I hate dealing with bureaucratic corporations. Their customer service is a joke. Even dealing with small companies can be a challenge. But I’m slowly learning how to coax good customer service out of the companies I call. Here’s a list of my favorite tips.

According to consultant Dr. Gary S. Goodman:

Customers need to take some responsibility for the quality of the service they receive. And if they want better service, they should try becoming better customers!

This philosophy lies at the heart of my advice. I try to help the customer service reps (CSRs) help me. Not all of these tips are applicable to every call. The tip on calling early, for example, isn’t applicable for large corporations that have 24-hour phone lines; the tip about staying on the line isn’t good for dealing with mom-and-pop operations.

  • Gather information. Be prepared. Take a few minutes to collect all of the data you might need before you call. It’s frustrating for the CSR to have to wait for you to search for basic information.
  • Call early. People — including CSRs — are at their best early in the day. You’ll get better help from somebody just coming on-shift than from somebody who is tired and anxious to leave.
  • Take notes. Get a pen and a pad of paper ready before you call. Write down as much information as possible: the name of the CSR, the time you spoke to him, important phone numbers, price estimates, etc.
  • Ask questions. Ask for specifics. Ask for clarification. Ask for options. The CSR would rather have you understand than to assume he meant something else.
  • Answer questions. If the CSR asks a question, provide a helpful succinct answer. Don’t be defensive. Don’t try to anticipate what he needs. Worst, don’t ramble on without answering the question.
  • Stick to the facts. Don’t make assumptions. It’s okay to offer a guess, but be sure to note that it’s a guess and explain why you’re making it.
  • Be precise. Generalizations are not helpful. Give as much detailed information as you can. If you’re calling for computer support, be ready with error messages that you’ve transcribed. If you’re calling to order a Thneed, be ready with the size and color you want.
  • Don’t give backstory. The CSR doesn’t care. And it can just make things worse. Here’s a true story: I was once sideswiped by a semi-truck on the freeway. My car was destroyed. When I called to report the accident, I was still dazed, and told the patient CSR everything that was going through my mind during the accident. All this did was confuse her. The alarming result was that my insurance company believed I had admitted fault!
  • Establish a rapport. If possible, establish a connection with the CSR. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to find common ground with other people. Even a few moments of shared goodwill can induce the CSR to make life easier for you.
  • Stay on the line. Many CSRs, especially for large companies, are prohibited from ending the call unless you approve it. They may make noises like they’re wrapping up the call, but you have to be the one to conclude it. If you’re not satisfied, say so, and don’t hang up.
  • Get a name (and, if appropriate, ticket number). I’ve found that a ticket number is most helpful with large companies, and that a name is most helpful with small companies. In either case, having this reference can be useful later.

And, of course, the number one piece of advice is to BE FRIENDLY. Dealing with customer service can be frustrating sometimes, no question, but hostility only hurts the situation — it never helps. It’s fine to be persistent, but don’t get angry or belligerent. It doesn’t solve anything.

Demanding people do not get better service. They get worse service. They pay more. Dr. Goodman reports:

Shipping insiders joke that there are three levels of service that customers are given, largely based on how nice they are to company representatives. There is ‘Standard’ and there is ‘Priority’ and then there is an unpublicized, but occasionally invoked, lowest level of service called, ‘D.F.L.’ … ‘D’ stands for ‘Dead,’ and the ‘L’ stands for ‘Last.’

At my low-tech business, we have a similar system. Difficult customers have their file folders flagged in bright, bold letters: AHC. For years, they’ll pay more than will a customer who is friendly and polite. And a good customer who has a history of being easy to work with can ask for — and receive — all sorts of special favors.

Remember: the best way to get better customer service is to be a better customer.

This article is about DIY, Odds and Ends