Solving Customer Service Problems

We’ve been on the receiving end of our fair share of customer service problems recently, so I thought I’d take the time to write up some thoughts on how best to get satisfaction when you’re faced with a company that seemingly doesn’t care…

Before we get started, here are a couple of rules:

(1) When dealing with customer service reps, always keep your cool. Be firm but polite.
(2) Write everything down. Dates, times, names, operator ID numbers, phone extensions, direct phone numbers, etc.

With that said, let’s get rolling… (I’m working from least to most aggressive here.)

First of all, I always give the regular customer service reps (CSRs) a chance to solve any problems that might arise. Unfortunately, it seems that plain old CSRs are nearly powerless when it comes to fixing problems. Still, it’s worth a shot, and you’ve gotta start somewhere. It also gives you ammunition for later, when you need to escalate your complaint to the next level. When dealing with CSRs, always be firm but polite. And always take detailed notes. Write down the date and time of your call, the name of the person that you are speaking with, their operator ID or phone extension, a direct phone number (if available — usually it’s not), as well as exactly what (if anything) they promised to do to resolve your problem.

If the regular CSR can’t solve your problem, ask them to transfer you to their supervisor. Unfortunately, these individuals are often equally powerless (or inept, depending on how you look at it). In fact, I sometimes wonder if they don’t just pass the phone to the CSR in the next cubicle rather than actually passing you up the chain. Here again, it’s important to be firm but polite. Explain exactly what you’ve been through, how many times you’ve spoken with regular CSRs, what they promised, etc. Also explain to them exactly what needs to be done to solve your problem. And always take detailed notes.

If you’ve tried the ‘normal’ channels and haven’t gotten a resolution, it’s time to step up the pressure. Don’t waste any more time with lower level customer service. Instead, call the corporate headquarters of the company with which you are dealing (more on this below) and explain to the operator/receptionist that you’re having problems that the regular customer service people can’t seem to fix. And then ask if they have some sort of higher level customer service. Pretty much every company has a ‘Corporate Customer Service’ or ‘Executive Customer Service’ team (or something along those lines). In general terms, these are the individuals that are empowered to make things right.

When you get in touch with one of these higher level reps, explain to them what you have been through and the lengths to which you have gone in search of a resolution. Also explain that they are the last stop before you go to the Better Business Bureau (if appropriate) and/or the State Attorney General’s office. And if things don’t get better, then be sure to do so — if you don’t hold companies accountable then nobody will. Here again, it’s important to get everything down on paper. That way you can drown them in details and show them that you’re serious. It will also allow you to follow up if the things that they promise don’t pan out. Note that some companies have multiple tiers of higher level customer service, so it’s possible to push things even higher if things still aren’t working out.

Finding the contact information for pretty much any publicly traded company is easy. Just hop on over to Yahoo! Finance and run a quick search on the company in question. Note that you may need to look up the ticker symbol first. Once you get to the company summary, look down the lefthand column and find the link to the company profile. This is where you’ll find their complete contact information, including the phone number to the corporate headquarters.

If your problems are still unsolved at this point, then go straight to the Better Business Bureau and/or the Attorneys General office. As far as the Better Business Bureau goes, you can even get started online. And here’s a link to a complete list of contact information for the Attorneys General offices in every state. You might also want to consider working through a site such as Planet Feedback.

This is where your written notes will really come in handy… Provide them with a complete history of the problem, as well as a detailed description of your desired resolution. To be honest, I’ve only gotten to the point of filing a complaint with the BBB once, and I’ve never had to resort to the Attorney General. Depending on the details of your story, you might even be able to get the local news involved — they’re often on the lookout for a juicy investigative report.

Finally, if you run a website, don’t be afraid to share your experiences. To the extent possible, try to optimize your post for search engines such that other potential customers will run across it and see what you have to think. For an example of this, go ahead google the following: dish network customer service (that’s a live link for the search) and check out the results. See what comes up? Right after the official Dish Network website is a link to an article I wrote about Dish Network and their bad customer service.

The bottom line here is that you don’t have to settle for lame customer service via the ‘normal’ channels. As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So make as much noise as you can and whatever you do, don’t back down. You’re right and you know it, so don’t let the wear you down.

Got any great tips of your own? I’d love to hear them — please leave a comment.

24 Responses to “Solving Customer Service Problems”

  1. Anonymous

    From my own personal experiences, I believe that there are employees who thrive on orchistrating Poor Service. Provoking and humilliating consumers to the point of discontinuing service. And they expect payments on disputed charges, or you’re forced into collections.

  2. Anonymous

    This article is terrible.

    It supports disingenuine service.
    It supports people threatening another persons livelihood (job)over something that is mostly likely as trivial as not being smiled at.

    The only redeeming mention is that of promoting proper etiquette when communicating to a CSR.

    To the guy (Matt) that said “there is nothing worse that bad customer service” -yes, there is its called: stupid customers.

  3. Anonymous

    Whatever you do, don\’t exaggerate when taking notes and by all means don\’t lie to the reps because almost always the calls are recorded and reps will put exactly what you say into your account for the future.
    By all means, be firm but don\’t lose control. That really sets yourself up for failure in getting a resolution, unfortunately though, many people have anger problems and tend to scream and yell. While its fine to vent, this really won\’t get you anywhere quickly because you will then be known as that type of customer and no one will want to deal with you, or they may take care of your needs so quickly and will do anything to get you to stop calling that a new issue may arise as a result in you rushing and screaming.
    As upset as you may be, customers do NOT know the company policies and procedures which is why sometimes it takes a while to get resolution, so don’t assume that your idea is going to solve anything. It wont, leave it up to the people that are being paid to resolve any customer issues, and definitely follow up if you need to but do not call every 5 minutes or else you will create your own anger from being told the same thing over and over.

  4. Anonymous

    Great site for dealing with customer no-service. I’ve been trying to resolve a billing dispute with AT&T for a week. I called the headquarters office and kindly explained my dilemma, asking to speak with Corporate Customer Service. A person in the Executive Office actually answered the phone and committed to have it resolved immediately. She even provided her direct number should I need to follow up.

  5. Anonymous

    Thanks for the post. These are some pretty helpful tips.

    Dealing with customer service agents over the phone can be a real headache. I’ve had numerous negative experiences with CS centers and in each case I was left feeling frustrated without any way to press my claims. However, I’ve recently came across a new and free service that I think provides a great utility in this regards.

    The service is called 321-CALL-LOG and it allows users to automatically record, authenticate, and notarize telephone and email conversations they have with customer service representatives. It is meant to empower consumers by offering a set of feature intended to make companies accountable for their poor customer service. In order to be legally compliant the service announces to the agent every 3 minutes that the call is being recorded. When a call has been completed users are able to retrieve and email their calls to customer services reps through the website. In this way 321-CALL-LOG gives consumers a systematic way to make customer service reps accountable for what they say or promised to consumers.

    I have been using the service and have become a fan. These guys are just getting started but I can see that they are on track to provide a truly great CS service. I just wanted to make you guys aware so that you can let other RipOffReport users know about the site.

    Checkout the site at:

    Currently the service is on invitation only bases but BETA account are very accessible.

  6. Anonymous

    ” I sometimes wonder if they don?t just pass the phone to the CSR in the next cubicle”

    Haa Haa. Actually, sometimes that is what we do. And if the customer is swearing or being unreasonable, we put them on hold and make fun of them.

    But if you call in and are nice, just stick to the problem and what you want to resolve it, we are authorized up to a certain dollar amount to make an adjustment. But if a customer is rude, they won’t get it from me.

    Don’t ask me what I would do in the situation, don’t bring feelings into it. Just say what amount you want adjusted, and if it’s reasonable, I’ll do it and if I’m able to I’ll give extra for your trouble. BUT only if you are calm and collected.

    Just my thoughts on this.

  7. Anonymous

    I came by via a link from the Consumerist. Glad they cited this article, not enough of these guides properly emphasis politeness.

    For a few years I was a third party Customer Service Rep for AT&T Wireless. Again, cannot emphasis the huge impact politeness makes.

    Although it is different in different call centres/industries the supervisors for us were just our supervisors. They were there to make sure we came to work, returned from breaks on time, and to file the appropriate paper work for adminstrative matters. They had exactly the same authority as us in managing customer accounts.

    I once witnessed two supervisors in training taking regular calls simulataneously get a request for a supervisor. The one supervisor on duty in our section was busy so she has the two in training transfer the calls to each other. And they were sitting next to each other.

    During my tenure there I spent some time in email customer care. At the time the policy was delete unread anything sent in via Planet Feedback. In reality we gathered everyone around to read and subsequently mock the message before deleting it. Planet Feedback seemed to always have the most stupid and entertaining customers. Do not know why that was.

    Regardless, even if you have a polite, valid complaint, know that at least one big company deletes Planet Feedback messages unread.

  8. Anonymous

    I signed up for Dish Network almost a year ago and signed the contract for 18 mths of service which was a HUGE mistake! Actually signing up with Dish Network is a HUGE MISTAKE! The customer service sucks!!! I have never had such POOR service in my life!! I originally received 120 channels for 29.95 a month which they continued to mischarge me for (almost $100.00 a mth) I am now on the family channel plan for min. channels and still being billed at least $50 a mth. I have had the wrong equipment delivered twice and when they were supposed to show up the third time to exchange what they originally messed up on the tech never showed. They have CONTINUED to bill me for the wrong equipment they gave me and still have not resolved the issue. In the meantime I have spend OVER 20 hours in phone calls, tech visits, emails and have NOT even come close to having my bills corrected. I CANNOT STAND THIS COMPANY!! I WARN YOU TO NOT SIGN UP FOR DISH!!!

  9. Anonymous

    A very, very useful list. I especially liked the “drown them in detail” tip. It is so important to me to get value for the money I spend on goods and services; this will be very helpful. Thank you!

  10. Anonymous

    Having been on both sides of the coin, I can respect both positions. I once worked a CSR position that felt like we were there as damage control instead of to help customers. Our main task being to filter out as many customers as possible before they could get escalated to a smaller number of techs whom had the necessary training to resolve issues.

    This was a very useful post with some great link resources. Thank you.

  11. Jersey Girl: I couldn’t agree more. That’s why rule #1 is to be firm but polite. You need to be clear about what the problem is and what needs to be done to fix it, but you *have* to be polite. In the vast majority of cases, the CSR on the other end of the phone line didn’t create the problem. Thus, while they represent the entity that screwed you over, it’s not their personal fault. Treat them with respect and they’re much more likely to go out of their way for you.

  12. Anonymous

    I worked for a major cable company a few years back, and my best tip (from being on the other end of the phone)is don’t yell or get angry…hostility gets you nowhere. If you are polite you’d be surprised how much quicker things are resolved. I’ve been yelled at, cursed at and other things….i wasn’t the one that turned their cable off…i was the one trying to help them get it back on, but certainly not any quicker when they started being rude and hostile…polite people always stood out in my booko.

  13. Anonymous

    There is nothing worse than a bad experience with customer service. I would have never thought to call the BBB. Thanks for contributing to the Group Writing Project at ProBlogger.

  14. Anonymous

    Excellent suggestions. Lately, I’ve actually noticed improvement with American Airlines and SBC. Still, it seems like it’s the luck of the draw as to whether my problem gets resolved. Sometimes I get a customer service rep who knows his/her stuff and really cares. Other times, the rep just goes through the motions.

  15. Anonymous

    Thanks, this is definitely important stuff. Of course it is easier to check the BBB before you do business with a company. I had major problems with InPhonic ( and cell phone rebates. I had to contact BBB, State Attorney General, as well as the government Dept of Consumer Services. Eventually I got my $100, months after the 6 month waiting period that Inphonic promised it.

Leave a Reply