Ten Tips to Getting Better Customer Service

Ten Tips to Getting Better Customer Service

By Jenny C. McCune, Bankrate.com

Things sometimes go wrong. Maybe your credit card balance mysteriously climbed or your new washing machine is stuck on spin. Naturally, you call the company for help.

But what happens when the customer service department doesn’t offer
what its name promises? Here are 10 tips to help get your concerns
heard and problems solved.

1. Take notes
Chronicling
your problem is essential. Documentation gives you facts to deal with
so your emotions won’t carry you away. A factual context should make
you more comfortable and help you be more persuasive. It also helps
customer service representatives by putting the information they need
at their fingertips. The easier their job, the more likely they’ll be
able to resolve your problem.

If you’re dealing with a particularly complicated issue, consider recording your conversations. Just be sure to first check your state’s laws in this area. Some permit tape recording as long as you are one of the parties being recorded. Others require you to inform and get the consent of the other party before you hit the record button. In addition to keeping track of exactly who said what when, a recording verifies ongoing conversations with customer service.

Whatever method you choose, your documentation should be as complete as possible. Include specifics of your problem, date and time it occurred and your efforts to remedy the situation. Also take down as much information as you can on every person with whom you speak: full name, extension, work location, work hours, other identifying information (seat number, employer ID number or badge number) and what is said or promised regarding your problem. This information will help you contact the same customer service rep again or explain to another department employee or manager the background on your case.

It’s important to get more than just a name. Large companies usually have hundreds of customer service reps based in several call centers around the country. It’s routine for people with difficult names to take on simpler phone pseudonyms, such as John Smith or Mary Jones. But another employee at one of the company’s other call centers across the country might use that same name, making it impossible for you to reconnect with your Mary Jones.

2. Break through the anonymity barrier
Getting your customer service rep’s name is a good start. Now you need to build a relationship so he or she thinks of you as a person, not as a problem they want to ditch. Be polite, use humor and ask for sympathy.

"When you’re anonymous, it’s difficult to get great customer service or a response," says T. Scott Gross, author of "How to Get What You Want (From Almost Anybody)" and the forthcoming "Why Service Stinks."

"They’ll want to solve your problem by giving it away to someone else."

Remember to speak in a conversational tone, rather than yelling or being patronizing. As Ron Rosenberg, president of Quality Talk Inc. in Centerpoint, Texas, puts it: "Nice people, as a rule, get good service. Mean people don’t."

OK, you’ve exchanged names and you’re being nice, giving you a new best friend (at least for the next few minutes). But don’t forget who has the power in your new relationship: the customer service rep. It’s his choice as to what help you’ll get, not yours, and you’d better not forget it.

"The employee has the power to follow the rules exactly or bend the rules for your benefit," explains Rosenberg. So you need to do all you can to get the customer service person on your side.

3. Act like they’re right, but presume they’re wrong
As you build your customer rep relationship, treat the person as if he’s always right, but expect that he’s wrong.

"I’ll go in acting like the person will take the steps to do the right thing, but I’m assuming in my heart that they will screw it up," says Rosenberg, creator of the Drive-you-nuts.com Web site, dedicated to helping consumers get better service. If your presumption is correct, then your copious documentation will help you sort through follow-up problems.

And retain your composure. It might be difficult at times, but if you let the service rep know you think he’s incompetent, you’re in trouble. He’ll be anxious to palm you off on somebody else or worse, decide he’d rather do anything than help you.

4. Stick to your script
Take a cue from telemarketers: Have a script before dialing the phone and stick with it, no matter what.

Your prepared message should describe the problem and how you want the company to handle it. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. Tim Ursiny, founder of Advantage Coaching & Training in Chicago and author of "The Coward’s Guide to Conflict," calls it the broken-record strategy.

This works because a customer service rep’s goal is to handle as many calls as possible, meaning he wants to get rid of callers as quickly as possible. If you won’t be sidetracked, eventually the customer service agent is going to have to do something.

Take a look at Bankrate.com‘s form letters for ideas on how to structure your call. You probably should follow up any call you make with a letter anyway; this gets your grievance officially on record. In fact, in some companies demand you file a written complaint before they’ll take action. If you’ve ever read the fine print on a credit card bill, you’ve probably seen this notice: "Calling about billing errors will not preserve rights."

5. Offer a solution
The easiest way to resolve a customer service problem is to offer the company a solution. Companies like this because you’re doing the brainwork and customers generally ask for less than what the company would offer without the input, Rosenberg says.

An Internet broadband installer stood up Ursiny twice. Since he’d been doubly inconvenienced, Ursiny gave the company a precise day and time for the next appointment and, following his broken-record tip, stuck to it. Initially, the customer service rep told him he couldn’t make an appointment. Then the rep said it couldn’t be made that quickly. Worn down by Ursiny’s persistence and precise solution, the customer rep finally agreed to send an installer exactly when Ursiny demanded.

6. Get appropriate compensation
When you propose a solution, be sure to take into account the difficulty you’ve faced in trying to get your problem resolved. What can the company do to appropriately compensate you for the time and aggravation you’ve suffered?

Don’t be timid. Ask for what you want; often you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Free shipping, a discount, a gift certificate or a warranty extension are ways a company can "make up" a problem with a customer.

7. Use the shotgun approach
One of Ursiny’s favorite methods of cutting through the customer service clutter is to simultaneously contact several people about his complaint. Ideally, you’ll complain to a customer service rep, his or her boss, someone at a managerial or executive level and even up to the president’s office. Contact them by any means possible: phone, e-mail, fax, letter. In fact, it’s generally better to use several different forms of communication to get your point across.

"It increases the pressure. You’re not just complaining to one person but that person’s boss and their boss and so on," Ursiny says. At some point, it’s less painful to deal with your complaint than to push it aside. So you’ll get results, he says, rather than the run-around.

The gunshot approach also betters your odds. Something’s going to hit the target. Even if one or several people drop the ball (that presumption of a screw-up, again), there will be other people working on it.

8. Escalate
A cousin to the gunshot approach, this step is necessary when your initial attempts at resolution stall. If the customer service agent can’t help, ask in a non-threatening manner to speak to a supervisor.

"There is a proper way of asking for a supervisor," Gross says. "If you don’t do it properly, you’ll end up shooting yourself in the foot." His suggested script: "I know you’re busy and that my problem’s pretty complicated. Why don’t you switch me over to your supervisor, so you can help other customers?"

If a supervisor can’t help you, ask for that person’s boss and keep going up the corporate ladder as needed. Escalate your complaint to the highest level executive that you can find, Gross advises. Check the company’s Web site and annual report for contact information. Gross notes that there are many "corporate firewalls," but if you’re persistent, you’ll succeed. Higher-ups are more likely to put pressure on their underlings to resolve the matter.

9. Be prepared for the long haul
Poor service can happen in the blink of an eye, but getting it fixed can take hours — or longer. Reconcile yourself to this possibility and you’ll be better able to deal with potential frustrations during the process.

Don’t give up. That’s what some companies want. They figure you won’t have the stamina or the time to hash things out. Prove them wrong and you’ll stand a better chance of getting the resolution you want and deserve.

10. Cut your losses
Unfortunately, sometimes the best way to handle a customer service disaster is to walk away from it.

In deciding whether to cut your losses, weigh the time you’ve already spend trying to resolve the problem vs. its importance. Is it really worthwhile to spend two hours on the phone to get a copy of the daily newspaper that didn’t get delivered? Simply get it resolved as best you can, quit wasting your time and move on. Of course, where possible, you’ll want to switch vendors rather than continue to do business with the company that doesn’t care about you.

"Sometimes life is too short," Rosenberg says. "Learn your lesson and don’t go back."

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