The smarter consumer: 7 qualities of a winning customer

I spend a lot of time harping on customers who screw up. Sometimes I can’t help myself. Not only are the cases interesting, but they’re also instructive.

For example, one reader who will remain nameless recently visited an airline website with a “best fare” guarantee. She assumed she wouldn’t have to shop around, because if she found a cheaper fare elsewhere, she could just invoke the guarantee.

She made her purchase, but later found a better fare. The airline denied her claim.

If you’re wondering why, just check out the fine print on your average “best price” guarantee. They are maddeningly complicated, and ultimately worthless. All you have to do is read them to know why.
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Ridiculous or not? A “false choice” at the car rental counter

As a frequent car rental customer, Parker Mann has endured countless sales pitches for optional insurance. But recently, the hard sell efforts have crossed a line, he says.

“The latest gimmick is to give the customer a false choice with the question, ‘Do you want the full insurance or the basic?’ — the implication being that the insurance was required,” he says. “I’ve heard this line essentially word for word from three agents at two rental companies in the past year.”

Just in case you were wondering, insurance is an option on practically every car. Asking which policy a customer wants implies it’s mandatory.
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The smarter consumer: How to fix a customer service problem now

The best way to fight bad service is right now, in real time.

Don’t wait until you get home. Businesses expect you to put it off, so by the time you’ve written a letter or figured out what to say by phone, you can bet the company has prepared an appropriate response. Or, in some instances, an inappropriate response.

Say something. Now.

Not always easy, I know. You have to take a deep breath and speak up and be prepared to stand your ground. But it’s by and large the fastest way to fix something.
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Email of the week: “We’re currently investigating to ensure other customers do not have the same experience”

This slot is normally reserved for complaints, since that’s pretty much all I get on this site. But every now and then, a company will actually read a grievance and respond.

That’s what happened with FedEx last week.

On Tuesday, I wrote about the worst unsubscribe screen ever. It was actually a series of three screens that forced me to surrender all kinds of personal information before I could finally get off the FedEx mailing list.
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“This mistake may in fact cost you millions”

I was surprised by some of the comments about Dell after one reader’s complaint that the company forced her to pay extra to talk with an American call center. Maybe I shouldn’t have been.

Now along comes the story of one customer who spent so much time on “hold” with said call center that he’s ready to give up on Dell once and for all. And this time, it could cost the PC manufacturer more than the loss of a single customer. This one claims to command a budget of millions of dollars in IT spending.
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4 unbelievably stupid things no customer should do

When the service is so awful that you feel like taking a swing at an employee, or falling to the ground and wailing, give yourself a little time-out and watch these videos.

These are real clips of customers behaving really badly.

They aren’t just examples of what not to do when you’re a customer. To some extent, they also help you adjust and manage your own expectations, ensuring that you won’t overreact when things don’t go your way.
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Silence isn’t golden: 6 things a disgruntled customer won’t tell you

Ah, the things unhappy customers keep to themselves. If only they were as transparent as they claim the companies they’re fighting aren’t, life would be so much simpler for this consumer advocate.

I field complaints from angry customers every day. And while many of these grievances are completely legitimate, some aren’t. And the ones that don’t pass muster are usually maddening not for what they say, but what they don’t say.

Here are the six worst omissions:
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AT&T replaces faulty BlackBerry Curve after appeal to exec

Usually, you can fix a customer-service problem by going through normal channels — either phoning the company or sending a brief, polite email through the website. But not always.

Rosanne Skopp is an exception to that rule. She bought a new Blackberry Curve earlier this year. Two weeks after the device arrived, she made an overseas trip — and that’s when her handset started to “behave very badly,” she says.
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6 things a customer service representative won’t tell you

It’s not your fault. When you call a company’s “800” number with a problem, no one tells what to say – or what not to say.

There aren’t any customer-service etiquette classes you can take in school. Maybe there ought to be. Certainly, call center workers are trained to be courteous and professional, but they don’t always succeed.

I encounter customers on an almost daily basis who have been harassed, humiliated and hung up on by a company representative. Maybe it’s happened to you, too, and you’ve wondered: “What did I do to deserve this?”
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Want better service? 6 things you should never say

Several years ago, I wandered into an art gallery at a Colorado ski resort. I was drawn to the work of a young painter who specialized in wildlife art, and asked the gallery owner how I could contact the artist.

“Why do you want to do that?” the owner demanded, her voice turning icy.

“To see if she has any other paintings,” I stammered.

Here’s the thing you need to know about art galleries: They get paid a commission for each work they sell, so having customers contact artists directly is generally something to be avoided. But this particular gallery owner did not care to enlighten me.

“Get out!” she said, pointing to the door.
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Is the customer always right? 5 times when the answer is “no”

The customer isn’t always right. Not literally, at least.

Otherwise we’d be able to walk out of any store with a product of our choosing, without paying.

When an employee stops you, just say: “I’m not paying. I’m the customer, and I’m always right.”

We know that what corporate America means when it says, “The customer is always right,” is a little more nuanced. It means a company will never knowingly disappoint you, and as much as possible, it wants you to have your way.

Too bad it doesn’t always end up that way.
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Is the customer always right? 5 times when the answer is “yes”

Even though my mother warned me against using words like “always” and “never” – and maybe yours did too – one adage has been immune to Mom’s scrutiny: The customer is always right.


Well, there was a time not so long ago when many businesses believed it. Or at least claimed to believe it. The slogan is associated with the defunct Chicago-based department store Marshall Field’s, but many mid-20th Century corporations embraced it, on the surface.

It’s also been used – and abused – by customers and businesses the world over. Businesses invoke it to demonstrate their commitment to customer service, even when they don’t mean it; customers leverage it to get their way, even when they don’t deserve it.
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5 proven ways to get better customer service from a company

Everyone knows good service when they see it: The restaurant with a line out the front door, the retail store with customers that come back again and again (even if the prices are higher) or the hotel with a year-long waiting list.

But how do you extract good service from the other businesses? You know, the ones with indifferent employees, shortsighted managers and generally unhappy customers.

Check out the latest scores from the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, and it’s obvious that there are a lot of “other” companies out there. As a consumer advocate, I’ve found that your experience doesn’t have to reflect the ACSI’s generally dismal scores, as long as you know about these secret weapons.
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Get me a manager! 5 secrets for finding the right person to complain to

Got a problem?

You probably want to talk with someone in charge right away — someone who can clear up your grievance quickly.

What do you get instead? You call the 800-number and you’re connected with a call center in Bangalore or Manila or someone’s living room. And all they can seem to do is repeat your complaint and tell you how sorry they are.

You send an email through the company’s site, and what do you get back? A form response that says your feedback is very important, and we’ll have an answer for you soon.

You probably want to scream.
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