22 secrets from call centres to save you time & money

Call centre workers are often the front line of your interaction with a company. That makes them experts in getting the best out of a call, from dialling shortcuts to the best times to ring. We asked for your call centre insider tips on MSE and Martin's social accounts and have rounded up our favourites.

Previously, our Insider MoneySaving tips guide brought together your behind-the-scenes secrets from working in various industries. This time around, we zero in on tips from call centre workers past and present. Below are 22 insights we picked up.

Share your own call centre insider tips. Visit the MSE Forum, Twitter or Facebook.

Important. It's just not possible for us to validate every one of these crowd-sourced tips, which are based on individual experience and span a range of industries. We've tried to sense-check the tips but please take them as anecdotal rather than guaranteed to work.

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  1. 'Be polite. Shouting will get you nowhere'

    Let's start as we mean to go on. The most repeated tip we received is also the simplest: be nice.

    Working in a call centre can be high-pressure and difficult at times. A little empathy on your part can go a long way, as these comments highlight:

    Martin B on Twitter says, "I got out of customer-faced roles years ago, worked for an energy provider – it was a horrific! Don’t say “you” are charging me this... we are not, the big guys are".

    It's also worth remembering the operative could still be in training:

    Not only is this simply the decent way to treat your fellow human beings, you might end up getting more credit if you're polite, according to Emily.

    Friendly behaviour might mean some operatives will want to go the extra mile for you, agrees Shellt.

    New MSE tool

    Report 'unusually high call volumes' recorded messages. We're testing whether some firms include this automated message on every call. Please help us by reporting your call experiences – it takes 30 seconds.

  2. 'Choose your call time wisely'

    Wes on Twitter bemoans callers who ring two minutes before the centre is due to close: "I ain't arguing with you," he says, "you're getting the ****** deal and I ain't budging".

    Terri and Sara on Facebook concur:

    Opt for the right time of day

    Paula M tweets to suggest avoiding "busiest times, eg, Mondays and over lunchtime", adding that "quieter days were typically Tuesday/Wednesday".

    Alison on Facebook says you should "Call whilst Eastenders and Coronation Street are on as that’s the lowest call time". We found multiple comments that agreed with this method.

    ...and the right time of month/year

    While we're at it, some call centre workers suggest thinking seasonally. For example, don't wait until the very start of the sports season to call up and sort your sports channels.

    Tony on Facebook says, "Once worked at NTL call centre. Start of the season, lots of calls to add sports. A few shouting 'n' swearing for keeping them waiting and they’re missing the game. 'Argh sorry, just a second, I’ll just add it for you.' Guess what? I’d put them back in the queue."

    Apparently some centres experience longer call queues at the start and close of each month:

    Don't forget – if you hear the automated message, 'Sorry, we're experiencing unusually high call volumes', or similar, we're keen for the details. Please log it in our new MSE tool.

  3. 'Have all your details ready'

    Several commenters agreed that having all your important details to hand can help to make the best use of the call time. 

    For example, Wendy recommends having your meter reading ready when calling your energy supplier.

    See our  Smart meters guide for info on what they do and whether you need one. And to discuss your own smart meter experiences, visit the MSE Forum  Energy board.

    Over on Twitter, Tom stresses the importance of a well-prepared summary of your issue, while Suzanne suggests readying information such as order or loyalty card number.

    Tried any of these tips and found they worked a charm, or failed miserably? Enlighten us; drop a comment on the MSE ForumTwitter or Facebook.

  4. 'Skip the call queue with an app'

    The nifty app WeQ4U, free on iOS and Android, waits for an agent so you don't have to. Input the phone number, go through any automated prompts, and once you're in the queue, press 9*. You can then hang up, and the app will reconnect you once an agent picks up.

    We found praise for WeQ4U in the MSE Forum. MSE Laura F's been using the app for years too. 90% of the time it's worked a charm for her, but there have been a handful of times where the call centre has hung up. This is due to the inevitable small delay between the agent answering and your reconnection.

    We haven't heard about WeQ4U from a call centre's perspective. If you've been on the receiving end of its use, please tell us about it on the MSE ForumTwitter or Facebook.

  5. 'Be aware you might be heard or recorded, even before you're through to a human'

    If you feel the urge to rant about the service while you've been put on hold, you'll want to bear this in mind.

    Call systems vary, so you'll have no way of knowing which monitor your on-hold activity and which don't. According to Michelle on Facebook, TalkTalk is one of the firms whose operatives can hear you:

    Your chat box typing might be visible too

    Equally, online chat boxes may be able to read text you haven't even submitted:

    On the other hand, call centre veteran candy girl has never experienced hearing a customer after they've been put on hold, proving it's not a fact across the board.

  6. 'Try selecting '0' to get straight through to a human'

    Tired of the endless option loop? Daisy and Co. on Twitter suggests pressing '0' to get straight through to a human. Call systems vary, as we've said before, but it sounds worth a shot.

    Some phone systems prompt you to sum up your query in a phrase. Angie on Facebook reckons you should say "agent" to try to get straight to a human.

    These tricks might have no effect whatsoever, or could cause an undesirable result, such as sending you through to the wrong department. Will you risk it, in the pursuit of knowledge?

  7. 'Ask their name. Speak to them as if they're someone you know'

    Miss Kizzy recommends finding out and using the operative's name during your conversation. It's not only a good way to build rapport, but it means you have a reference in case you need to call back at another time.

  8. 'Be direct about asking for a discount '

    Don't be coy; it's always worth a direct ask. That's what Sandi and Helen on Facebook will tell you.

    According to Beth, also via Facebook, the same goes for compensation if you've had an issue:

    And while you're being bold and naming your number, you might find our Top 15 firms to haggle with guide helpful.

  9. 'If one of its competitors has a strong deal, it's likely to offer similar'

    Seen a superb deal with another company? MollyMoub suggests this is the time to call the company you're with to see if it's running a competitive deal of its own.

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  10. 'Know your rights'

    Apparently, mentioning the Consumer Rights Act can ensure you gets the repairs and refunds you're entitled to.

    Forumite DullGreyGuy, on the other hand, is wary about the effectiveness of quoting your rights... unless you are meticulous about doing so correctly.

    I'd strongly avoid quoting 'law', despite it recommended frequently on these forums. If you do... make sure you know exactly what you are talking about. You start looking very foolish when you are demanding your rights and then misquote legislation.

    ~ DullGreyGuy

    See our Consumer rights guide to beef up your knowledge.

  11. 'Quote prices from comparison websites'

    According to this tweet by Swift88, quoting prices from comparison websites can be the magic password that unlocks cheaper deals:

    After a quote?

    MoneySavingExpert.com offers several tools to help you compare prices before haggling:

    Broadband Unbundled | Cheap Mobile Finder | Compare+ Car Insurance | Cheap Travel Insurance Finder

  12. 'Be honest about deals you've spotted elsewhere – they'll check'

    Don't be tempted to tell porkies about better deals you've spotted, says Nina on Facebook. It's unlikely the operative will simply take your word for it.

  13. 'Try snagging a freebie in return for some praise'

    Got some genuine praise for the company you're calling? Don't keep it to yourself, Aliz tweets. Let the operative know, and they might reward you with a freebie.

    For more freebie-hunting, visit the  Freebies (no spend required) board on the MSE Forum and the Birthday freebies deals page.

  14. 'Go one mile lower with motorcycle value and mileage estimates'

    Lauren tweeted to tell us that, at the motorbike insurance company she works at, customer data is split into brackets. Therefore, when you're providing an estimate for your vehicle's value or its mileage, round down by one pound or one mile. If your number happens to be on the cusp of two brackets, this trick could make sure you're put in the lower (and possibly cheaper) bracket.

    See our Cheap motorbike insurance guide for more.

  15. 'Been with Sky for a year? There's probably an anniversary offer you can claim'

    Some firms might offer loyalty discounts which aren't automatically applied or publicised. For example, Gary on Twitter says it's worth asking Sky if you're eligible for any special offers once you've been with it a year.

    Sniff out other Sky discounts in our Digital TV package deals guide.

  16. 'Calling back to speak to someone else might get you a better deal'

    We've seen comments to the contrary too, but some call centre veterans recommend calling back to try for a better deal with a different operative:

  17. 'You might get a better deal if you threaten to leave when you're near the end of your contract'

    One of the most repeated tips we received from call centre workers past and present was this: if you want a better deal, tell the company you want to leave.

    Be aware, though, that many firms won't allow you to leave mid-contract without forking out an early exit fee. So, this tip is best attempted when you're nearing your contract's end. See How to cancel a phone contract and Can I leave my broadband contract early? for more.

    Rob on Twitter adds, "Always say the word 'cancel' to be put through to cancellations (internally known as 'retentions') - they get paid commission to retain you so will do what they can".

    This is echoed by Jade on Facebook: "Retentions ALWAYS have better deals than sales and customer services".

    Here are some more specific tips, covering BT, Domestic & General and Virgin Media.

    On the flip side – Ian suggests – if you really do want to leave rather than negotiate, tell them you're emigrating:

    You might find helpful threads on cancelling contracts on the MSE Forum Mortgages, Homes & Bills board.

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  18. 'It's rarely worth demanding to speak to a manager'

    If you're the type to demand to speak to a manager when you're dissatisfied, you might want to rethink the habit. Kayleigh tweeted:

    Aubretia of West Mercia from Twitter and swingaloo from the MSE Forum agree:

    One thing which annoyed me was when a caller started out with "I want a manager". If I went to the manager at that point I would have been reprimanded for not trying to help first.

    Another thing is that the manager is not necessarily going to help you any more than the operator. They manage staff but don't have the product knowledge, system skills or ordering facility to do what you need.

    ~ swingaloo

    Instead of asking to speak to a manager, try articulating your complaint to the operative as best you can.

  19. 'Email the CEO... or just say you're doing so'

    Again, we've seen comments arguing both sides of this coin. But some say that threatening to email the CEO can get you positive results on a call.

    Pat on Facebook suggests taking action after a disappointing call. "If you get no satisfaction," they say, "do a little online research and find out a name for a suitable director for the company and send them a brief email of complaint with details of the problem.

    "I once sent a complaint email to the chief exec of TalkTalk after talking a number of fruitless times to call centres. (...) I got my own English-speaking advisor who resolved the problem in a week."

    We've more on how to complain in the Consumer rights guide.

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  20. 'State you'd like to make an official complaint, so your issue is escalated'

    Sometimes, knowing exactly which words to use can be powerful. Marie on Twitter (now 'X') explains the importance of stating that you want to make an official complaint when things go wrong.

    Lynne on Facebook suggests other key phrases you should throw in to ensure your situation is taken seriously.

    Brush up on your complaining know-how with MSE's Consumer rights guide.

  21. 'If promised a call back, ask for a direct number'

    Tom on Twitter (now 'X') makes a smart point about pinning down a direct phone number:

  22. 'Goodwill compensation potential may be limited'

    Alan warns not to set your expectations too high when it comes to goodwill credit. According to him, John Lewis staff can only offer their customers a ceiling of £50 if things go awry.

    (We should note that the rest of his tweet contradicts point 19 above, which suggests that threatening to email the CEO can get you results.)

    Other companies supposedly have a more haphazard approach to setting prices and policy, as Robert highlights:

Got any call centre insider wisdom of your own to share? Let us know via the MSE ForumTwitter (now 'X') or Facebook.

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