Tips for Surviving Customer Service

Reviews | Tips

1. Document all calls
Make note of the time you call, are put on hold, and finally get through. Write down everyone’s names, and ask how to spell them, to show you are paying attention. Make notes on all that is agreed. If you have to backtrack with supervisors, saying, I called at 10:24 on Wednesday the 10th and spoke to Angela, stronger than, I called sometime last week.

2. Remember your call is a business transaction, not a personal relationship
Even though they are complete strangers, some customer service agents can make us more as angry than our closest friends and family. Remind yourself, and the agent, that you don’t know each other. Their insults and disrespect are not really about you. And your criticism or anger is about the company not that agent.

3. Encourage the agent to work with you (not against you) to solve your problem
This one is pretty Zen. And in some cases it may be impossible. But calls often start out with customers and agents on the defensive, because of unpleasant past experiences on both sides. Recognize that potential and don’t get blindsided by a particularly unhelpful agent. There are probably circumstances way beyond your control, or the agent’s, for that agent’s attitude. So work to get the agent on the same team as you, and maybe the company will follow. In the long run it is in the company’s best interest to resolve your issues to your satisfaction as quickly as possible.

4. Recognize your value as a customer, and use it, but don’t abuse it
Figure out how much you spend with the company each year — $100 a month is $1,200 a year. Don’t let the agent or supervisor disregard that worth. State your case unemotionally, and grounded in the facts. You spend money with this company. You are not getting paid to call them with this problem. In fact, you paid to be their customer. But the agent is getting paid to listen to and resolve your problem. Just remember, the agent might have to deal with one-hundred or more customers in a day. So try not to throw your weight around in a way that alienates the people charged with helping you.

5. Not all companies care as much about customer service as we might want
Some really backward companies still view customer service as merely an inescapable nuisance. Realize that most of the world is moving on from that retro view. You might not get better service, but you probably will be more likely to support companies with a cutting-edge customer service approach. Eventually laggards will be forced to catch up or fade away.

6. If all else fails, appeal to a higher power
Not a divine power necessarily, but when talking with agents and supervisors turns futile, take your story to the top executives — many in large corporations have people in their offices who deal with customer issues. Also, the internet has become an outlet for customer complaints. You can Twitter about the company or visit other consumer complaint sites that some companies monitor, such as Get Satisfaction or Consumerist. The internet can be the way out of a customer service dead end.

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Reviews | Tips

Newsweek — Page Turner

Emily Yellin’s customer-friendly romp through this unfriendly world rings so true

The Wall Street Journal

Ms. Yellin is an illuminating guide whose conclusions are sound

Library Journal — Starred Review and on list of Best Business Books of 2009

This fascinating history of humanity and technology meeting head-on will be of interest to a wide variety of readers and is highly recommended.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Entertaining because Yellin is smart and funny throughout

Fortune Small Business/CNN Money

Our picks for the best new business books

Publishers Weekly

Yellin dives into the often dysfunctional world of customer service, exploring the multibillion-dollar industry from various points of view ...

From Half.com

If you would like an outstanding history of the maddening world of telephone customer service, please press 1. If you want stories of abysmal, appalling, and antagonistic encounters between irate customers and supercilious operators, please press 2. If you want to go inside these call centers, and meet the mild-mannered housewives and college kids who answer calls in marginal locations from Utah to Timbuktu, please press 3. If you want some idea of the ridiculous lengths some companies will go to place automated buffers between themselves and their customers, please press 4. If you want all of the above, please read this book by Emily Yellin, and all of your questions will be answered in the order in which they were received.