Dear Lifehacker, It seems like every large company I have to deal with these days is more interested in getting me off the phone and telling me that there's no one who can help me than they are in keeping their customers. When I call my phone company or my bank, they run me around for even the simplest questions. I've all but given up hope. How do I find someone who will actually listen? Thanks, The Little Guy
Title image remixed from Andy Dean Photography (Shutterstock).
Dear Little Guy,
It's true — most companies consider customer service a supremely low priority. After all, they pay customer service employees the least, train them the least, and yet they're the face of the company to every current and would-be customer who calls or walks through their doors. Those people deal with dozens of customers like you every day, and they're not really paid enough to bend over backwards — even if it is their job.
It's easier to stick to a script (sometimes they're punished if they don't), keep their call times down, and pretend your problem doesn't exist. It's a really backwards way of doing things.
Even so, that doesn't leave you without recourse. If you know how to hack the system, there are ways you can get stellar help from even the largest companies. Sometimes you just have to smile and nod; other times you have to make a nuisance of yourself. Here's how.
Do Your Homework
The first thing you'll need to do is make sure you're using all of the options available to you for support and service, and you're bringing to bear all of the information you need before you pick up the phone or fire off an email. Collect any and all relevant documentation and information first so you don't need to dig for it later. If all you've been doing is calling the same number over and over again and pressing the same numbers to talk to the same department, it might be time to switch it up a little bit.
For example, if you know talking to the reps that answer the phone isn't going to get you anywhere, ask to escalate the call as soon as you get on the line. Alternatively, ask if there's a customer retention department that can help you address your concerns, otherwise you're worried you may have to take your business elsewhere (more on this later.)
If you're asking a question that may lead to a change in your service, or you're looking for general information, you may be better off talking to sales. Do a little research and see if there's another department that may — even marginally — be related to your concern, and try talking to them instead. Finally, check and and see if the company you're having trouble with has a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter or even Google+. In many cases, social media reps have customer service powers, and are more willing to help than a call centre full of overworked agents.
Let Them Know You're On Their Side
When you do get in touch with someone, either on the phone, by email, or through social media, the worst thing you can do out of the gate is set them off by being adversarial. Let them know that you really appreciate their help, you're glad to have their attention, and set up the conversation so they understand that you're on the same side. They're working to help you, and you want their help. If you launch into how horrible your experience has been before you even describe your problem, you're not doing anyone — including yourself — any favours.
Save that energy, be positive, and launch right into the issue you're having. If you have room to explain your experiences up to this point, that's where you can make the case for how badly you've been treated — let them know over the course of your narrative what happened, who said what, and usually the rep you're working with will be able to pick up where other people have put up roadblocks and tried to get rid of you. Photo by Sam Felder.
Be polite, be honest, toss in a compliment here and there, be a better customer, and understand that the person you're working with is trying to help you — until they stop, of course. Most of us can tell when someone's given up on us or has no desire to help. That's when it's time to try and work the system.
Buck The System
When you realise that the person you're interacting with isn't about to help you, you can always escalate the call and ask for a supervisor or a manager. Don't hesitate to do this, and as long as you're not rude about it, you'll get one. However, if things are really bad already, the rep you're working with has no incentive to actually escalate your issue, especially if it would be clear to a manager that they've mishandled your problem. It's possible they'll lean over to the person next to them and say "hey, you want to be 'the manager' today?" and get them to essentially tell you the same thing to get you to go away. Just hang up and call back to see if you get someone a bit more professional.
Keep in mind when you do this that many cell centres and companies log calls by the same person, so you may want to be up front about the fact that you just called and "got disconnected", or just be honest and say the last person you spoke to wasn't able to help.
By calling earlier in the day — preferably right after opening — you may get hold of someone more willing to help if you're their first call of the day. This is where you might consider social media as an alternative — not as a platform to whine and complain to the world with the side-goal of getting a company's attention, but just as a different access point to better service and support. Photo by James Cridland.
If you're stuck with someone who acknowledges there's a problem but can't think of any way to assist you — as in, their script doesn't offer a solution for your problem — you can always propose your own, and let them know what it is you're looking for. Don't sit back and wait for an agent to suggest something — let them know what you'd like, and they can come back with what they can offer you. Be ready to negotiate. Here are a few more tips to working your way through the system.
Threaten To Leave — And Be Willing To Do So
Finally (and this comes with doing your homework as we mentioned above), you should be ready and willing to pack your bags and jump ship for a competitor or alternative. If you've escalated and you're getting nowhere, let the representative know that if you can't get this issue resolved, you'll have to close your account and take your business elsewhere. Most customer service reps probably won't care, but a manager may, and even if they don't, ask if they have a customer retention department that you can speak with. I've had mixed luck here — some call centre operators refuse to admit their company even has one, or pretend they don't know what it is, but in most cases, there are people dedicated to making sure customers don't close their accounts.
Another way you can approach this is to hang up, call back, and see if there's a menu option specifically to close or cancel an account. If there's not, talk to sales — those folks are tasked with bringing in business, not sending it away, and they may be able to help, or at least point you to someone who's job it is to keep you around. At the end of the day though, if the company is unwilling to resolve your problem, unable to, or the options that customer retention or anyone else offers you just aren't enough to resolve your issue, you should be ready to leave. After all, don't threaten to leave unless you're willing to do it.
These are just a couple of ways to wind your way through the annals of customer service in companies large and small. Smaller companies may be more appreciative of your business than larger ones, but you never know. Every company is different, and different people answering the same phone number will respond to the same problem in different ways. Don't give up, don't be afraid to escalate, and don't be afraid to walk away. Hopefully, with these tips it won't come to that. Good luck!
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