Internet and mobile phone users may be accustomed to instant communication in daily life, but it can be back to the Stone Age when you call a company’s customer service operation.
Understaffed call centers, customer service numbers with complicated phone-tree menus and representatives without decision-making powers are the top obstacles to customer satisfaction, Consumer Reports’ recent survey of consumers’ experiences found. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they’ve hung up in frustration before resolving the complaint they’d called about.
As Scott Broetzmann, president of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, tells CR, “Many companies today are simply awful at resolving customer problems, despite investments in whiz-bang technologies and considerable advertising about their customer focus.”
But there’s no need to drive up your blood pressure. There are ways around the customer-service mess, including apps that help you bypass the customer-service runaround. Here are nine tips for staying sane while getting the help you need — quickly:
1. Use phone tree finesse
Here’s how to reach live help faster when calling customer service:
- Press “0.” Hitting the “0” button repeatedly on your phone will get someone on the line at many companies. (Inside Edition, however, says the technique has lost effectiveness as companies are dodging this customer work-around.)
- Ask for “operator.” When dealing with a voice-activated system that wants you to state the reason for your call (but fails to understand your answer) say “operator” repeatedly when prompted to explain the reason you are calling.
- Select a different department. “Forget support entirely and press the prompt for ‘sales’ or ‘to place an order,’ where companies are likely to roll out the red carpet,” say customer service experts polled by Consumer Reports. At the minimum, someone in another department may be able to direct you to the correct extension.
- Time your call. Make your call during slow times, not lunch time. Avoid Mondays and Fridays, a company’s busiest days.
- Vent. Go ahead and yell at the recording. It just might help. Some automated systems are able to recognize the anger in your voice and bump frustrated callers to the head of the queue, Inside Edition says.
2. Reach a real person with GetHuman
Let me tell you a story about GetHuman. I used it for the first time recently when I tried calling a well-known shoe retailer with a question about a return. I dialed the customer service number on my receipt, full of goodwill toward the company. After 10 minutes on hold, the line seemed to go dead. I hung up and tried again. My second call ended 40 minutes later when I hung up because I had no more time to waste. By then I was furious with the company.
I’d read about GetHuman, an online app that shows users the shortest path to a live customer service representative, so I decided to give it a try. At GetHuman.com I typed in the name of the company whose customer service department I wanted to reach. GetHuman replied with the same number I’d been using, but with instructions to say, “Place an order.” I followed GetHuman’s directions. Someone at the shoe company picked up on the second ring and resolved my issue in minutes.
Also, GetHuman offers additional assistance:
Tell us why you’re phoning. We’ll try to help before Chase picks up the phone.
This allows GetHuman to try supplying either an answer to your question from its database or a phone number specifically appropriate to your issue. GetHuman also offers ways to ask a question about a company and read users’ experiences, reviews and tips.
GetHuman mobile apps are available on the Google Play and the iTunes store.
3. Let LucyPhone place your call
Once you finally get through to customer service, there’s still the possibility of being stuck on hold. LucyPhone prevents waiting on the line and listening to elevator music. Instead, the free service instructs you to hang up so you can receive a call back when customer service is on the line.
At LucyPhone’s website or mobile app, find the company you want to contact and let LucyPhone connect you to the customer service line. LucyPhone’s directions:
First we’ll connect you to the company.
If you get put on hold, press * * and we will wait in your spot for you.
When your call reaches an agent, you will get a call back.
4. Get customer service to call you
In another twist, FastCustomer gets a representative to contact you. On the FastCustomer website, search for the company you want to contact. FastCustomer takes care of the rest. The service tells you what your wait time is likely to be.
Some 3,000-plus companies are listed, including Apple, Verizon, Bank of America and AAA. Apps are available for iPhone, Android, Kindle Fire and Chrome.
5. Let GripeO manage your complaint
Type your complaint into GripeO’s website and your gripe is taken straight to the business that’s the focus of your complaint. GripeO contacts the business on your behalf.
“Unlike Yelp, which publishes complaints publicly, GripeO keeps the conversation private between the customer and the company in question,” says this article in Buffalo Rising, adding:
If a company ignores or fails to respond to a complaint, that complaint will be auctioned off to other businesses. The business that purchases the complaint can provide the customer with a solution to their complaint and possibly attract more business with that and other customers. In this way, [Creative Director Jim] Proulx said smaller companies could compete with larger ones by offering superior customer service.
The key to GripeO’s ambitions, though, may be in the other side of its business: complaint management for businesses.
6. Use live chat
Whenever you see a live chat feature offered, give it a try. Many companies are using live chat effectively to provide real-time help, making it a real time saver for customers. Some live support options are staffed by clueless agents who seem unable to understand or respond to requests but it costs you nothing to try it out.
7. Vote with your feet
You’ll find alternatives even to cable monopolies these days (read “You Can Stop Paying for Cable TV Now“) and banks (read “Is It Time to Divorce Your Bank?”), for just two examples. Next time you find yourself trying for the umpteenth time to connect with customer service, fire your annoying provider and find a new one. Just be sure to research the alternatives before you jump:
- Ask friends, family and co-workers for recommendations.
- Read online reviews of companies’ customer service.
- Search for news about a company.
- Read through the website of a company you are considering using, focusing especially on the customer service options and policies.
In fact, Consumer Reports found that dropping a service often inspires its customer service staff to pull out all the stops to get the business back:
When the half-price HBO promo ended for one of our shoppers and the cable company refused to extend it, he dropped the package. “Once I quit, they offered it to me again — in the same phone call,” he said. Another shopper dropped Cablevision completely when his bill skyrocketed. After he quit, the company was willing to deal to regain his business.
8. Take your problem public on social media
Social media is a potentially powerful way to get a company’s attention. It’s simple to use: Post your complaint on a company’s website or Tweet about the problem you’re having. Smart companies today are monitoring social media and have staffers dedicated to responding to negative comments and resolving them.
I’ve saved this option for last, though, because it could get you in hot water. Cautions US News:
[K]keep in mind that some companies have a nondisparagement clause buried in their terms of service. “If you’re going to make a complaint online, be sure that you state supportable facts,” says Anthony Giorgianni, an associate finance editor at Consumer Reports. “You leave yourself open to a lawsuit if you start making factual claims that are not correct.”
If you do use social media, don’t just lash out. Posting a friendly question is safer, more-civil and potentially more effective than launching a nasty screed, anyway.
9. Bring in the big guns
If you have exhausted other avenues (and you are dealing with a Fortune 500 company) try contacting the company’s executive customer service operation.
“Executive customer service is a person or team attached to the executive offices of most major companies that, unlike some call center jockeys reading off binders, have the ability to solve nearly any problem,” Ben Popken tells readers at Next Avenue. Popken is a former managing editor at Consumerist.com.
Caveat: Executive customer support can be hard to locate and success is not guaranteed. Here’s how to find and use it:
- It’s a last resort. To have credibility with the executive suite, you’ll need to have tried the usual support channels that we’ve listed above and struck out.
- Bring your A game. Getting what you want at this level requires respectful approach. No venting, no ranting. Be polite and be ready to deliver a quick, concise description of your problem, including the solution you want.
- Find the number. It may take creativity to find a company’s executive customer service as these teams or staff members are not typically listed on the company website. Start your search by typing the business’ name into Google Finance or Yahoo Finance to find a phone number for the company headquarters and names of its top executives.
- Place the call. Call the headquarters and ask for one of the top execs by name. When you reach the executive or, mostly likely, a secretary or administrative assistant, deliver your brief explanation and request. You may be routed elsewhere or, in the best of all possible worlds, the person on the other end will say, “Let me see what I can do to help.”
- Try emailing. Look for email addresses on the company’s website for a company directory (usually in the “about” area. If you can’t find the addresses you need, use Consumerist’s tips for sussing out contact information for executives. Popken’s Next Avenue article has more tips on resolving complaints via email.
Have you tried any of the tips and techniques described here? We’d love to know what worked for you and to hear your customer service war stories, good and bad. Post a comment below or at our Facebook page.