5 secrets for getting superior customer service

By | June 3rd, 2011

It’s been almost a year since I started sharing customer service secrets with you on this blog. But it’s always been their secrets – not mine.

Oh yeah, I have a few of my own.

So today, instead of offering insights from experts or business owners, I’m going to share Mr. Fixit’s very own strategies for getting the best customer service.

(And for those of you who are new to this, my other hat is that of a reader advocate. I basically spend most of my day trying to resolve disputes between companies and customers.)

1. Speak up now
A good number of service problems only become problematic because they aren’t addressed right away, at the point of sale or consumption. The standard line is, “I’ll write a letter later.” But that conventional wisdom is wrong. By waiting, you give a company the opportunity to hide behind a “customer service” department that is tasked with telling you “no.” Employees are often empowered to make things right sooner in the process. Take advantage of it.

2. Mind your manners
Most disgruntled customers take the low road, cursing and threatening a business when something goes wrong. They forget that behind every service desk, there’s a real person who often has the power to make things right – a person with feelings. That’s why the counter-intuitive, polite approach almost always works best. If you can’t be cordial, take a time-out or ask a friend to represent your interests. And no, the friend should not be an attorney. Just someone who understands your disappointment and can speak for you in a rational, non-confrontational way.

Related story:   Caught on tape: customers who left their brains at home

3. Be specific
If you don’t tell a company how to fix a problem, how can it ever do the right thing? Unfortunately, a lot of customers leave it up to the company to make a decision about how to compensate them (and it’s almost always the wrong one). Let them know how to fix the problem.

4. Don’t ask for the moon
Too often, requests to “make things right” go terribly wrong because customers request too much. That’s worse than not asking for anything. I’ve seen some pretty outrageous demands — way, way over the top. Customers who asked for full refunds even after they’d used a product, or upgrades that were worth many multiples of the product they originally purchased. I call these customers “gimme pigs” and unfortunately, their requests often go unanswered.

5. Make your appeal to the right person in writing
When things don’t go a customer’s way, I’ve seen direct, written appeals to the president of the company. These can be effective, but there’s a far more efficient way of getting your grievance addressed. Put your complaint in writing – preferably by email – and take it up the chain of command. Start with submitting it through the website, and if that doesn’t work, take it to the next level, the VP of customer service, followed by his or her manager, and then the president. Remember, the top executive is the last resort – not the first one.

So there, I’ve spilled the beans. Say something now, keep it polite, be specific, realistic and follow the chain, and you’ll get excellent customer service every time.

Related story:   When to hang up on an overseas call center

And what if you don’t? Well, as I’ve mentioned, there are exceptions to every rule. I’ll get to those next week.



We want your feedback.Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.