6/17/2011 2:37 PM ET|
How to complain and win
When you have a problem with a company's product or service, there are right and wrong ways to try to get it solved.
I pride myself on being an effective complainer. But AT&T almost brought me to my knees.
The details are too convoluted (and boring) to dwell upon at length, but the short version is this: My home office phone number got swiped by another carrier. For three long weeks, AT&T promised, and repeatedly failed, to get my number back.
I spent hours with AT&T's call-center representatives in the Philippines, all of whom cheerfully assured me they could solve my problem. None actually did.
Social media came to my rescue. I finally blogged about the matter and sent a link to an AT&T media representative who deals with bloggers. At the same time, my blog post went out on Twitter. Shortly thereafter, I heard back from both the media rep and one of AT&T's Twitter specialists.
It took a few more days, but I got my number back.
Getting a problem fixed shouldn't be so hard, but that's life in this modern world. Corporations pour millions of dollars into advertising campaigns to lure new customers, then fumble the follow-throughs. Customer service doesn't directly create revenue, so too many companies tighten the purse strings and cheap out on the call centers that have to deal with people when the product or service malfunctions.
Some companies are even learning how to use social media to thwart, rather than help, complainers. Tweet or post about a problem, as I did, and their social media representatives will publicly apologize, promise to help -- only to do nothing. The idea is to shut up the complainer rather than solve the problem.
So how do you get a problem solved? You need to complain effectively and tenaciously follow through even when companies drop the ball. Here's how to do it:
- Pick your battles. In many cases, you'll have to invest considerable time and effort to wring what you want out of a dysfunctional customer-service system. It may not be worth the stress. If you're on the fence, review your own role in the mess. Did you expect five-star service from a two-star hotel? Or order something from an online retailer without checking its reputation and return policies? Sometimes it makes more sense to chalk up a bad experience as a lesson learned and move on.
- Know your rights. If the product or service involves a contract, warranty or guaranty, scour the fine print that came with it. You aren't required to limit yourself to the remedies prescribed in these documents, but you should at least know what the company promised. You also should find out who regulates the company, and whether you have additional consumer rights under federal or state law. If you're dealing with a collection agency, for example, you should check out the Federal Trade Commission's summary of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act as well as your state's laws regarding collections. If you used a credit card for the transaction, you may have additional protections, such as extended warranties, and at the very least you'll have a third party that may be able to help you resolve a dispute.
- Get a human. Serious customer-service problems can't be solved by computers, yet companies increasingly try to foist you off onto their automated systems because it saves them money. Many of these systems are poorly designed, and some are downright hostile. I recently ran into one of the latter -- a billing service for physicians called Consultants for Pathology and Laboratory Medical Services that hangs up on you if you dial "0" trying to connect to a human being. I had to call back several times and try different options until I hit on one that connected me to a person. Websites such as GetHuman can help you do an end run around bigger companies' customer-thwarting phone systems.
- Be concise, clear and calm. The company may have ticked you off seven ways from Sunday, but enumerating each and every one of its faults will make you sound like a crank. So will overt displays of anger, including cursing, yelling and calling the rep names. Find your inner happy place, stay calm and get to the point. State precisely what the problem is and how you'd like it fixed. If you're writing an email or letter, use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation; if you can't manage that, ask a friend who's a good writer to do it for you. A communication filled with misspellings and typos is a lot easier to dismiss than one that looks as if it came from an educated person who appears reasonable and sufficiently intelligent to cause real trouble if not placated.
- Enlist the rep. Call-center workers get yelled at -- a lot. Stand out by being nice, and you may well get better treatment. Sometimes just asking, "What would you do if you were in my situation?" is enough to trigger the reps' helper instincts, since you've appealed to them as the experts rather than treating them as part of the problem. But don't hesitate to move on if it becomes clear the rep is a powerless or incompetent drone -- just do so nicely. "I can tell you're doing everything you can to help me, but we're not making much progress. Is there another department that might be able to solve this?" I've found that asking for "another department" works better than asking for a supervisor, since many call-center workers get punished for turning too many calls over to their bosses.
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The customers who can clearly tell me what the problem is and work with me to find a solution not only gets a resolution far more quickly, but also usually are happier with the resolution because I'm not guessing at what would work for them. In addition, they provide helpful information I can pass on to my manager for improvements.
Yes, I have set guidelines on what I can and can't do, but if you tell me honestly what you would like, I can usually find a way to make it happen for you.
Great article Liz!!
I have been using two Roku streaming devices wirelessly for well over a year with no issues. Six weeks ago, both stopped functioning, but all other wirless devices were still functioning as expected. Over a period of 5 weeks I talked with several Roku tech support reps who tried to resolve the issue, and on one occasion was passed to a supervisor. Everyone of the Roku support folks, claimed it must be an issue with my router or my IP service. Three of the Roku techs suggested that I contact the maker of my router and ask them to add a "static" DNS. Upon calling the router maker (on three occasions, and three different support techs), and explaining that the Roku techs said to have two "static" DNS added to my router (Roku gave me two DNS numbers), the router support folks would just laugh and say there was no such thing. I even asked it they could add a the two DNS that Roku suggested, and they said that was something they could not do, it wasn't systematically possible. I also contacted my IP, and asked them if they could do that, and again was told me this is not something that could be done. After 5 weeks of run around from Roku, I went and bought an Apple TV streaming device, and within 10 minutes of hooking it up to my TV, I was streaming Netflix. Bottom line, if you are considering purchasing a Roku streaming device to watch Netflix on, please take my experience into consideration.
"Once you're clear about what you want to happen, don't rest until you get the result you want or at least a reasonable proxy"
The problem I have with advice like this is that with many people what they want is not realistic. All too often I've encountered people who believe a minor inconvenience justifies huge discounts or 100% refunds. I'm all for making good on a bad experience but don't expect the world.
The best advice I can give is don't walk in guns blazing and razing hell. You're going to put the company in a defensive stance and chances are not get what you want. Act civil and most people are willing to work with you.
Ms. Weston says "get important stuff in writing". I say, you CANNOT make customer reps send you anything in writing! I have many times tried to get them to do so, and they REFUSE to co-operate with my requirements as a customer!!! So, tell me, just how do you MAKE a customer rep send you what you want in writing?
My other pet peeve is when a customer rep will not give you his last name or at the very least a ID# (which of course any of them could make up and just lie to you about and how would you ever find out?). I have had many customer reps refuse to give me even their full name (it's not like I even know where they are calling from) or an ID#, but they of course insist on having every piece of personal information they can possibly get out of me (even bank reps have done this to me). I have recently refused to do business with this kind of customer rep that won't allow me to identify them because they do not want to get into trouble if they bungle the problem. Not that they would get into trouble anyway, there is NO responsibility that comes with jobs anymore!
The 1980's provided the best customer service of the 20th century, WELCOME to the 21st Century!!! I know I will get pelted with rocks for saying this, but I don't care. The youth who are taking over DO NOT CARE about their companies customers! In their defense, that is the way they are taught! So, who are teaching them, money hungry corporations like AT&T!!! The world demands more and more money from every generation. Like Rome, we will fall!
My favorite customer service story has to do with my mom, who was a travel journalist. She and my dad were in Wisconsin on an extended road trip pulling their old Honda Civic behind their motorhome, when one of the new Firestone tires they had just put on the rear axle of the motorhome shredded and punctured a fuel tank, spilling almost 40 gallons of gasoline on the road.
The repair bill (not to mention replacing the gas) was pretty steep, and Mom sent a request to Firestone asking them to reimburse her for the repair since it was their tire's defect that caused the problem. They refused. When she asked me what to do, I said to send copies of receipts for the repair and the gas along with a written request, and to include her business card. Firestone sent a check via Fed Ex within 24 hours of receiving her request.
It helps that Mom was the senior editor of two major national RV publications, and Firestone knew that if they ticked her off, they would NEVER sell another motorhome tire in the USA again. I just think it's too bad that she had to flex her muscle to get a reasonable response from the manufacturer when it was their defective product that caused the collateral damage to her motorhome.
AT&T is the worst!!!
I may have told you this story before, but AT&T once sent me a bill out of the blue because someone had called a so-called "convenience" toll-free 800# that AT&T said I had signed up for (I had not).
I called to tell them they had made a mistake (waited in queue for 15+ minutes), but the person who finally answered kept insisting that I owed them this money, and "didn't I want this service anyway because then people could call me toll-free"? (Um, no.) At this point, I was beginning to "see the light" that this was a SCAM, and that if I paid the bill (which was less than $5), it would be nearly impossible to stop future bills, so I insisted that they cancel the service & the bill.
After 15+ minutes of refusing to cancel it, and also refusing to transfer me to someone with the authority to handle the problem, he finally transferred me to a supervisor (I waited at least another 5-10 min. on hold). The supervisor again tried to "sell" me the 800# service, then said she could cancel the service, but I would still owe the $ since someone had used the # to make a call and the charge was already incurred. I again refused & threatened to turn them in to the FCC.
At that point, she transferred me (again, a 10 min wait) to someone in some offshore call center who cancelled the service & the bill in about 32 seconds. I insisted on a cancellation confirmation # and a written confirmation via regular mail, which I did receive about 10 days later.
Talk about a SCAM!! How many millions did they make off of people who probably paid the $4 to avoid the hassle, then found themselves getting another "surprise" bill 6 months later???
** Editing to add that I have not been an AT&T customer since Clinton was in office. I can't stand that company, and there is no way I would ever voluntarily sign up for an 800# service (or any other service) with them. **
Talk to the foot...If you don't like the service go somewhere else. And stop your complaining.
Everyone should have to work retail and fast food for a week. If it wasn't so sad it would be funny how cheap and petty some people are. I once had a customer, when I was working for a cell company, who blamed me because she put her phone back in her purse and forgot to press "END".??? And dozens of others who complain about the price of the phone and/or service everytime I see them.
Do these knuckleheads honestly think the kid standing behind the counter at these retail stores sets the prices?
I don't complain...If I have an issue with a service or product I will call and give them the opportunity to correct the problem, if they are unable or unwilling to solve the issue I'll move on and find someone who can get it right.
I'm not wasting my time b$%#hing and moaning about a few hundred dollars, I have on several occasions told them to cancel the service and I'll pay the cancel pnlty, problem solved.
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