How to Deal with Customer Service & Get Results

Even if you haven’t listened to the Comcast customer service video that went viral during the summer of 2014, you’ve almost certainly experienced poor customer service (and the hair-pulling frustration it causes) at some point in your life. In fact, although “86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience, only 1% of [these] customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations.” In other words, poor customer service is rampant, despite its immense importance for companies in maintaining a solid profit base.

The good news is that here at HighYa, we’ve got your back. In the past, we’ve published a wide variety of articles addressing numerous aspects of consumerism, including how to immunize yourself against hard-selling tactics, why you should avoid autoship programs and affiliate websites, what to do if you’ve been scammed by a company, how to decide whether or not you should file a class action lawsuit, and much more. In other words, we’d like to think that we’ve covered all your bases.

However, one topic we haven’t delved into yet is how to effectively deal with a company’s customer service department, especially when you’re not getting the results you want. Admittedly, this is a topic we talk about it in almost every article and product review we write, although we figured that it’s high time to devote an entire article to it. Because of this, we’ll discuss some of the best methods of starting a complaint, getting the results you want, and what to do if all else fails.

But first: what in the world is “bad” customer service?

Examples of Poor Customer Service

Bad customer service is defined as, “When a customer is not satisfied with his services, …[and does] not feel like he has been treated fairly, listened to or that his concerns have been addressed by employees of a company,” which often involves “poor communication skills, impatience, rudeness and unprofessional behaviors.”

But bad customer service isn’t just responsible for hair loss and elevated heart rates; it also has a very real impact on the economy. In fact, bad customer service costs each American consumer $800 per year in lost wages, dealing with problems that should otherwise be open and shut. And some of the worst offending industries were banking, home repair services, and insurance.

Statistics aside, if you’re about to embark on a customer service voyage, whether due to billing errors, product issues, or anything else, what are some actionable steps you can take in order to reduce the chance of a bad experience? Keep reading to find out.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

When it comes to dealing with customer service, don’t wait to contact the company and advise them of your complaint. Why? Because it’s often the case that the sooner you act the better your outcome will be. As the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova once said, “Success depends in a very large measure upon individual initiative and exertion.”

In other words, whether you contact the company via phone, email, live chat, or in person (more about this in a moment), you might be pleasantly surprised by their willingness to rectify the problem, due in no small part to your attempt to address it early on.

But what can you do if they’re not willing, despite your immediate notification? Then, it’s time to start getting your ducks in a row, which is what we’ll explore next.

Formulate Your Intent

In our Disputing Credit Card Charges article, we talked about the importance of keeping all paperwork related to your complaint (e.g. receipts, invoices, notices, hard copies of emails, etc.) in a single file that can be accessed quickly in the event you need to back up your claim, which can often mean the difference between success and failure. But what we haven’t talked about before is effectively formulating your intent. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, how can you control where you end up? As such, in order to accomplish this, you need to know the answer to these 4 questions:

  1. What’s my core complaint?
  2. Is my complaint legitimate? In other words, is my complaint reasonable based on my agreement with the company?
  3. What would an acceptable solution look like? Is it a refund, exchange, store credit, or something else altogether?
  4. Am I willing to compromise? If so, what kind of compromise am I prepared to accept?

To start you off in the right direction, recommends writing out a brief, yet clear, description of your complaint, usually about 3-4 sentences in length, before you contact customer service. This will go a long way toward organizing your thought process and solidifying your plan of action.

After you’ve spent at least 5-10 minutes formulating the intent, the next step is to put it into action. 

Initiating Contact

Once you know what you’re after, it’s time to achieve it by reaching out to the company and opening up contact. Keep in mind that your initial connection with customer service is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle, and can strongly determine what your final outcome will be. In other words, a lot is hinging on this step.

Phone calls are typically the most efficient method of contacting the company, since you can talk with a representative in real time and quickly work toward a solution. When you do though, make sure you have all of your essential paperwork sitting next to you, including core information like account numbers and passwords (if applicable).

Navigating the System

When you make your call, it’s almost certain that you’ll first encounter an automated answering system, which will ask you a series of questions and will then route you to the appropriate department based on your answers. Sometimes, the option to speak with a customer service representative is buried deep within the system’s menu, but you might be able to avoid this by pressing “0” right off the bat. If you’re having difficulty getting through to someone, helpful sites like GetHuman and ContactHelp may be of some assistance, while new companies like LucyPhone can help you avoid long hold times.

But what if, despite all your hard work, you just can’t reach anyone at the company via phone? Or, as is often the case with “As Seen on TV” products, what if their phone number isn’t listed anywhere? In instances like these, your next best option is email.

Here, you should keep your initial email (or other written correspondence) to 250 words or less, which means that the customer service rep who reads it will be able to identify your primary point within 5 seconds. But what key details should your email contain?

Must-Have Information to Include in Your Customer Service Email

  1. In the first line, clearly (but nicely) state what your complaint is. Don’t beat around the bush like you would if you were writing to a friend. Instead, skip the pleasantries and get right to the point.

  2. In the second line, clearly state what outcome you’re looking for. Be constructive and avoid threats.

  3. In the body of the email or letter, give them a reasonable time frame to solve your problem, as well as any pertinent information you didn’t include in the first section. You’ll also want to attach relevant documents and clearly inform the recipient what’s attached and why they support your case.

  4. Respectfully close the email by thanking them for their time, as well as including your preferred contact method.

Key Points for Phone Conversations with Customer Service Reps

Have you ever heard the saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?” Well, in the case of achieving your goals, it’s critical that you keep this in mind. Think about it this way: If you were a customer service rep, who very likely gets yelled at multiple times per day, wouldn’t a calm, pleasant conversation be refreshing, and don’t you think you’d be more receptive to the person’s needs on the other end of the line? Sure you would.

Also, wouldn’t you be more willing to help the customer if they could succinctly tell you what’s wrong, and what you can do to help them? By doing this, you’ll be making their job easier, giving them positive interaction, and hopefully getting what you’re after in the process. And the best part is that you can reuse your “intent” from above, so you don’t even have to do any extra work to get it.

Being Respectful Doesn’t Mean Being Complacent

However, just because you’re be nice and polite, this doesn’t mean that you have to be a pushover either. All you need to do is respect the representative on the other end of the line by not using foul language, raising your voice, or constantly talking over them (after all, this is about creating a dialogue). In fact, you can even go one step further by specifically mentioning that you’re not angry at them—only the situation—and that you appreciate what they’re trying to do to help. Lastly, be cordial by referencing them as sir or ma’am, but consistently be firm.

If you’ve followed the steps above but still aren’t reaching a solution with the representative, ask to speak to someone in a higher level position. Once you’re on the phone with a manager, it’s often the case that the previous rep didn’t pass along the story, so you may be required to repeat it. Fortunately, you can—once again—refer back to your “intent” in order to quickly and effectively convey what you need, saving yourself increased frustration. Before you go though, be sure to get the representative’s name and extension (and employee number if possible) as well as a ticket number.

If All Else Fails

But what if you’ve following the above steps to a “T”, but the company won’t budge and you haven’t moved an inch? Then it’s time to move into DEFCON 5 Offensive mode.

First, if you paid by credit card, contact your card holder and advise them of the situation, and formally file a dispute. The company will likely require you to submit documentation supporting your case, which is once again where advance preparation will help make your job easier. Remember the folder you put together when you formulated your intent? You can now pull whatever information you need and immediately send it over to the credit card company.

On the other hand, if you paid by check, contact you bank and put a stop payment on it. While most banks will charge a fee for this service ranging between $20 and $25, if you can present a strong case, you might stand a good chance of getting them waived.

Let Your Voice Be Heard

After you’ve put a stop to your payment, the next step is to let others know about your experience.

If you feel that the company’s actions are illegal, then you’ll certainly want to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and/or the Consumer Protection Agency (also, see their Consumer Action Handbook), as well as your state’s Attorney General. While on this same website, you can look up information about state and local consumer agencies as well, and can even find a sample letter to use as a reference when writing about your complaint.

Outside of governmental organizations, be sure to reach out to consumer advocacy groups, such as the Better Business Bureau, in addition to review websites like HighYa. Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter have been shown to be effective methods of motivating a company to do the right thing as well. If the situation is especially heinous, your local newspaper or TV/radio station might be interested in picking up your story and broadcasting it to their audience.

The bottom line is that the more places you can have your voice heard, the more likely you are to help someone else avoid the same problem. And because “the squeaky wheel always gets the grease,” it might also result in a speedy resolution offer from the company.

As a last resort, if you’ve dutifully followed the steps above but still haven’t been able to resolve your issue and you’ve experienced monetary loss, you may want to investigate the feasibility of filing a class action lawsuit. While the referenced article will provide you with many of the details you’ll need to make an informed decision, suffice it to say that this may not be a smooth path, and it can take a long time for a decision to be made.

Derek Lakin

With more than a decade of experience as a copywriter, Derek takes a detail-oriented, step-by-step approach to help you shop smarter. Whether it’s nutritional supplements or new scams, he believes an informed consumer is a happy customer.