The following post comes from Christopher Elliott at partner site Mintlife.
If you have a problem with a company, your first instinct is probably to reach for the phone. But it probably shouldn’t be.
Although several surveys show the phone remains the most popular method of contacting a company, it’s also often the slowest and the greatest source of frustration, according to a 2011 survey by Consumer Reports.
Topping the list of phone-related gripes: the inability to get a person on the line, followed by being stuck in a phone tree and waiting for a long time on hold. (Boring hold music ranked as well, which is one of my pet peeves.)
Point is, maybe you shouldn’t pick up the phone. Let’s review the four main written methods of communicating with a company. Before we do, let me state the obvious: The absolute best way to get any kind of customer-service concern addressed is in person, at the store. Nothing comes close to speaking directly with an employee or manager in real time.
It may be so 20th century, but email is still highly effective – perhaps the most effective written form of communication. An email establishes a permanent record that can be forwarded to a manager or even law enforcement. What’s more, most corporations assign a tracking number to their outbound customer emails, meaning there’s virtually no chance it will be ignored. Note that many companies require you to fill out a Web-based form. That’s fine, just keep a copy for yourself. A reputable company will send you an immediate response with a copy of your original message, for your own records. But you can’t be certain of it.
2. Written letter
Don’t laugh. Many customers still prefer the postal service. And there are instances where it works better than email. For example, when you have supporting documents, like a receipt or a notarized document like a birth certificate, putting it on paper helps. Many companies don’t accept attachments to email. Also, I’ve seen overnight letters work wonders. A brief, polite paper letter FedExed to a company official can accomplish more than a phone call or email, sometimes. Bottom line: Snail-mail can work for you.
3. Instant message
One of the emerging methods of communicating with a company – particularly a larger company – is via IM. A recent survey by the E-tailing Group found that 20 percent of shoppers prefer live chat because they can often get a question answered faster than by email or even by phone. IM may be a good way to get a simple problem resolved, but there are two issues that make me hesitate to give it my full endorsement. First, it’s not always easy to keep a transcript of your conversation. Once the “conversation” ends, the window disappears, and you have no way of proving anything was said or written. Second, many customer service reps on IM rely on scripts to send you an answer, and sometimes hardly bother to read your question. IM is still developing. Use it with caution.
4. Social media
If you can find your company on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter, you may have a secret way of getting fast customer service. Why? Because even in 2012, companies are pouring more resources into social media, monitoring their online reputations, and worried that your grievance could make them lose face. I think it’s just a matter of time before the rest of the world catches on to the fact that it will get special treatment by taking its grievances to social media, and then the jig will be up. But until then, this is a viable and often faster way of reaching your company. (Just remember to keep a copy of everything you send for your own records, including screenshots of your postings.)
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side.