3 Ways to Get Better Customer Service From Your Wireless Provider

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Last week, J.D. Power and Associates issued their famous vehicle dependability study, and 3-year-old vehicles saw a 13 percent increase in dependability – the lowest problem rate on record. It’s been big news everywhere. But the next day, the research firm issued a largely ignored study that interested me a lot more…

The study measured customer satisfaction with “wireless purchase experiences.” Or in plain English: how customers rate their cell phone carriers when they have to buy stuff from them. Ironically, customers reported their biggest complaints when they had to conduct business over the phone – long wait times, difficulty talking to the customer service rep, and long transactions topped the list.

So while automakers are on their way up, wireless providers are on their way down. Can’t say I’m surprised. As someone who calls customer service a lot, I’ve had my share of difficult experiences. But I’ve found it goes a lot easier (and faster) if you use a few tricks…

1. Reduce wait times

In 2012, customers reported waiting on hold for an average of 4.6 minutes – a one-minute increase over 2011, according to the study. Personally, I’ve got my wait times down to two minutes or less now that I know when to call:

Call during “off-peak” times. Like any retail center, your wireless provider’s telesales department has busier times, known as peak times. These typically last from mid-morning to early evening. So I call during the evening, about an hour before the telesales center closes. Most of the time, I get right through.

Steer clear of new releases. When Verizon Wireless first released the iPhone, my friends were waiting for more than 30 minutes on hold before talking to a rep. You’re better off waiting for the popularity to fade – or buying a new release online.

2. Learn to speak the rep’s language

I’ve had trouble talking to the customer service reps lately – and I’m not alone. Customers listed “communication breakdowns” as a main reason they’re frustrated with telesales. While I still get aggravated with some reps, things will go a lot smoother if you:

Know what you want. My transactions go much quicker if I’m calling to buy a specific handset. If I want to change my plan or hear about new releases, the call gets tricky. To make things easier, I write down everything I know I want beforehand. For example, when I called to change my plan, I knew I wanted unlimited texting, a decent amount of data, and 900 minutes or less each month. I was prepared – and the rep got me exactly what I wanted.

Be firm. It’s the rep’s job to sell you products and services, and you’re not getting off the call without hearing about at least one new feature. Keep in mind that he has to give you the sales pitch, but you don’t have to play along. If you don’t want the added features, just listen to what the rep has to say and respond with a firm, “I am not interested in adding anything else at this time.” It’s the simplest way to get past the sales pitch.

3. Shorten transaction times

This year, customers reported an average of 16.4 minutes to complete a call – two minutes longer than August 2011, according to the study. I once spent 45 minutes on the phone with T-Mobile and talked to four different customer service reps, so I understand the frustration of long calls. I also know I was at least partially to blame for the wait. It would have gone much faster if I’d been clearer:

Work the automated prompter. I get frustrated with the automated prompter and start pressing zero or shouting, “Customer service!” to get through. That’s the wrong way to work the system. My call goes to a random department, and I have to explain what I want to the rep, wait to get transferred to another rep, and then explain what I want all over again. By then, I’m 10 minutes into my transaction. And I’m aggravated. Those automated prompters aren’t perfect, but you have a better chance of getting to the right person if you use good keywords. For example, phrases like “buy a new handset,” “change my plan,” and “sales department” give you the best shot of getting straight through.

Escalate problem calls. If you aren’t getting results, ask to speak to a supervisor. Sometimes, the rep just isn’t getting it. Rather than waste your time trying to explain what you want for the eighth time, just escalate the call. Odds are, their supervisor will be able to help you (and get you off the phone) quickly.

Bottom line: Over-the-phone sales aren’t a bad way to buy new products and services from your wireless provider. But you can wind up in an endless cycle of pain and wasted time if you confuse the rep – or just get someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Make a want list beforehand, stay firm, and don’t hesitate to ask for someone else if you’re not getting anywhere.

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