How to Work With Customer Service To Make Sure You Get the Value You Paid For

Whether your loyalty lies with a particular hotel chain, airline or car mechanic, if someone gives you good service, you keep coming back. On the other hand, if the cable company keeps you waiting past the two-hour window, you may be shopping around.

When you have a problem with a flight, you don’t want to sit on hold for 20 minutes. You want to talk to someone — someone helpful — about how to get the situation resolved.

But before you pick up the phone, try to remember that customer service is a two-way street. When you take a calm approach, you seem to get a better response.

What else could you do to ensure you’re getting the best possible service?

  • Be nice. Maintaining a calm and professional demeanor does help to get results. Remember the three Ps: Be polite, professional and persistent. You don’t want to give them any reason to write you off as unreasonable. Yelling and screaming — and particularly cursing — will get you nowhere. You want to be firm, of course, but also rational. Before you pick up the phone, make an outline for yourself, detailing what the situation is and how you want it to be resolved. You want to be able to state your problem in about two sentences, and offer a solution. Most call centers run on metrics — the longer the call goes on, the worse the representative looks — so by being clear and cutting to the chase, you may get him or her on your side. One note: Threats, like saying you’re never going to do business with the company again, don’t go as far as you might think. When you do that, you’re blowing your leverage; if they think they’re going to lose you as a customer anyway, why would they want to go out of their way to help?
  • Keep records. You know how it goes — you call a toll-free number, you get passed around from person to person or department to department. Sometimes you get disconnected and you have to start the whole process all over again. That’s why it’s really important to document all of the steps you’ve taken. When you call the cell phone company, note that it’s 1:02 on Thursday, April 8. When you’re put on hold, jot down when the hold started, and when the line is picked back up. And when someone answers, note their name. In most cases, the person will give you their name, but if they don’t, you should ask for it, complete with proper spelling. That sends the signal that you’re serious, you’re taking notes and you’re paying attention to detail.
  • Pick the best form of communication. In most cases, that’s by phone, particularly if you’re dealing with a large corporation or your situation is really detailed and you need to explain all the moving parts. If you encounter a problem in person, like when you’re shopping at a retail store, you can ask to speak to a manager, but if you don’t get the help you want, write down his or her name and call corporate headquarters. These days, some larger companies have online chat interfaces that allow you to skip the phone all together. Anything that helps you avoid being on hold is worth a try.
  • Take it to the top. It goes without saying that if a customer service agent is less than helpful, you should ask to speak to his or her supervisor. But you may run into a wall there too, and if that happens, it’s time to take some drastic measures. Consumerist.com has a tactic they call the Executive E-mail Carpet Bomb or EECB. You gather up the e-mails of high-ranking executives, and send a carefully worded letter of complaint. One of them will have a heart, forward it to their secretary and get it solved for you. A lot of times, executives are separated from the front lines by so many layers of management. How do you find their e-mails? Try Googling the name of the company — say Kraft or Verizon — and the word “contact,” or try going to the company’s website and looking for old news releases, which will usually be under the heading of “news” or “media relations.” What you’re looking for is the structure of the company’s email addresses; usually its first.last@companyname.com or the first initial followed by the last name @companyname.com. Follow the format and you can get an e-mail address of pretty much anyone at the company. But again, remember those three Ps when drafting your note.
  • Get loud. A few months ago, we all heard about how Kevin Smith, the writer of the movie “Clerks,” was kicked off a Southwest flight because he was deemed “too fat” to fly. He Twittered up a storm about the incident, suddenly it was all over the news, and — surprise! — Southwest was beyond apologetic. Sometimes, you have to take drastic measures. Companies are constantly monitoring what’s said about them on the Internet, and many have Twitter accounts. If that’s not your thing post on websites like getsatisfaction.com and planetfeedback.com.

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