How to Get Great Customer Service

How much money do you spend every day on products, services, and contracts only for something to break, fail, or just stop working? How often do you contact the company and complain about the faulty product or service? Some research has indicated that only 4% of consumers actually complain when something goes wrong with something they have purchased. The other 96% take their business elsewhere, where something else may break or the service leaves them dissatisfied once again. Instead of continuously shopping elsewhere or canceling your contracts, consumers do have the option to complain and get what they want, which could be a product that actually works, a consistent service, or a free repair (instead of buying something entirely new).

Here are a few ways you can get great customer service by simply speaking up, rather than just taking your business elsewhere.

Call Customer Service

Whether your computer is behaving badly or your Internet is on the fritz, cursing at the technology or pushing (or slamming) buttons likely won’t make things magically work. If your cable Internet or television has suddenly stopped working or you are getting error or warning signs when you try to launch a program on your computer, you could try calling a friend — or consider calling the 1-800 customer service number. Even if you did cause the problem yourself, there is a call center filled with customer service representatives who — get this — are paid paid to help you fix the problem. If it’s deemed that the problem requires a replacement, they can help you get a new part or an expert on site to do the dirty work for you. Sometimes, the problem may even be bigger than one you can solve, such as a downed line miles up the street that, if it weren’t for your call, the cable company wouldn’t know about. Calling customer service can also help resolve problems related to online purchases when you made an error (such as that $200 online order from a thrifty retailer you made at 2 am while slightly intoxicated). Call centers can help you navigate through loopholes in return policies and even wiggle your way through negotiating a lower price when renewing a contract — especially those related to cable and mobile services.

Use Social Media Tools Like Twitter and Facebook

Many Fortune 500 companies — and even local businesses — are using Twitter and Facebook to keep in touch with their consumers and share information about new products and other important news. These social media platforms are also being leveraged by these companies as a customer service tool. The airline industry, for instance, has taken up this trend by storm. Some companies, like Alaska Airlines, tweet with their customers nearly 24-7, replying to concerns about everything from lost luggage, to upgrade requests, to the selection of in-flight food and beverages. The social media representatives for these airlines respond quickly and appropriately, escalating agents and providing useful links and phone numbers to help direct customers with problem solving — all in nearly real-time. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, finding the Twitter or Facebook account of the company you are experiencing problems with and sending it an @mention (on Twitter) or posting on the wall on its fan page (on Facebook) can often quickly yield a response with a solution, or at least contact with a real person who can help you resolve your issues with their product or service. Once you get comfortable using social media, you can also develop relationships with these businesses to ask for benefits, such as a last minute upgrade to first class or a discount on tickets to an event.

Use Social Platforms Like Blogs and Yelp

If you’re socially savvy enough to use other social platforms like blogging or even Yelp, writing about a problem you have experienced with a company — or its product — can be one of the fastest ways to yield a response from someone at that company who can resolve your problem. In 2010, shortly after I started my career in social media marketing, I wrote a post late one Sunday night on my personal blog (which was read by rarely anyone except my family) about issues I was experiencing finding jeans at a local store in the mall. Though I had less than 20 Twitter followers at the time, I knew the store recently joined Twitter, and sent it an @mention with a link to my critical blog post. Around 8 pm (Pacific time) I received an email from its marketing team in New York asking if we could set up a conference call the next day. I was shocked; not only was the marketing team of this major brand reading my irrelevant blog post at 11 pm on the East Coast, but it took swift action to address the problem. By the end of the week, I had been on conference calls with C-level execs of the brand and was Fed-Exed a gift card for two pairs of its jeans overnight.

I recently witnessed the same level of impact that blogging can have when I discussed alternatives to Comcast and Walter Neary, Public Relations Director, immediately reached out. Although LockerGnome is slightly more prominent than most personal blogs, Neary says that he sees “our digital team reach out to bloggers who may only have two readers. When the call goes out, we do try to hear and to act.” While the 1-800 call centers may just place you in a queue, companies like Comcast are going out of their way to make sure the problems voiced by bloggers and other social media types are addressed and resolved quickly.

Return the Item

How to Get Great Customer ServiceSometimes customer call centers and social media platforms just won’t solve the problem when it’s something broken, too small, the wrong color, or just a bad gift. Many stores have their return policies printed on the back of their receipts, as well as online. However, some stores will often give you store credit even if you don’t have the tag still attached or the receipt. Target can look up your purchases within the last 90 days, but if it the item was purchased several months prior, it will give you store credit up to $70 (as long as it does, in fact, carry the item). Higher-end stores such as Nordstrom will even replace an item it has previously carried if it ever tears or otherwise falls apart. If you aren’t satisfied with a purchase, consider bringing it back to the store and talking to a manager at the customer service center, since they have more power to approve a return or refund. Even things like cell phones and smaller electronics can be sold back to stores like Best Buy if you just no longer have a need for it — but be sure to speak with a manager if you think you’re being low-balled on the policy or price (especially if you were quoted a higher price on the Internet).

Write a Letter

This may sound like the craziest idea out of all five mentioned, but writing a letter (on paper) and mailing it (with a stamp) can often be the best way to get the attention of an executive at a company. Putting things on paper that can be mailed with a certified receipt is critical to ensure that it was received by the recipient. For issues requiring customer service with financial institutions, utilizing this method can ensure you leave a paper trail and that your concerns reach members of senior level management (or at least their assistants). Writing certified letters about overdraft fees to the manager of your local branch is a great start to creating a documented file if you ever feel you need to take (or take part of) legal action against the financial institution.

Above all, remember to be honest, patient, and nice when dealing with customer service representatives — you’ll be amazed at how far just your charisma will help in getting great customer service in return! What are your trips and tricks for getting great customer service? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Image of Nordstrom via Forbes

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  • http://twitter.com/writerlisamason Lisa Mason

    Great timing to read this because I was just talking with a family member about this earlier today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anne.thomas1 Anne Thomas

    Thanks Kelly :) Great tips!

  • Anonymous

    Good tips.

  • http://xeeme.com/SallyKWitt/ Sally K Witt

    Just got a defective item on ebay.  Sent an email.  I hope that I don’t have to ship it back to get my refund.  I offered to take a photo for them.  We’ll see.  Return shipping is a significant expense when buying online.

  • http://mandeewidrick.com Mandee Widrick

    I almost always tweet about it when I can’t get a customer service issue solved in-store. I can say that Best Buy has one of the best Twitter service teams I’ve encountered yet. They’ve been great with helping me whenever I have an issue – WAY better than in store. 

  • http://twitter.com/MBarRanch Mike

    Absolutely Awesome Customer Service from Holdup Suspender Company! I emailed them concerning a problem with a recent purchase; and they sent me a replacement pair,
    along with a prepaid envelope to return the broken pair (my fault).

  • http://twitter.com/wesmorgan1 wesmorgan1

    Don’t be afraid to use multiple approaches!  If I have a poor experience with customer service over the phone, or with a website, I tweet about it!  Many (if not most) businesses are either active on Twitter or monitor/search it; I’ve resolved three significant issues in just the last 3 weeks, with 3 different firms.

    Now, don’t just start blasting away on Twitter; give the regular channels a chance to work.  If, however, they don’t do the job, tweet away!

  • http://www.mightycasey.com MightyCasey

    Customer service can occasionally actually deliver customer service. The challenge – and it’s totally a crap shoot – is this: will I get someone who knows the system/hardware/whatever, or not? If it’s A, and they’re in a giving mood, you’re golden. If it’s the much-more-likely B, you’ll burn daylight without a lot of result. 

    My experience with Comcast, in the days before Frank and @comcastcares:disqus, led me to post this almost exactly five years ago: http://mightycasey.com/my-isp-is-a-bad-boyfriend/

    Customer service can often wind up the virtual version of a bad boyfriend. Or that b*tch from hell you dated in college. 

    Use your network to find resources if the help desk doesn’t help …

  • Anonymous

    I worked front line in the hospitality industry for years! Customers who took the time to voice their concerns were important to us. We were always looking for ways to improve. Feedback for a well run business is a matter of course.

    And, I’d also say – praise, praise, praise! when the service is good. Not only to the employee who is giving you the great service, but take the time to contact their manager, boss or owner. And do that directly, not on the net (of course you can do that too) but in a note or letter or email.

  • http://twitter.com/autismfamily Bonnie Sayers

    I’ve had tweets with Directv over issues and they were resolved.  I also praise the LA zoo often and they contacted me saying they knew I was active with them in social media.  Same with magazines as many of them post on their pages tweets from subscribers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/russ.bastable Russ Bastable

    My observation is that customer service has become a self injurious segment of business. They will run over everyone that is polite and only react if you are obnoxious. I start out polite, but I have no qualms about tearing into them if they start their BS protocol list with me.

    It’s like they have keywords that open the magic doors to satisfaction.

    I had the phone company try to tell me that I had to call them in a few days to initiate my home phone cancellation!

    “I am calling you now to initiate the cancellation.”

    “We can’t begin the process until (some bs made up thing occurs), you have to call then.”

    “No, I am telling you now that you are never getting any more money from me. Put it on your calendar, or a post-it or something, and take care of it in a few days. I am not your secretary.”

    I actually had to get a manager and repeat this conversation with him!! Of course they know I am busy and will perhaps forget to call and they make more money.

    Not until I said “If you continue this pathetic and transparent con of a conversation with me I am also going to cancel my internet service with you and go immediately to Comcast.”, did they “figure out” a way to assist me.

    They think we are idiots, like they have to get some professional wiring expert to fly in from Alaska and make his way through a series of underground tunnels to disconnect my phone, and they lack the technology to initiate the process with a single request. (I said something very similar to this to the manager!!)

    Anyway, good tips Kelly! I am bookmarking this page and keywording it for future reference! :)

  • http://twitter.com/nlfilmio Filmio.nl

    Companies should do something more themselves too on making it easier for you to request service. For example not charging cost for calling a service number, looking annoyed when you tell them the complaint, etc.

  • Anonymous

    How insightful!  And, I thought I was being unique when telling merchants, “No I don’t want the service contract;  if it doesn’t last, I just won’t buy this brand anymore.” I guess, I’m in the 96%.

  • Tinkknitz

    When the restaurant manager stops by the table and asks,”How was everything?”, do not respond with a mechanical nod and “Mmm hmm” because your mouth is full.  Raise a hand or an index finger so they know you wish to speak with them if, for instance dinner came before the salad.

    I also have refused a hot appetizer served at the same time as my meal and asked for a manager at that time to let them know why.  Speaking up doesn’t have to be negative.  Don’t whine like you want a free meal, but do let them know right away if an error has been made instead of waiting until the check comes.

    If your waitstaff has been exceptional, be sure to tell them about that too!