How to NOT Get What You Want From Customer Service

Photo: squacco

Everyone has a bad customer service experience to tell. Whether it's poor service at a restaurant, a rude salesperson, or a product that has broken only days after purchase, chances are a transaction or two hasn't gone as well as you would have liked.

But how to solve the problem? The simple solution is to stop doing business with the company. One Seattle blogger stopped going to a restaurant when it started charging for butter. He hasn't returned, despite the restaurant having changed its policy.

Walking away is easy for you, but it leaves the business not knowing why you're no longer a customer.

If you want to help the business improve — or more likely — you want your service improved or the error fixed, then complaining is how to do it. (See also: How to Get What You Want on Customer Service Calls)

Complaints Improve Customer Service

Businesses that respond well to customer complaints can see their profits rise, according to a 2011 study of consumer rage that found that more than 50 million Americans had a problem with a product or service they bought in 2010, with more than $58 billion in transactions at risk for the businesses that sold them.

"The good news is that, if a company handles your complaint well, it will enhance your brand loyalty and can even add to its profitability," said Professor Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, in a press release. "The bad news is that ineffective customer-complaint handling may be even worse than not responding to the complaints at all."

The study by the business school and the firm Customer Care Measurement and Consulting found that cable and satellite TV service gave consumers the most problems. The biggest pet peeve was losing time in dealing with the problem, which was more upsetting than the monetary or other wrongs suffered. Being "ping-ponged" from one customer service person to another was especially aggravating, with an average of 4.4 contacts needed to resolve complaints.

Calling is one way to try to solve a complaint, though yelling may not get you far. Here are some other terrible ways to try to get what you want from a business, followed by suggestions on how to be a better complainer.

1. Set a Christmas Tree on Fire

In December, police in San Antonio told news outlets there that a man set fire to a Christmas tree at Denny's because he was annoyed by waiting for the check to arrive. The fire was put out and no one was injured, and the man was being sought by police after causing $150,000 in damage.

That's an extreme case of not being patient. Better solutions would be to get up and go to the front counter to pay the bill, or take a few breaths, relax, and think about the consequences of your actions before doing something stupid like lighting a fire in a restaurant.

2. Yell at an Employee

It may feel better to scream at someone, but they're probably not listening too well over all the noise. And bad language may just shut down their hearing entirely.

A better solution is to realize you're mad and walk away for a minute to compose yourself before returning to discuss the issue, says writer Neven Gibbs. Venting your anger will only get the staff to do enough to get rid of you.

"Generally, courtesy and friendliness has gotten better customer service than rude unwarranted behaviors," Gibbs wrote in an email. "Ask and be civil." If you still aren't satisfied after stepping outside to calm down and returning to complain, take your money somewhere else, he recommends.

3. Complain Without Knowing What You Want in Return

Yelling may help you get the frustration off of your chest, but it won't solve the problem if you don't provide an idea of how you want the problem solved. Offering a solution can help a business improve and see problems it didn't notice before.

"A complaint without a potential solution will often be ignored," says Volney Douglas, who has complained to a smoothie shop owner after a drink tasted bad and he noticed poor reviews on Yelp. The owner gave him a refund and a coupon after he suggested she use fresh ingredients instead of frozen fruit.

"I always explain to a business that I am complaining only to give them an opportunity to fix their issue," Douglas wrote in an email. "For each customer that complains, at least 10 notice and will stop doing business in the future."

4. Keep Your Complaint Private

If you're not getting satisfaction from a company, sometimes alerting the world to your problem will get results, or at least a faster response, by making it public on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Trip Advisor, or other social media sites. Not everyone has more than 230,000 Twitter followers, as comedian Dan Nainan does, but the threat of putting a complaint out on Twitter can solve problems if it's used wisely and in extreme cases, Nainan says.

5. Write an Incoherent Letter

If you do take the time to sit down and write a letter — which is always better than quickly sending off an email — then writing a rambling one where you go on and on about how wronged you feel without detailing what action you want taken won't get you far.

Letters may seem old-fashioned, but many companies require written proof before they can solve a problem. These include disputing a credit charge, address changes at financial institutions, and demand for payment to initiate claims, according to Robert Farrington, who wrote about how to write a letter to a business.

6. Forget Who You Talk to and When

If you're calling a customer representative, get their name and any other identifying information they'll give you, such as a direct phone line to call back. You may get disconnected or they may be rude, and having this information will help report the problem.

Scott Bielicki, an attorney who regularly advises consumers dealing with businesses, has a simple checklist to assist in the complaint process. Bielicki suggests having all of your documents at hand when calling; getting the name and identification number of the person you're speaking to; keeping a log of all of your contacts with the company, including the date of the contact, the people you spoke with, and the length of the contact; and asking for the supervisor, or the supervisor's supervisor, if you're not getting the answer you're looking for.

7. Gripe to the Wrong People

Complaining to customer service representatives and other "minimum wage chimps," as comedian Dan Nainan describes them, is a waste of time. They don't often have the authority to give you the solution you want, so either ask for their supervisor or go straight to the top.

Nainan says he has recorded phone calls with some customer reps (which is illegal in some states unless you first tell them you're recording the call), and then at the end of the call he says, "I'm really dissatisfied with the service you provided — I'm going to call the president of your company and complain."

"Then I'll take the tape of that call and then send it to the CEO," Nainan wrote in an email interview. "You'd be surprised how effective that can be. I've always believed in complaining from the top of the pyramid down, instead of the bottom up. Too many people complain from the bottom up, and that gets them nowhere."

In extreme cases where he's getting lousy customer service, Nainan has a way to get someone at the top of the corporate ladder, or at least near the top, on the phone — he calls them at home. Using a website that he pays $3 a month so he can look up anyone's home address and phone number, Nainan once called the vice president of the laptop division of a computer he owned.

Nainan left a message, and the VP got back to him, fixed his problem and extended his computer's warranty by a year for free. Now Nainan just emails him directly if he ever has a problem.

That's the ultimate customer service connection to have in your pocket.

What customer service strategies have you tried that ultimately failed? What strategies work best?

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Guest's picture
Michel K

As a person who has worked Customer Support in various position for over 20 years, let me help you address some of these issues.

1. Assess your expectations.
If you wish to yell at someone, do not yell at the minimum wage employee. Being civil, and angry is valid. Having an issue is valid. Yelling at employees is never okay. If you expect the minimum wage employee to figure out what your expectation are, guess again. I will never go out of my way to help a customer. That may sound rude and horrible, but I assure you that a good deed never goes unpunished. You are probably thinking, like myself, of the customer service of 10 years ago. That kind of customer service does not exist anymore. Employees are not invested in their jobs, and certainly not invested in their employers. Blame the industry and corporate machine. That's just the way it is. Customer service does not mean the same thing it did 10 years ago, and it's not coming back anytime soon. That being said, it is absolutely okay to ask for a supervisor at some point because you feel that you are not being treated fairly (more about fair later). I often don't let the customer complete sentences regarding a concern. I just break in with a "I can see that your are upset or frustrated or whatever. let me get a supervisor for you".

2. Role play & good verbiage
Supervisors in 2013 are paid 15 cents more and hour. They are however paid the extra to listen to complaints and solve issues. The issue is 15 cents. Don't raise your expectations to high. It is 100% valid to ask for a supervisor, as long as you are following rule one and have assessed your expectations. Produce your expectations, and if fair, a supervisor will have no choice but to address your concern. The word 'fair', and the word 'expectations' are like magic. Trust me on this. Use the following formula.

*I do not think I was treated fairly because....
*My expectation was ....

By the was, it is also 100% valid to be angry. Use the following phrases.
*Your store did this...
*Your establishment treated me this way...
*This store...

Do not use the following words.
*You did this...
*You are...

If your not sure then use the compliment sandwich. Seriously.

*I had great service in your store yesterday. (layer one is good)
*Today I was treated unfairly regarding ..... (layer two is bad)
*Your store is clean and well stocked that is why I like to shop here. (layer 3 is good)

You will be astounded by the way supervisors and managers will fall over themselves to provide good service using that formula. Please don't make it personal (even though it feels that way). I support angry customers with valid complaints that want to be treated fairly. I do not support personal attacks. Especially since the person in question is likely getting paid minimum wage, and is quite frankly, not interested in being yelled at. I for one have some simple rules; treat everyone fairly and with dignity and expect the same. Works great.

3. The company president
The president of Verizon (U.S.), or the president of Rogers (Canada) does not want to talk to you (That is not to say that he does not value your concerns). He's the PRESIDENT of a company for goodness sake. I honestly understand that some people do get through, but if we all started stalking the president's of company's, and emailing the president's of company's with all our myriad complaints. I mean come on. Really?

4. Thank you?
Last, but not least, if you take your complaint all the way to the owner then for %&*$@# sake take your commendations to the owner as well. I mean really. I see complaints daily. I'm lucky to have someone go out of their way one a year to say something nice. A simple 'thank you for the good service you provided me today' goes a long way.