Of course, no matter how pleasant you are, you sometimes need to speak with a supervisor. You might have to ask three or four times and then you might have to wait. Make sure you get the supervisor's name and phone extension, even if you have to wait for the supervisor to answer your voice-mail message.
If that doesn't work, Kaplan says to "never underestimate the power of sending a letter to a top corporate person." He sends a letter to the chief executive officer.
"It's so rare at that point to not be able to solve the situation," Kaplan says. "Sometimes, unbeknownst to you, companies have an executive customer service office, and suddenly you get a call from someone who knows what they're doing."
That's sort of what my mom did, with the help of the Internet. Instead of writing a letter, she called on the phone and reached a department that few outsiders are able to reach.
Finding the right extensionMidland Mortgage doesn't have a Web site and it doesn't give out much information about itself -- the coupon book lists a post office box for an address and gives only a toll-free customer service number. But by typing "Midland Mortgage" into an Internet search engine, Mom found quite a bit of information.
Her search led her to a Web page about a charity ball that listed the name and business extension number of a Midland Mortgage executive. She looked up the company's main number on the Internet, called the extension, asked the secretary to be transferred to the president and got his phone extension.
Now that she had breached the customer-service department, things got done. Mom didn't talk to the company president, but she talked to a couple of assistants who told her that her case had been flagged as a "president's file" and that it would be resolved. A month later, Mom got a new coupon book that reflected her lower tax bill. And eventually, her property tax refund.
Keep on documentingMom made another mistake when she was dealing with Midland Mortgage: She assumed that the company was logging its calls. When she talked to the fourth customer service representative, she assumed that the company's computer system would have a notation about her previous call.
Kaplan says, "It helps to ask the person, 'Can you make a note of this in your computer file?' Most people assume that's being done, but assume that it's not. There are so many times I would hear, 'I don't have any note of that,' and I think, 'This is the computer age. That's impossible.'" So he asks twice -- once at the beginning and once at the end of the conversation.
Even when you follow all the advice, sometimes you just want to jump past the customer-service department and talk directly to the person who can solve the problem.
"I don't understand why they can't refer you to the department that is at issue," Mom says. "In this case, it was their tax department. They have one. I would have felt that they were trying to solve this problem if they had let me talk to someone in that department."
Sullivan says it doesn't work that way at Midland Mortgage, nor should it. Customer service reps are trained to work with customers, he points out. Other employees are not trained to deal with customers, a policy many companies have.
"The way our structure works at our company, each area, such as the tax department or the escrow department, those people are hired to be processors," Sullivan says. "They're not trained, nor were they hired, to handle customer issues. In order to keep a control on what actually is occurring on the customer level, we keep that in the customer-service department."