You may not always get what you want from customer service, but if you use the right tactics, you'll almost always get what you need.
Ever since the first telephone conversation back in 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell admonished his assistant, Thomas Watson “to come here, Mr. Watson, I want you,” U.S. businesses have had to deal with customer complaints.
Companies pay consultants millions to learn how to say “no” to customers in myriad ways. What can you, the customer, do to turn that “no” into “yes”?
The short answer is simple, as you saw in the video above: Know what you want, call as early in the day as possible; be nice and be persistent.
1. Know what you want
You need a plan – and a goal – going into any customer complaint call. Is it getting your credit card interest rate reduced? Is it getting an overdraft charge at a bank reversed? Or is it getting some compensation from your cable company for the two-day outage that knocked your phone, Internet and televisions service out of commission? Having defined, committed goals going into a complaint call helps you keep your eyes on the prize.
Tip: Write down your goal and place it front of you as you make the call. Every time the conversation is diverted, re-read your goal.
2. Call early
You can get ahead on a customer complaint call by reaching out early in the day. Studies show that when customer service agents are fresh and alert, they are more accommodating to consumer demands.
Tip: Call first thing in the morning. Aim to be the first caller of the day.
3. Be nice
Stay calm, be nice and have the patience of a saint. Any display of rage works against you. It also distracts from Tip #1, which is to be clear about your goals going into the call.
Tip: Don’t think “fire” – think “ice.” After all, revenge is a dish best served cold. This is especially critical on any face-to-face customer service complaint.
4. Be persistent
Customer service professionals are good people – it’s just that they’re trained to be bad customer service reps. They’ll use any trick in the book to delay, obfuscate or otherwise use any means at their disposal to keep you from getting what’s rightfully yours.
If you’re not getting anywhere with the service rep, ask them to put you on the line with a manager – they’re usually the decision-makers, anyway, and can often play the “good cop” versus the customer service agent’s “bad cop.”
Tip: When you get a customer service agent on the line, ask right away if he or she has the authority to handle your complaint: Can he reverse a charge or knock down an interest rate? If not, move up to a “higher power” who can actually help you out.
5. Take good notes
Here’s a good tip: Use GoogleDocs to take notes during the call or meeting. GoogleDocs has a date stamp, which is handy in future calls, and it allows you organize the conversation in notepad form.
Tip: Know that, in the end, the winner of any customer service complaint is the one who keeps better records. Make no mistake; companies are counting on you not keeping good records.
6. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Remember that complaining to customer service is usually a marathon, and not a sprint.
Your first step is always to go back and attempt to resolve the problem with the company. If you give the company a chance to address your complaint, it very often will — especially if you approach customer service reps with politeness and courtesy.
But if you can’t get satisfaction over the phone, or via e-mail, it’s time to put your complaint in writing. Draft a short, detailed letter outlining your dispute and send it to the company via certified mail. Before you send it, make a few copies, so you can save one for your records and send another copy to your credit card company, if needed, as proof of your efforts to resolve the dispute. If you bought the item with a credit card, you may have more rights and advantages than you realize.
The key is successful complaining to act quickly and responsibly, addressing the company in a courteous fashion.
You may not get what you want on the first phone call, but if you follow the tips listed above, chances are the matter can be resolved to your satisfaction.
Brian O’Connell, a former Wall Street bond trader, is an author and writer with two Book of the Month Club titles and bylines in national media platforms such as The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, CBS MarketWatch, The Street.com, Yahoo Finance and CNBC.com, among others.