Thursday, October 11, 2012

5 Ways to Negotiate with Customer Service

Yesterday, I wrote about my headache with Clear.  As was expected, the comments I received -- both on the blog and on Facebook -- disclosed that my headache is a common one.  It's hard to argue with company policies, employees that aren't authorized to actually help you if your problem is slightly complex, and (sometimes) not being able to reach a human being (have you tried arguing with those automated services?  I wouldn't recommend it).

As I stated in the last post, I feel I am particularly attune to navigating the murky waters of customer service because...
  1. I worked at a customer service hotline, and I know what made me want to help or not help a person.
  2. I currently work for a business, and I know what (most credible) businesses are aiming for.  (Some businesses are not credible or simply do not have integrity.  For those businesses, there is basically no hope until you cancel your credit card and get yourself a new one.  Seriously, I HAVE done that before.)
5 Ways to Negotiate with Customer Service

 Photo by wistechcolleges on flickr
1) Be Calm/Polite
Nothing turns a person off more than having someone scream on the phone at them the second they pick up.  As a customer service rep, I was less motivated to help people who screamed at me -- and most of the time, I didn't even understand their situation because they were just yelling.  Sure, I still helped them, but not every CS rep will.  If, on the other hand, someone politely explained their situation, I was definitely more apt to help them immediately -- as well as do them the courtesy of calling back every day or so to let them know the status.

If I'm super upset about something and I call customer service, I usually start the phone call like this, "Hi, [insert customer service rep's name] - just to warn you, I am very upset.  But I know it's not your fault, so I'm going to do my best to explain my situation, and I hope you can help me."  After that, I thank them for basically everything they do to help me.  This tactic goes very, very far.  Trust me.  (And it's SO simple!) 

Another thing to keep in mind:  whatever you're upset about, the bottom line is it's not the customer service rep's fault who you will initially be talking to.  The person you need to talk to is their manager -- the person who can actually override things and help you -- so the nicer you are to the people you talk to, the more likely it is that you will reach the person you need.

2) Be Resilient
If you have a serious problem and want to see a resolution, be prepared to be in it for the long haul.  That means:
  • Utilize all tools available to you:  phone, live chat, Twitter, e-mail, etc.  That way, you reach a number of different people and your account is on the radar.  The department might be rather small, and the reps might realize that you mean business when they've all had contact with you.  Or, there might be a particular person who is especially nice and helpful, so why not use all avenues of communication to reach them?
  • Call back repeatedly:  chances are one phone call is not enough.  And honestly, I've never known a CS department to call me back (although the department I worked for was very diligent about call-backs -- I still have never experienced this on the other end).  So call them back daily.
  • Give yourself (a lot of) time:  the most productive phone calls are the ones that I have decided to just stay on the phone until I talk to the right person.  This means a lot of transfers, and a lot of time.  Just decide one day that you're going to do it, and don't let them get off the phone with you.  They may tell you their manager is on the phone with someone else and they will call you back.  Don't believe them.  Decide if you have enough time, and if you do, simply say, "Oh no, I'll just wait on the phone until your manager is available."

3) Be Clear
Know your own situation backwards and forwards, as if in bullet points.  You may have to repeat it a bunch of times to a bunch of people.  If it helps, actually make a list for yourself that you pull out every time you call.  And in order to be extra clear, refer to tip #1 -- if you're calm and polite, people are more likely to actually hear you.

Don't ramble either.  Make your case simply but effectively, and don't let your emotions get in the way of the reality of the situation.  It's important that you remain rational.

4) Be Firm
This is where a lot of people falter, because it takes so much time and energy and you can feel that you're hitting your head on a brick wall.  And sometimes, you may think that "policy is policy" and there really is "nothing they can do."  This isn't true.  There is someone in the office who can override almost anything.  Seriously -- if you have a legitimate issue and if you can explain yourself in a clear and rational way, then you should be able to win this battle.  Simply don't take no for an answer, as long as your request is reasonable.  Believe it or not, there IS someone in the office who CAN help you.  All you need to do is talk to enough people to get to that person.

5) Be Savvy
And what I mean by this is -- hit all the right buttons.  Know what makes businesses tick.

Here are a few insider insights (and again, these are related to businesses that actually have integrity):
  • Businesses want to be seen as trustworthy 
    • This was my main point with Clear.  I kept explaining to the managers that the heart of the issue was I no longer felt I could trust the company, so no matter what offer they sprang my way, I couldn't accept it because I did not trust them.  I think this made sense to the managers because whenever I said something like this, I was transferred to the next person up the chain of command.
  • Businesses have a value proposition
    • A value proposition is the essential "IT" of every company.  It's the mission statement that embodies everything they say, do, and sell.  If possible, find out what their value proposition is (and this may be tricky to find on the website, so you might have to think outside the box and come up with one that makes sense).  Or find the mission statement -- or just something on their website -- that explains their aim.  If there's a way in which your situation shows them they are not living up to their statements, then point that out (in a clear, polite way of course).
  • Businesses are afraid of bloggers
    • Ha - this was my last resort, but of course, I ended up using it (since I not only have this blog but work for a business owner/blogger with a large Twitter following).  Businesses are freaked out when you mention you're going to blog about your experience (you could also just say tweet or Facebook it).  Here's the beautiful reality of social media: the customers (that means me and you) now hold the power.  That's why Netflix went back on its terrible Qwikster idea.  It's why Bank of America decided not to charge for debit cards after all.  The social backlash online was enough to change the minds of major companies about decisions they already made.  It's unprecedented, but it's the world in which we now live.  But let's be clear here -- don't make it sound like a terrible threat, but just mention that yes, you will be telling your fans and followers on [insert name of social platform here] about your experience, and the manager can choose how that report is going to go.
Also, overall, it doesn't hurt to know a thing or two about business.  I've learned a lot about business from the following blogs (my FAVES - totally worth checking each week):
  •  Do you have any other tips for navigating customer service situations?
  • Any success stories?

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