2. Interrupt them to ask for their name, write it down, say goodbye, then hang up.

Do not argue about who was being rude. If you want to let them know they've been inappropriate, asking them for their name directly after their inappropriate behavior is sufficient, and avoids the argument.

The assumption in your question is wrong.

In this situation, the person on the other end of the line is literally being paid to be of service to you. While you may have been rude, it is not their place to confront you about it. Part of being in the service industry is that customers can be rude and you have to suck it up, because they are the customer. This person is either unqualified to work in service, or that answer was actually in their script (service reps usually follow scripts). For me that would be wow but maybe I am still naive about company-customer relations.

One way or the other, the answer is that you can interrupt a service rep at any time you want. This is not rudeness, because of the nature of the relationship. You are not having a personal conversation with them, you are conducting business and in this setting, their purpose is to serve you and that you need to interrupt them at all is something that already reflects badly on their service quality.

If this is a repeated issue you may be able to have your account flagged for "no upselling". This frees customer service reps from getting their performance ratings (and compensation) hurt by not giving you the required number of mini-sales pitches per call.

(This is unlikely to be a universal solution but was certainly possible with the company I worked for as a CSR (customer sales/support representative) in the US.)

This is, however, outside the scope of interpersonal relationships and does nothing about the rude person you dealt with on the phone.

While CSRs have certain speeches and sales pitches that they MUST give, or get their performance rating downgraded (for example, when I was a CSR I was REQUIRED to start each phone call with

"Thank you for choosing (company), my name is (myname), how may I help you?"

even if I was talking over a customer who had already started describing the problem they were calling in for) there was unlikely to be anything in the customer service manual that called for the CSR to call you rude for interrupting them.

Something nobody else has said yet:

You were not being rude, you were merely trying to get your business done efficiently after being on hold for 25 minutes.

Any CSR who does not expect customers to interrupt their sales pitches to return to the problem at hand has not been on the job very long. Any CSR who repeatedly tells customers that they are being rude for interrupting is unlikely to stay on the job very long.

Unfortunately, the most direct response, asking to speak with a supervisor, would have had negative consequences for you:

  • In many call centers you would simply be speaking to a different (more experienced) CSR speaking from a "supervisor" script.
  • There would have been an additional delay fetching the supervisor and explaining the rudeness issue that led to the escalation.
  • You would likely have had to start from scratch getting your problem (with your security device) resolved.

As for your original question, "how to tactfully interrupt a (rude and inexperienced) CSR", this is a situation where companies take advantage of polite behavior, and there is no need to let yourself be bullied.

After confirming that your original problem was resolved (you said that you had ordered the device) you were done. What you needed to do was say "no thanks" to any further sales pitches, interrupting the CSR if necessary, and get off the call.

In most places CSR pay is partly determined by how fast they handle phone calls. Quickly cutting off an unwanted sales pitch with "no thanks" is MORE polite than letting them talk on wasting precious seconds that could have been spent with a more suggestible customer. Getting into a preventable argument with a customer lowers a CSRs pay.

If you are right and truly upset you could even say something like "No upselling, please. Would you rather spend your time annoying me or ending this call efficiently and getting on to the next customer who you might get a sales commission from?"

Once the CSR started being rude to you, the most polite thing you could have done was to confirm that your original problem was resolved and hang up. The most effective thing you could have done was send a letter to the company afterwords with a complaint about the rude CSR, pretty much guaranteeing, on way or another, that no future customer would have been treated to the same rude behavior.

tl;dr: if a CSR is rude to you, ask to speak to a supervisor if your original problem has not been resolved or hang up and write a letter of complaint if it has. It is not at all impolite or untactful to interrupt an unwanted sales pitch with a simple "no, thanks."

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    Hi! Answers here need to be an IPS solution and should explain why they work, please back up your answers with references (either external sources or personal experience. Thank you. – A J May 20 at 17:33
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    @AJ Based on my personal experience working as a CSR, as I said very clearly in the answer, this is a way for the OP to eliminate the problem in the future that led to the annoying situation. Are actual practical real-life solutions to people's problems not welcome here? – arp May 20 at 18:23
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    Actually you had suggested OP an idea that might work in future, but they are asking how to interrupt sales person selling you things while not listening to your complaint. Your answer was kinda lifehack solution without focusing on the part "how to interrupt", which I am afraid is not welcomed, though can be suggested as alternate solution in case telling them doesn't work. However it seems that you have improved your answer. – A J May 21 at 2:33
  • Hello, you are on my review queue, I reviewed your answer and I noticed that you did offer some interpersonal tactics but they get lost downwards near to the end of the text, you could move that part upwards and then leave your experience afterwards which is not "out of scope" like you stated at the beginning. Good answer btw, I know those CSR manuals too, from a long time ago. – J A May 21 at 4:06
  • This is your interrupting line: "No upselling, please. Would you rather spend your time annoying me or ending this call efficiently and getting on to the next customer who you might get a sales commission from?", you should make that a quote block (>). – J A May 21 at 4:07

If you're looking for tact, you're going to need to be persuasive. You need a logical argument that shows that not continuing with the pitch or survey or whatever is the best course of action for both people.

For example, during a recent trip to Haiti going through a market where vendors are very aggressive to sell you things, to the point of handing them to you and telling you the price, refusing to take them back, I told one "I want you to sell this necklace and I want to keep it clean so you may do that. I need to catch up with my wife over there, and will not be buying this necklace. You can either take it from me, or I can set it down where I stand." He took it back. It was better for him to do that.

With your situation, I've had luck in person and on the phone with arguments such as "Your goal is to sign new Visa clients, and I am satisfied with my current service. The sooner I get off the call, the sooner you can connect with someone who you have a chance to actually sign." This grabs their attention and reminds them that they have internal goals (signing X new clients a month, keeping average call time down, keeping median call time down, etc...)

As so many things with IPS, part of understanding your counterpart's motivation is the first step in being persuasive. And, in general, makes you both more powerful and more compassionate as a person.

Short answer: ask whether he wants to get a supervisor to determine who was and was not being rude, or whether he would prefer to just help you.

Reasoning: I think your question should be how should you have handled his statement that you were rude, interrupting a good customer rep would never need tact, interrupting a bad customer rep should never use tack.

You are asking the wrong question. Tact, kindness or any other sort of politeness should not be a goal when dealing with customer support, and should not interfere with your actual goal: to either get information or to have something done. Rudeness and other incivilities should be avoided where it can interfere with your goals.

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    This reads to me more like it should be a comment on the question than an actual answer to 'how to interrupt a customer service representative'... Even if you say that tact isn't necessary, how should it be done 'untactfully'? Do you have anything to back up your answer with (either external sources or personal experience), and assure us that this approach works? – Tinkeringbell May 20 at 9:51
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    IMO this is a very good answer, at least for our Latin culture. It is a more tactful way of saying, want to stop playing dumb, or I will talk with your supervisor. – Rui F Ribeiro May 20 at 11:08
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    @Tinkeringbell: the customer service rep was being rude AND inefficient/slow. As the OP was explicitly in a hurry, the way to handle that is to point out his rudeness and use the threat of getting him fired to motivate him to stop being so inefficient. Whether going through the supervisor would be faster overall, I don't know, but the point of the answer is to avoid both going through the supervisor and the slowness. – jmoreno May 20 at 11:42

Understand the situation

Here is what is probably going on:

  • The support tech has a computer system that tells him exactly what to say step by step.
  • The support tech is measured on call volume. The faster he can end the call, the bigger his raise will be next year.
  • The sales department has inserted a script toward the end of the support call. The support rep has to read the entire script, and at the bottom there is probably a couple buttons for Yes/No/Reason.
  • The support rep probably does not like reading these sales scripts.
  • There might be a turnover incentive, e.g. the reps may get rewarded for convincing you to buy.

Your options

Ride it out. The sales script is probably ten seconds or less. If you want to get the ordeal over with as quickly as possibly, it may make sense to simply wait it out. Use this time to gather your thoughts, take down any notes, and make sure you have everything you need, e.g. a confirmation number for your new delivery.

Anticipate the answer. Another option is to give the rep the answer he needs as quickly as possible. Hopefully he will just stop, click the "No" button, and move on. Note: He cannot move on until you have given him an answer.

Turn the conversation toward something you need. For example, if you haven't gotten a confirmation number, ask for it. If you do this, though, the conversation will probably return to that sales script eventually, and he'll have to start all over.

End the call. If you have everything you need (and you're sure the rep has saved everything in the computer already), simply say, "Thank you for your help, I am ending the call," and hang up. Ignore anything he says. It may seem rude but in the end it does help him end the call more quickly, and that is his job.

protected by Tinkeringbell May 20 at 9:51

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