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Seven Tips for Getting Better Customer Service

December 2015

Dealing with customer service for products and services is a fact of life. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 88% of survey participants had dealt with customer service at least once during the year. Most found it a time-consuming and frustrating process.

Needs for customer service range from repair requests for utilities, services, and products to help with troubleshooting new devices, to correction of faulty bills. The holiday season also brings gifts of new toys and products that increase the need for customer service.

Most people find dealing with customer service at most companies to be time-consuming and frustrating. Major complaints include being unable to find a consumer service phone number, automated phone trees that are difficult to figure out, being put on hold for long periods of time, having to call multiple times, and having to talk to multiple representatives to secure resolution of the problem. Many customers just quit trying in frustration. You don’t have to take that route. These seven tips can help you get better customer service.

1. Gather Information about the Problem Product or Service

Before you pick up the phone or start filling in an email complaint, make sure you have gathered all the information you need on the problem product or service. For services such as a utility or media accounts, make sure you have the account number and the latest bill/statement. For a product such as an appliance or electronic device, make sure you have the make, model number, serial number and warranty information on hand. For service or product, jot down a description of the problem you have so that you can explain fully and consistently to any representatives you talk to.

For both services and products, it is smart to check out any information you can find on the company’s website before you contact customer service. Many companies today try to steer customers first to web-based help rather than live, personal service, so check out FAQs and Troubleshooting pages. If you have read such material and it was not helpful, you can say so when a customer service representative tries to send you to back to their website. In addition, some consumers report that you may get faster service by using the live web chat feature offered on the customer service webpage of many companies.

2. Find the Customer Service Phone Number

Many companies provide a clearly visible customer service phone number on their monthly statements, product information/warranty information or websites. Other companies make you dig through multiple webpages to find their contact information. Even if the customer service number is easy to find, you may encounter a long wait on hold, a confusing automated phone menu, or both.

So how do you reach a live person? Old standbys include repeatedly punching "0" [zero] or "0" plus "#". Consumer Reports suggests using websites such as DialaHuman.com and GetHuman.com that provide customer-service phone numbers and techniques for reaching a live representative. Another similar site is ContactHelp.com.

Tips for Getting Better Customer Service

  • Gather Information.
  • Find the customer service number.
  • Be friendly and courteous.
  • When a rep can't help, ask to speak to a supervisor.
  • Keep a record of contacts and what was said.
  • Post a plea on social media or write the CEO.
  • Make a complaint if not resolved satisfactorily.

3. Be Friendly and Courteous

Whether you are calling on the phone or using email or live chat, remember always to be polite. The representative you've reached is not responsible for your problem; instead, he or she is the doorkeeper to getting your problem solved. You want that person on your side. So remember the name the rep answered the phone with and be friendly. You might say something like, "Thanks, Susan, for taking my call. I'm having a problem with [blank] that I hope we can solve together." Pay compliments when you can—for instance, if you have been a long-time satisfied service or product user, say so.

Even if the situation is totally frustrating, showing anger, calling names, or making threats typically only alienates the rep you are talking to and significantly reduces the chance that your issue will be solved.

4. When a Rep Can't Help, Ask to Speak to a Supervisor.

When the solution you want appears to be beyond the authority of the representative, it's time to ask if someone else in customer service can help, perhaps a supervisor. In the customer-service business, this is called "escalating" your call. Be courteous but firm when you make the request.

5. Keep a Record of Contacts and What Was Said

Keeping a record of all your customer service contacts related to a specific issue is important. Record who you talked to, the date, and what information or possible solution that representative offered. Having such a record can help you resolve the issue, particularly if you have to speak to multiple representatives or need to write a complaint.

6. Post a Plea on Social Media or Write the CEO

If you are unable to resolve your problem through a company's regular customer service process, you might try posting a plea for help on social media such as Twitter or Facebook. Many companies monitor social media with an eye to keeping their image polished. Many consumers report a prompt response to a post. Again, experts say that the most helpful approach is a plea for help with a problem (including lack of response) and not a rant. Writing the CEO of a company can also have quick results. Make your letter a polite but firm description of your complaint and lack of adequate customer service resolution.

7. Make a Complaint if You Don't Get a Satisfactory Resolution

Appropriate oversight government agencies provide a formal complaint process for consumers. For example, both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (www.cfpb.gov) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) provide complaint registries. Most state consumer protection agencies also have a complaint process. You can also post a complaint with your local Better Business Bureau for a local service or retail company. Finally, there are review sites related to various types of services and businesses, such as travel, dining, and hospitality businesses.

It’s All About Better Outcomes for You

Will these tips save you time in getting resolution to your customer service problems? In some cases, yes; but don't count on it. What these tips can really help you do, however, is get more positive resolutions most of the time when you have to call customer service.

For More Information

Customer Service Buying Guide from Consumer Reports

Resolving Consumer Problems articles from the Federal Trade Commission