A guide to get­ting good cus­tomer ser­vice (with­out get­ting ar­rested)

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - BEN POPKEN

Want to get good ser­vice with­out ruf­fling feath­ers? There’s an art to it …

MONA SHAW WALKED into her lo­cal telco’s cus­tomer-ser­vice of­fice one day swing­ing a claw ham­mer. The feisty 75 year old clob­bered sev­eral pieces of of­fice equip­ment be­fore she was stopped. “Now do I have your at­ten­tion?” she asked.

Re­li­able phone ser­vice was crit­i­cal for Shaw and her hus­band. They lived in an iso­lated ru­ral area and had a his­tory of call­ing for emer­gency med­i­cal as­sis­tance. The Shaws were switch­ing to a phone-in­ter­net-TV pack­age, but af­ter days of spotty phone ser­vice, a botched in­stal­la­tion at­tempt, a missed ser­vice ap­point­ment, and blithe in­dif­fer­ence, Shaw went to the com­pany’s lo­cal of­fice.

She waited two hours for the man­ager be­fore a cus­tomer-ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive an­nounced that the man­ager had gone home for the day. That was the last straw so Shaw went back to her house and fetched her ham­mer.

Was Mona Shaw’s re­ac­tion ex­treme? You bet. She re­ceived a three-month sus­pended sen­tence for dis­or­derly con­duct, a $345 fine for dam­ages and a year-long re­strain­ing or­der that barred her from go­ing near the com­pany’s of­fice. Yet con­sumers ev­ery­where can iden­tify with her frus­tra­tion.

As costs bal­loon and in­come shrinks, cus­tomers are chas­ing value while busi­nesses are chas­ing prof­its. Nat­u­rally, there are some nasty col­li­sions. But good ser­vice is, in the end, good busi­ness – and it’s some­thing both sides want.

But how much time should you spend on the prob­lem? Cal­cu­late your in­come as an hourly wage. If your time is worth $30 an hour, don’t spend all day chas­ing down a $25 re­fund. Life is short. Hold times are long.

Be­fore you open your mouth to com­plain about poor cus­tomer ser­vice, you need to ask your­self two ques­tions: Do I have a valid com­plaint? Am I ex­pect­ing a rea­son­able so­lu­tion? If the an­swer to both ques­tions is ‘yes’, you can use the strate­gies here – gath­ered from both our read­ers and cus­tomer-ser­vice ex­perts – to get sat­is­fac­tion for al­most any trans­ac­tion.

Give reg­u­lar cus­tomer ser­vice a shot first. Con­cisely and calmly ex­plain your prob­lem. If they don’t do what you want, try re­peat­ing the rea­sons. If the first rep is stuck on no, call back and get a dif­fer­ent one. Talk­ing to a su­per­vi­sor some­times works. If it doesn’t, it’s time to es­ca­late your tac­tics by fol­low­ing th­ese tried-and-true tips.

1. Dic­tate the Op­tions

HOW TO DO IT Be­gin the call by say­ing, “I have a sit­u­a­tion that you are go­ing to fix for me to­day.” Clearly state in a sen­tence or two ex­actly what you want them to do for you. Have your op­tions worked out. It may help to write them on a piece of pa­per and keep it in front of you.

WHY IT WORKS You set the tone and ex­pec­ta­tions from the out­set. You’ll skip the ‘ if ’ of help­ing you and get right to the ‘how’. You’ll save time, and not just for your­self. Many call cen­tres work on commission and in­cen­tives. It’s a high-stress en­vi­ron­ment. The faster the call cen­tre op­er­a­tor com­pletes his calls, the big­ger his bonuses.

TRY TH­ESE TIPS “Know your rights and ask the right ques­tions.” DHEERAJ TANEJA, Syd­ney, New South Wales “Ac­knowl­edge what’s well done be­fore air­ing your com­plaint qui­etly and rea­son­ably.” LORELLA D’CRUZ, Essendon, Vic­to­ria “Ask the right ques­tions and lis­ten to the re­sponse.” TERRI BRADLEY, Gold Coast, Queens­land “Speak in a friendly man­ner, then lis­ten en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to their re­ply.” LIN WALKER, Eastern Creek, New South Wales

2. Threaten to Can­cel

HOW TO DO IT Tell the com­pany that un­less your prob­lem is fixed, you’re tak­ing your busi­ness to a com­peti­tor. It’s help­ful to cite the other com­pany’s en­tic­ing pro­mo­tional of­fers. A dealseal­ing phrase? “Give me a rea­son to stick around.”

WHY IT WORKS When cus­tomers feel taken care of they are more in­clined to buy from the com­pany again. One study shows that if a busi­ness hangs on to an ex­tra five per cent of its cus­tomers, prof­its in­crease an av­er­age of 44 per cent. In con­trast, the cost of re­plac­ing a cus­tomer is five times the cost of mak­ing a cus­tomer happy. Some com­pa­nies even have a spe­cial divi­sion – the ‘re­ten­tion depart­ment’ – with spe­cial­ists trained to con­vince you not to leave, even if they must dan­gle dis­counts and free­bies in front of you.

TRY TH­ESE TIPS “Don’t take no for an an­swer.” GREG NOR­RIS, Both­well, Tasmania “Keep­ing your cool, stick­ing to the facts and be­ing your most charm­ing self will bring bet­ter re­sults.” ELAINE AL­LI­SON, cus­tomer-ser­vice ex­pert “Men­tion your long-term loy­alty to their busi­ness, then kill them with kind­ness – it’s much harder to not help some­one nice!” VICKI TOOHER, cus­tomer-ser­vice spe­cial­ist

3. Call the Ex­ec­u­tive Suite

HOW TO DO IT It’s a lit­tle-known se­cret, but many large com­pa­nies have a fire­wall of high-rank­ing cus­tomer-ser­vice per­son­nel sur­round­ing the ex­ec­u­tive of­fices. To reach them, find the num­ber for cor­po­rate head­quar­ters and the name of a top- rank­ing ex­ec­u­tive. The CEO works nicely. Call the main op­er­a­tor and ask in your most pro­fes­sional voice to be trans­ferred to his or her of­fice. Once there, quickly pitch your case to the as­sis­tant. They will likely hand you over to an elite squadron equipped with cus­tom­erser­vice su­per­pow­ers.

WHY IT WORKS The job of the ex­ec­u­tive cus­tomer-ser­vice team is to solve all prob­lems in their path. They like to make cus­tomers happy. They also like to keep you from both­er­ing busy ex­ec­u­tives, com­plain­ing to reg­u­la­tory agen­cies and talk­ing to the lo­cal news.

TRY TH­ESE TIPS “Don’t waste time deal­ing with cus­tomer-ser­vices reps for se­ri­ous mat­ters as they have only lim­ited au­thor­ity.” VICKI TOOHER “Or­der what you want from the right peo­ple.” RON­ALD VI­DLER, Er­m­ing­ton, New South Wales

4. Email Some­one High Up in the Com­pany

HOW TO DO IT Fig­ure out the com­pany’s email ad­dress for­mat. Next, find the names of a num­ber of top ex­ec­u­tives, then send your com­plaint let­ter to one or more of them. For a list of po­ten­tial re­cip­i­ents, check out the com­pany’s About Us or In­vestor Re­la­tions sec­tions of its web­site. WHY IT WORKS A top ex­ec­u­tive un­der­stands they won’t have a com­pany if there are no cus­tomers. Plus, when you’re a big­wig – and you’ve been con­vinced that a cus­tomer de­serves as­sis­tance – if you tell your peo­ple to fix that prob­lem, it will get done.

TRY TH­ESE TIPS “Put your com­plaint in writ­ing. A let­ter cre­ates a pa­per trail and saves you from re­peat­ing the story.” CHRISTO­PHER ELLIOTT, con­sumer ad­vo­cate “Emails sent to the right peo­ple work – they can’t ad­dress com­plaints if they’re not aware of them.”

“Put your com­plaint in writ­ing. A let­ter cre­ates a pa­per trail”


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