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How to Demand (and Get!) Great Customer Service

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My family recently had our windows replaced. It was an ordeal that turned out to be long and expensive. When the company installed windows that weren’t even the right color, I had to make several angry phone calls to the general manager and owner to get the problem solved. And along the way, I learned a few valuable lessons about customer service.

Gone are the days when airline passengers could expect a warm meal or department store customers knew that managers would go out of their way to make the shopping experience pleasant. Spending money today can be a real chore because most companies have lost an emphasis on customer service. It isn’t just the companies’ fault—it’s our fault, too, for paying more attention to price-tags than the quality of the things we buy and the way we’re treated when we buy them.

It’s harder to get great customer service today, but that doesn’t mean we should give up trying. Not only do we get more value for our hard-earned money, but we also push companies to make their stores better places to work and shop.

Next time you run into a customer service dilemma, here for demanding that businesses treat you as a valued customer:

  • Be willing to pay for good customer service. When you’re budgeting, don’t just focus on price. Think instead about value. Your money pays not only for the product, but for the experience of buying and using it, hopefully for many years to come.
  • Shop local. Using vendors that depend on the business of every customer is another way to avoid customer service fiascos. Even when they arise, local companies are more likely to go out of their way to earn your business back.
  • Shop with companies with a good reputation for customer service. By shopping with companies that treat customers right, you’re less likely to have problems to begin with. Use a service like Angie’s List or Yelp and ask for friends’ and neighbors’ reviews. When you have to use a big company, defer to one with a solid customer service rep like Apple, Disney, Hilton hotels, Southwest Airlines, or Zappos.com.
  • Use a credit card company known for taking the customer’s side. When a purchase goes wrong, you don’t have to fight alone. Buying something on a credit card that believes the customer is always right means you’ll always have someone else on your side. Adam and I have had great success with our American Express card.
  • Expect good customer service from the get-go. My family has learned the hard way that companies that start out with bad customer service usually don’t get any better. When something goes wrong early in a transaction, don’t make apologies or excuses for the company. Give them a chance to fix it if you like, but be prepared to find another vendor if they let you down again.
  • When you need to make a complaint, wait until you can do it calmly. In many cases, the employee listening to your complaint isn’t the one who caused a problem. By waiting until you’re calm, you avoid taking out your anger on someone who doesn’t deserve it. And you’re more likely to get what you want if you can speak rationally and in a level tone of voice.
  • Always start out pleasant. It really is true that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Sometimes customer service complaints must get heated, but you can resolve many issues with a polite phone call or e-mail.
  • Make specific complaints and offer specific solutions. When you make a complaint, tell the person to whom you are speaking exactly what went wrong and exactly how you would like him or her to fix it. Not, “This food is terrible,” but, “My steak is cold and my mashed potatoes are over-salted. I would like you to prepare me another meal.” Not only do you sound more convincing, but you’re making it easier for the company to make things right.
  • Be clear about the consequences for the business. You don’t have to threaten a company to let them know you mean business. A simple line like, “I’m a loyal customer, but sorry I won’t be able to do business with you anymore” or “I’ll have to tell my neighbors not to do business with your company” often does the trick.
  • If necessary, send your complaint up. Even though more and more employees are refusing to refer complaints up to their managers, managers and owners are in a much better position to solve your problem. Ask for a manager. If you’re refused, ask for the manager’s direct line or e-mail address. When you can’t get in touch with a manager—or the manager doesn’t propose a satisfactory resolution—never be afraid to call or write an owner or C.E.O. Write down the name of everyone you speak to about your complaint as you move up the corporate ladder.
  • Be willing to compromise. When you propose a solution, stick to reasonable demands and be prepared for some give and take as you negotiate with the company. For example, a hotel may not be able to give you a free room because your neighbors were loud—but do expect them to give you a discount or offer you a free breakfast.
  • Know when to walk away. Certain fights just aren’t worth the effort. Time is money, so before you bunker down for a long, drawn out conflict, decide whether the payoff is going to be worth the time you will spend arguing. Sometimes it is, but when it’s not, shake the dust from your feet and find somewhere else to do business.
  • Give credit where credit is due. When you get great customer service—or when someone finally solves a customer service problem for you in a way that makes you happy—be sure to thank the person who is responsible, in writing if possible. There is no better way to encourage employees to focus on customer service than to reward them with your sincere gratitude for treating you right.

Have you ever had to fight with a company over a purchase you’ve made? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments.

2 responses »

  1. Great tips – and this coming from a former Customer Service phone rep. It is NOT a fun job, but polite customers help tremendously. Please remember that it’s not our fault things went wrong! Yelling at the CSR will do nothing to help resolve the problem.

    Reply
  2. Really good stuff. It’s the simple things like politeness and persistence that will always garner better customer service.

    Reply

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