Secrets for getting the very best customer service

Life/Shutterstock
Life/Shutterstock
It’s the proverbial man-bites-dog story for consumer reporters: an over-the-top customer service experience in which an employee goes the extra mile.

It’s even more rare — on the order of man-bites-man — to find a proven way to extract the very best service from employees.

I won’t mince words. Men are not biting men.

But a series of recent stories and one reader’s experience give me hope that it’s possible. In other words, you could get superior service every time you go to the store or log on to your computer to go shopping.
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Decoding service-speak: 5 employee insults you need to know

Aaaron Amat/Shutterstock
Aaaron Amat/Shutterstock
Spend enough time around customer service agents and you understand that what they say and what they mean are often two very different things. That’s never more apparent than when they are talking directly to you.

Fortunately for these employees, they’ve developed a secret lexicon of words and phrases that can only be interpreted in one way by the general public, but that to them mean something quite specific and often insulting.

For example, let’s say you’ve just boarded a flight and you’re sending a message from your phone as the cabin doors close. Flight attendants are roaming the aisle to ensure all seatbelts are fastened and electronic devices are turned off.

Just as you hit “send” and start powering down your smartphone, you feel a hard tap on your shoulder and see a grimacing crewmember looming over you.
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5 warning signs you’re about to receive bad customer service

Steve Cucrov/Shutterstock
Steve Cucrov/Shutterstock
It’s been decades and my father still hasn’t forgotten: Threatened with arrest, his wife in tears, their anniversary ruined. And to top it all off, he was still hungry.

Every time I hear the story, I ask him how it came to that. My father replies, “I never saw it coming.”

For their anniversary, my parents had gone to a well-known eatery north of Boston. Always a popular place, this night it was particularly crowded.

They waited a long time to be seated. They waited a long time for menus, and for a server. They waited a particularly long time for the meals.
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Good customer service from the TSA? It’s no joke

Tifon Images/Shutterstock
Tifon Images/Shutterstock

Like most Americans, Jim Davies believes the Transportation Security Administration might benefit from a top-to-bottom reform.

And like most Americans, he wasn’t surprised when a Government Accountability Office study revealed widespread employee misconduct, including screeners involved in theft and drug smuggling activities, as well as circumventing mandatory screening procedures for passengers and baggage.

All of which made his recent experience in Philadelphia so noteworthy. As he waited in line to have his ID checked, he saw three elderly men approach the checkpoint.

“One of the gentlemen had clearly not been on a commercial flight in some time,” he says. “He presented his Medicare card and then his library card as his ID.”
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When airlines go above and beyond

Vladimir Shurpenkov/Shutterstock
Vladimir Shurpenkov/Shutterstock
Airlines and bad service. The two kinda go together, right?

They do if the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is to be believed. In its 2013 report card, the research company punished the airline industry with an overall score of 69 out of 100. That would be a high “D” if you were in grade school.

But this isn’t another story about airlines treating us like self-loading toxic cargo, which is apparently what some crewmembers now call us.
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5 phone tips for escalating your problem to someone who cares

Konstantin/Shutterstock
Konstantin/Shutterstock
The first rule of solving a customer-service problem may be to get everything in writing, but there are exceptions to every rule.

For some issues — a quick product question or a change in reservation — a phone call might still work fastest.

Or not. Phone agents can waste your time with scripts and long hold times. That’s when you need to know how to escalate your call to someone who can help you.

Here are a few tips to help you get that decision-maker on the phone:
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