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10 tips to getting better customer service

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Take a look at Bankrate.com's form letters for ideas on how to structure your call. You probably should follow up any call you make with a letter anyway; this gets your grievance officially on record. In fact, some companies demand you file a written complaint before they'll take action. If you've ever read the fine print on a credit card bill, you've probably seen this notice: "Calling about billing errors will not preserve rights."

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5. Offer a solution
The easiest way to resolve a customer service problem is to offer the company a solution. Companies like this because you're doing the brainwork and customers generally ask for less than what the company would offer without the input, Rosenberg says.

An Internet broadband installer stood up Ursiny twice. Since he'd been doubly inconvenienced, Ursiny gave the company a precise day and time for the next appointment and, following his broken-record tip, stuck to it. Initially, the customer service rep told him he couldn't make an appointment. Then the rep said it couldn't be made that quickly. Worn down by Ursiny's persistence and precise solution, the customer rep finally agreed to send an installer exactly when Ursiny demanded.

6. Get appropriate compensation
When you propose a solution, be sure to take into account the difficulty you've faced in trying to get your problem resolved. What can the company do to appropriately compensate you for the time and aggravation you've suffered?

Don't be timid. Ask for what you want; often you'll be pleasantly surprised. Free shipping, a discount, a gift certificate or a warranty extension are ways a company can "make up" a problem with a customer.

7. Use the shotgun approach
One of Ursiny's favorite methods of cutting through the customer service clutter is to simultaneously contact several people about his complaint. Ideally, you'll complain to a customer service rep, his or her boss, someone at a managerial or executive level and even up to the president's office. Contact them by any means possible: phone, e-mail, fax, a letter. In fact, it's generally better to use several different forms of communication to get your point across.

"It increases the pressure. You're not just complaining to one person but that person's boss and their boss and so on," Ursiny says. At some point, it's less painful to deal with your complaint than to push it aside. So you'll get results, he says, rather than the run-around.

The gunshot approach also betters your odds. Something's going to hit the target. Even if one or several people drop the ball (that presumption of a screw-up, again), there will be other people working on it.

8. Escalate
A cousin to the gunshot approach, this step is necessary when your initial attempts at resolution stall. If the customer service agent can't help, ask in a non-threatening manner to speak to a supervisor.

"There is a proper way of asking for a supervisor," Gross says. "If you don't do it properly, you'll end up shooting yourself in the foot." His suggested script: "I know you're busy and that my problem's pretty complicated. Why don't you switch me over to your supervisor, so you can help other customers?"

If a supervisor can't help you, ask for that person's boss and keep going up the corporate ladder as needed. Escalate your complaint to the highest level executive that you can find, Gross advises. Check the company's Web site and annual report for contact information. Gross notes that there are many "corporate firewalls," but if you're persistent, you'll succeed. Higher-ups are more likely to put pressure on their underlings to resolve the matter.

9. Be prepared for the long haul
Poor service can happen in the blink of an eye, but getting it fixed can take hours -- or longer. Reconcile yourself to this possibility and you'll be better able to deal with potential frustrations during the process.

Don't give up. That's what some companies want. They figure you won't have the stamina or the time to hash things out. Prove them wrong and you'll stand a better chance of getting the resolution you want and deserve.

10. Cut your losses
Unfortunately, sometimes the best way to handle a customer service disaster is to walk away from it.

In deciding whether to cut your losses, weigh the time you've already spend trying to resolve the problem versus its importance. Is it really worthwhile to spend two hours on the phone to get a copy of the daily newspaper that didn't get delivered? Simply get it resolved as best you can, quit wasting your time and move on. Of course, where possible, you'll want to switch vendors rather than continue to do business with the company that doesn't care about you.

"Sometimes life is too short," Rosenberg says. "Learn your lesson and don't go back."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Sept. 18, 2007
 
 
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