Today’s 31 Days To Your Financial Future task might be a tricky one, because I’m going to ask you to do something that most of us dread.
Today, I want you to call up the customer service department of a company that sold you a poor product or gave you bad service. You paid good money for those products, earned through hours of your time (remember what we talked about on Day 1?). It’s time to get compensated for their failure to hold up their end of the bargain.
We’ve all had bad experiences with companies. You buy a tablet or computer online and it arrives damaged or inoperable. A brand new shirt loses buttons after a week of wear. A scheduled delivery fails to appear within a reasonable window of time, or you end up being charged for something you were told was free.
If a company has failed to deliver a quality product or satisfactory service, you have the right to be compensated. That compensation might not be monetary — it could be a replacement or repair, or even a voucher for something else from the company — but the form of compensation isn’t really so important.
What’s important is that you take a vested interest in what your hard-earned money buys and that you receive the quality you paid for.
In this article, I’ll give you some tips for dealing with customer service and getting the compensation you deserve.
The First Step Is Deciding You Deserve To Be Compensated
How often have you received a bad product and just groaned and dealt with it? When we buy a product that turns out to be total crap, most of us just grumble a bit, but we put up with it. When a mysterious charge shows up on the cable bill, many of us just complain about the company “raising the rates” without actually investigating what we’re being charged for and whether or not that charge is justified.
Sometimes we don’t feel like a complaint is big enough to deal with the hassle of communicating with customer support (this hassle is often intentional — moreo n that in a bit). Sometimes we shy away from taking our complaint to the company because we “don’t want to be a bother.” But Henry Ford said something I want you to think about:
It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.
I don’t share that quotation with you to make you feel like you should go threaten customer service representatives with “I’m the only reason you have a job!” puffery — that likely won’t get you anywhere.
I share that quotation to remind you that customers still have power, even in a world with multimillion-dollar multinational corporations.
Before You Call, Prepare
Before you call the customer support line or fire off that first email, get everything in order. Set aside plenty of time, get comfortable, make sure you’re calm. If you’re angry, flustered, stressed, or impatient, you’ll have a much harder time getting anything out of customer service. A calm, patient, insistent customer is one that gets results.
Know what your complaint is, and know what sort of compensation to make it right. Again, you don’t always have to seek a refund. Sometimes you just need a replacement or a repair.
Have a notebook and pen handy so you can write down details about your communication with the company.
Make A Record
Whenever you talk to a customer service representative, the very first thing you should do is get their name and record the time and date when you talked to them. Throughout the interaction, continue making notes. If they say a charge will be removed from your bill, for example, ask for the specific date it will be removed by, and write it down.
Some people even go so far as to record the phone conversation (after all, they’re recording you “for training and quality control purposes”). I don’t think you necessarily need to do that, but if you have the technical equipment and know-how, it won’t hurt anything.
Don’t Let Them Get You Off The Line
The customer service experience at many corporations is designed to make you want to give up.
Online support forms and help centers are often plagued with labyrinthine navigation, missing pages, and errors that any amateur web developer could fix.
Email support sometimes directs you to unhelpful automated responses pulled from a database; if the email goes to a real person, it sometimes takes days or weeks to receive a response, if a response is sent at all.
Phone support often has intentionally bad hold music, poor audio quality, or mysterious redirects and disconnects. When support services are outsourced (as they increasingly are), you’re presented with language barriers that only exacerbate the already complex issue of explaining your complaint and seeking resolution for it.
One company I dealt with recently actually had a completely soundless on-hold status, which seems to have been designed to make the customer think their call had been disconnected so they’d hang up and go away.
Be prepared for these issues, and don’t let them frustrate you. When a company puts me on hold, I grab a book and read while I’m waiting.
Navigating The Conversation
The best way to get through a customer service call is to remain calm, pleasant, and fun — but insistent and determined. Know what you’re asking for, and be prepared to be presented with lots of reasons why the company can’t give it to you. Many of these reasons are presented to make you give up; don’t give up. Instead, simply step around the issue.
Customer service will often try to offer explanations for why the service or product failed to meet expectations, without actually offering compensation for it. They’ll tell you the problem was with the supplier, or that the service you were given was an anomaly that doesn’t reflect the values of the company. That’s all well and good, and you can certainly be understanding of those problems…but they’re the company’s problems, not yours. It doesn’t change the fact that you paid money for something that did not meet your expectations.
If the customer service rep tells you that “our system won’t allow me” to help you, ask to speak to a supervisor who can override the system. If the rep says they need a manager to approve a refund, ask to speak to that manager. If the manager or supervisor is unavailable, ask when they will be available and make an appointment to contact them.
If the rep tells you the product you’re trying to have replaced is no longer in stock or production, ask for a refund, or ask to be sent a similar alternative.
If One Contact Methods Fails To Deliver Results, Try Another
Earlier this year, Comcast charged us for an in-home service call that I was promised would be free of charge. I made three phone calls over two weeks, and after each one, was told the charge would be dropped within 48 hours. Of course, it wasn’t. Finally fed up with phone support, I took the time to go into the local location and speak to the customer service rep there. By the end of the day, the charge was removed.
If you can’t get a resolution through one method of contact, try another. I’ve actually had surprising success reaching out to customer service on Twitter. A while back, my wife and I bought a new washing machine from Lowe’s. We scheduled a Sunday morning delivery, but the washer never arrived. By Sunday evening, I began calling Lowe’s to try to figure out where the washer I’d purchased was, but wasn’t having any luck reaching anyone. Finally, I tweeted the issue to Lowe’s Twitter account.
Within an hour, I received an email from Lowe’s support apologizing for the issue. The washer was delivered first thing the next morning, and that afternoon, the store manager called to offer me a $75 credit for the inconvenience. That isn’t the first time I’ve received top-notch customer support after reaching out on social media.
Social Media Support Is Awesome, Because Social Media Support Is Public
I suspect one of the reasons that seeking customer support on social media is so successful is because it’s public and visible by anyone.
If I make a phone call or email a support representative about an issue, that complaint remains isolated to me and the company. No one else knows about it.
But if I tweet about my poor experiences with a company or talk about it on my blog, all of my followers see those complaints, and anyone searching for that company on Twitter will see those complaints too. That’s bad PR with a lot of potential reach, so it’s in the company’s best interest to resolve it as quickly and as publicly as possible, so they can foster the reputation of taking care of their customers.
Some Companies Get It Right
Some companies make customer service a breeze. They’re approachable, helpful, and quick. My wife and I have had nothing but great service from our local Lowe’s store, and that great service has won them my continued patronage.
Buffer is another company I’ve had great experiences with. Buffer provides scheduling services for social media sites (so I can write Tweets or Facebook posts in advance and schedule them to post when I want).
A few months ago, Buffer was hacked, which allowed spammers to hijack Buffer’s user’s accounts. The Buffer team quickly resolved the issue, and the CEO emailed every user a sincere apology and explained the steps the company was taking to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.
They didn’t try to deny that a hack had happened, or to shift the blame away, or otherwise weasel out it. They simply did everything in their power to fix the situation as quickly as possible. That kind of customer service is hard to find.
Don’t Abuse Customer Service People
Look, it’s tempting to get mad at customer service representatives, especially when you’re forced to jump through frustrating hoops to get a resolution to your complaint. But it’s very important to remember that these are often low-paid workers doing a crappy job that involves talking to hundreds of unhappy people every day. Generally, they’re following a script in an uncomfortable cubicle farm — it’s not a great job. Whenever you’re dealing with customer service representatives, remember — they’re human, too.
Instead of getting mad, have fun. Crack jokes. Make them laugh or smile. You can be insistent without being nasty. They’ll feel more inclined to help you out, and you can make their day a little brighter.
If you’re escalated to a manager or senior representative, mention to them how helpful the preceding representative was, and call them by name.
And let’s be honest, sometimes you get what you pay for. If you buy a $5 phone case from a no-name company, don’t expect it to hold up like a $50 Otterbox. Don’t waste time with frivolous complaints, and instead of trying to chase down compensation for cheap, crappy products, focus on buying high-quality merchandise that lasts.
Tomorrow: Attack Your Debt
Tomorrow’s a special day. Up until this point, we’ve largely talked about developing a financial mindset and perspective. Tomorrow, though, we’re going to the trenches — we’re going to war with your debt.
When was the last time you sought resolution from customer service?
We’ve all got some great horror stories about dealing with customer service. What’s yours? Any shining examples of great service? Tell us in the comments!
Photo by Martin Sordillo.