WHETHER IT FILLS YOU WITH dread or gets your adrenaline pumping, confronting a business about a problem with a product or service is a task that takes time and patience. Some companies have customer service reps who are trained to ensure that you get satisfaction—up to a point. Others put you through phone-menu pinball, bouncing you around until you throw up your hands in frustration. Fortunately, even if you encounter the kind of business that hopes you give up and go away, with the right preparation, tools and mind-set, you have a good chance of getting what you want.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH
KEEP IT CIVIL
If a customer-service issue has you steamed, cool down enough so you can have a civil conversation. Remember that a human is at the other end—you’re likely to get better results if you don’t lose sight of that. “If you’re genuine, that goes a very long way,” says Sampson. Be firm, but keep your interaction free of insults, shouting (or its online equivalent, using all capital letters) and cursing. Reps who feel verbally abused may refuse to assist you or flag you in their files—meaning that you’ll go into future conversations with a strike against you.
Do you have anything nice to say? Launch the conversation with that, says Khozam. For example, tell a bank that you’ve been a satisfied customer for 25 years, or a restaurant that you usually love the meals it serves. Then explain your issue specifically and clearly, and ask the representative if she’s the right person to help you with it. Keep records of your correspondence: Get the names of people you speak to, take note of the date and time of your interaction, and save online conversations of all types—you may, for instance, want to take a screen shot of any Twitter dialogue you have with a company in case it removes tweets later. If the problem isn’t resolved immediately, tell the business that you plan to follow up by a certain date if you don’t hear back.
If the agent asks a lot of questions about the circumstances surrounding the issue, it may benefit you to go along with the request, even if what she’s asking for seems irrelevant. “Sometimes representatives can make exceptions if you phrase a problem a certain way,” Sampson says.
Still, even well-meaning agents may have limits on what they can do for you. They may be required to read from a script or permitted to credit, say, only up to $25 to your account, says Guy Winch, author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem. If your conversation with a lower-level representative is fruitless or you feel that his best offer doesn’t do your issue justice, ask for a supervisor. You could also try asking to connect to the customer-retention or customerloyalty department.
Unhappy enough to stop using the business’s product or service? Say so. That’s what Meryn Rathert of Columbus, Ind., did after a vehicle from National Car Rental broke down as she drove to the airport. The agency sent a cab, but it took 45 minutes to arrive—especially stressful given that Rathert had to catch an international flight—and she had to use much of the cash she had planned to take on her vacation to cover the fare. When she got to the airport, agents at the National desk said they didn’t have any cash to pay her back and could reimburse only the $60 car-rental fee. So when she returned from the trip, she called the agency and spoke to a manager, who reassured her that she’d receive full compensation for the cab fare. Nevertheless, Rathert told him that the headache was severe enough to steer her away from National in the future. In an effort to win her back, National sent her a check for more than $200—the cash equivalent of a three-day car rental plus the cost of the cab ride.
Try offering a creative solution. When Amy Schmitz couldn’t locate the proof of purchase for a malfunctioning blender, the manufacturer told her that she’d have to send it back on her dime so that the company could verify that the blender didn’t work before sending her a replacement. Schmitz says the shipping fees probably would have cost more than the blender was worth. To prove that she wasn’t faking the complaint in an attempt to nab a free blender, she offered to snip the blender’s electrical cord and e-mail the company a photograph of it to show that it would no longer be useful. The company agreed.
If a representative does a bang-up job on your case, let him know—and his manager too, if possible. And if you took your complaint to social media, create some goodwill by telling your followers that your saga had a happy ending.
I have focused on the issue of civility. In my practice I have found that you "get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar". I cannot encourage persons enough to remember that when communicating with others in a creditor and debtor relationship that we are all human beings and none of us like being sworn at, disrespected or otherwise treated poorly. The bully may think that this will succeed but it will not; civility is always best.