7 tactics for good customer service

Tips on how to get what you want from customer service representatives.

Business Wire/File
A DHL customer service desk during the 2008 MLB All-Star Week in New York City. There are steps you can take to make sure you have a good customer service experience.

Late last week, the New York Times published an article of reader-collected techniques for prevailing in customer service disputes. Here’s a sampling of a few of my favorites from the article:

USE YOUR CAMERA Suzanne Barchers of Stanford, Calif., always photographs any unpleasant surprises in hotel rooms, using her handy digital camera. Of a recent trip to Las Vegas hotel she writes, “When asked upon checkout how my stay was, I simply said, ‘Let me show you.’ ” The images included some dingy towels, broken shelves and a view that was less than promised and paid for. “My bill was cut in half without any prompting.”

ASK THIS SIMPLE QUESTION More than a few readers said that when stymied by phone reps, they simply ask, “What would you do if you were in my situation?” “Amazingly, they’ll often pass along an effective tip about how to get the desired result,” writes Frank Scalpone of Antioch, Calif.

BE PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE, PART 2 Several readers note that when you’re talking to a phone rep, time is on your side for two reasons. The first is that phone reps are often timed and expected to churn through a certain number of calls per hour. The second is that nearly all are prohibited from hanging up on you. So the longer you’re willing to stay on the phone and repeat that you are not satisfied, and do not want to end the call, the better your chances of getting what you want.

I have my own repertoire of tactics for getting the best from customer service beyond what’s mentioned in the article. Here are seven tactics I use to make sure I very rarely get awful service.

Do some research before you spend a dime If you’re traveling, check out reviews of the hotels and airlines in the area. If you’re buying a car, research the car. If you’re buying a gadget, research the gadget. Good reviews usually mean you never have to deal with customer service at all.

Have your complaint straight before you even call I usually write out my complaint before contacting customer service of any kind so that I don’t get flustered on the call. I also usually have the problematic product in front of me if possible so I can clearly and accurately describe the problem. It is very easy to get flustered and discredit yourself during a customer service call if you’re not prepared.

Don’t be afraid to be on hold – and use it to your advantage Whenever I get put on hold on a customer service call, I just set my phone to “speaker,” note the time, and get back to whatever I was doing. When someone finally gets on the line, I usually point out that “I’ve sat on hold for X minutes,” which usually raises some immediate sympathy from the person on the other end.

Don’t settle If you’re unhappy with the resolution, stay on the phone. Tell them you’re unhappy with the resolution and explain what you expect from the situation. Don’t be afraid to escalate the situation to their superior. The longer you stay on the phone, the less cost-effective it becomes to continue to try to give you their half-baked solution and the more cost-effective it becomes for them to just give you what you want as a solution. Of course, part of this is knowing what you expect from the call before you even call.

Don’t overuse it Only call customer service lines when you have a real customer service complaint. Many large companies share databases of people who frequently call customer service lines demanding replacement products. These people are (often correctly) identified as scammers and customer service people will often just terminate the call from such people. If you call such lines only when you have a real complaint, you’ll find much more success.

Go public If you have a concern with a company’s service, take it up with them first. If that doesn’t get you the service you expect, go public. Share your story on as many web sites as possible. Take the time to write your complaint in detail and write it calmly – don’t use angry language or name-calling or you discredit your point. Make sure you provide some way to contact you, and post the complaint on review websites. You’d be surprised how often a company will contact a person who makes such a public complaint.

Leverage competition Many businesses will alter their offers if you bring in offer sheets from competing businesses. If you’re making a major purchase, don’t be afraid to shop around for the lowest price, then take that lowest price offer to a retailer that offers good customer service.

Many of these tactics do take time, so I often don’t use them on inexpensive products. I save them for larger battles where there is real value in prevailing.

Good luck!

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