We've all been there: You call customer service, get bounced around, transferred, and dropped. Or worse, your issue never gets resolved even after you talk to someone. You probably know you can escalate to a manager, or even higher, to "executive" support. But at that level, there's an art to getting what you want. Here's what you need to know.
In the past six months, I've struggled with a billing and phone buying issue with my mobile phone provider, and regular service outages from my cable TV provider. In both cases, calling, tweeting and direct messaging service reps got considerate people, but never results. If that sounds familiar, you're not alone. Eventually, I was fed up, and went over their heads and found ways to get executive-level support.
When I did, suddenly the game changed, and I wasn't just a customer with a problem, I was also a partner in getting my issue fixed. It's not enough at that level to just complain — when you get hold of the people who can really help you, you need to bring your A game to make sure you walk away happy, and they can put your issue to bed.
Give Lower Tiers A Chance
We all want a quick, happy resolution to our problems, and we all know that calling a standard support line usually isn't a good way to get it. However, those tiers of support are there for a reason. Before you aim right for the top, give those lower tiers a chance first. Part of it is common courtesy, but you also want to build a paper trail of contacts before you ring someone higher-up. If you go right to the top tiers without a case history, you'll get immediately handed down to the regular customer service queue.
We've offered tips on how to get great customer service before. With a little patience and the right tricks, you may be able to have your issue resolved from the get-go. Even if you don't and you do eventually need to escalate, you'll be able to do it quickly and use the ineptitude of those bottom tiers to help you get what you need from the higher ones.
Escalate The Right Way
When it's time to escalate, keep this adage in mind: "Everybody works for somebody." Regardless of the position of the person you're speaking to, they answer to someone, and that person answers to someone else. There's no reason you should ever feel like you're stuck, or have no one to escalate to. I ran into that problem with a bank a few years back: I called to complain about fees on my account, and got the "there's no manager here/I'm the manager but I'm actually the guy next to the person you last talked to" line (I worked in tech support. I know that trick.) Sometimes the only thing you can do is get names, write down the times you called, hang up, and take a deep breath. Then, call back or write a letter to someone who can actually help. Going off the handle because you feel stuck won't get you to the right people, and it won't get you the results you really want.
You might try using executive email addresses, or the Executive Email Carpet Bomb, as our friends at The Consumerist put it. By figuring out the internal email address structure of the company and the names of the VPs or executives you want to reach out to (namely, VPs of customer service, or regional vice presidents) you can email your concerns directly to someone who will, at least, put them in the hands of someone who can address them appropriately.
Keep Your Contacts And Documents Organised
It's important to keep detailed records of your conversations, both before and after you've reached someone who can help. You'll need those dates, times, and names to show executive support that you've done your best to have the issue fixed. Each piece of evidence you present is more fuel on the fire. Describe how you got to where you are now. Use what happened on your previous calls or in your tweets as the scaffolding for your story. That information helps the company rep help you without suggesting solutions you've heard or been through already.
There's another good reason to keep track of your contacts: Once you get noticed, you may suddenly have an embarrassment of customer service riches. Each time I've been reached out to exec-level support, I've always had two or three people respond and offer their assistance. Make sure you know all of their names, take down their numbers, and let them know who else has been in touch with you. This way, you get a consistent experience. If things go south, call one of the other people who initially reached out to help. Remember, once your issue is resolved and you've gone away, executive support reps have a greater obligation to report on how an issue got out of hand in the first place. Your story will help them get the word out about where the front lines went wrong, and hopefully how they can improve.
Be Clear and Concise: Now Isn't The Time To Rant
Remember, high-tier support generally wants to get in, fix your problem, and give you what you want. Their goal is for you to go away happy enough that you won't leave or cancel your services. The more time you waste recounting how terribly the lower-tiers performed, making threats, or drawing comparisons to the competition, the less time you have to cut through the fog and get to what you actually want.
We asked Andrew Kelley, CEO of CallRed and passionate advocate for better customer service, what he's seen from CallRed users that's been most effective. He explained:
We've found that the most effective messages include a clear purpose, your account / contact information, details on other ways you have reached out for help (if applicable), and are polite. It's most effective to make the reader relate to your issue, and include the words "please" and "thank you".
We also asked what customer service departments — especially executive-level ones — need to hear from their customers when they complain to respond effectively. He explained:
We truly believe that companies want to help, so I suggest writing the email in a way that puts the reader in your shoes. On another note, please be sure to include specific details on the issues you're facing.
Companies know the cost of poor customer service, as it's the key driver for customers leaving. However, many dissatisfied customers don't speak up which is why our biggest competitor is the status quo where users just accept poor service.
We've mentioned that it's important to be clear, concise, stick to the facts (and avoid your life story), and go right for what you want. It's even more important when you're dealing with executive-level support. Those people generally have more time to talk to you and more leverage to give you what you want, but they also have the most difficult customers, the worst calls, and want to resolve their issues quickly and painlessly. You'll get more if you do like Dragnet and stick to just the facts.
Always Follow Up And Keep In Touch
After your issue is resolved, stay in touch with the reps you spoke to. If you continue to have problems, don't start from square one; go right back to your last point of contact. If a refund you were promised doesn't come through, or you're billed for something you shouldn't be, you'll want to pick up from where you left off, not start over from scratch. It can be temoting to just hang up and walk away having won the day, but don't play the short game. Wait until the dust has settled, and then see if you're happy and the problem is resolved. If it's not, you'll be happy you still have someone who's familiar with your issue.
Even if your issue really is resolved, follow up anyway. Let the rep you worked with know that everything is in order, and that you'd like to hold on to their contact information in case the issue crops up again. If you continue to have issues, they should be part of the running narrative you have. That "everything's fine" follow-up goes a long way towards letting the support rep know that you're happy and they can close your case. It also lets you set the terms under which the case is closed — and lets you leave the door open to future contact.
Working with executive customer support is a different beast than talking to a standard tier-one rep. The stakes are higher, they need more information to help you, and they have more power to actually get things done. It may seem strange that you get the most help at the height of your frustration, but that's exactly why you have to put it aside when you get that help. Be clear about what you want, what your problem is, and follow through. You have a real partner at that point, and you'll walk away happier if you work together.