Complain Like a Pro: 5 Tips for Effective Communication With Customer Service

By Mary Murcott

The results of 2015 Customer Rage Study show that consumers are increasingly dissatisfied with customer service in spite of the investments companies are making to improve customer satisfaction. Over 60% of the consumers interviewed for the study felt that they got “nothing” in response to their complaints about a problem with a product or service. Over 65% of customers experienced rage when interacting with customer service. In my previous post I talked about practices that companies can incorporate into their customer care to prevent and diffuse customer rage. Today I’d like to shift the focus to the customers and what they can do to reduce frustration and rage when dealing with bad customer service. These five communication tips will help you save time and will significantly improve your chances for a favorable customer service resolution.

  1. Ask for the representative’s name – make sure that you do it nicely, so the company representative doesn’t think you are out to get them. A way to do this is to say: After briefly (in one short sentence) describing the issue (eg, a billing problem, technical issue, etc), ask: “Are you the right person to help me with this issue?” No use going into detail if they are not, and then getting frustrated when they transfer you to another department, and you have to start all over again. Next, and then, and only then, ask for their name. Use their name through out your conversation – you want them on your side – and pay them compliments on how clearly they are explaining the process, etc., and thank them along the way for helping you. Often these employees are paid relatively little for taking a lot of customer frustration and abuse.
  2. Keep calm – the representative can make it easy or hard for you. Loud voices and abuse simply do not work……it is interesting how a call can accidentally get disconnected under these situations.
  3. Help them help you – Before you pick up the phone, write out a brief outline for the conversation. Stay away from the minute detailed story line. The clearer, shorter, more pertinent and more accurate you can make the scenario, the easier it will be for the representative to diagnose the problem and offer a solution. Often older customers will go into excruciating detail, which often is not related to the problem at hand. This is because they are speaking extemporaneously, and have not thought through their communication or practiced in their head how they are going to approach the company’s front line employee. I often have my 80 year-old mother, write out an outline of her conversation before she calls with question or complaint, and the conversation usually has a much better result.
  4. Be clear about what you want to happen – Conversations go much better if you are clear in your own mind as to what would make you happy and what you want as a result of your complaint. Sometimes you just want the company to know they have an issue and want a commitment that senior management will be made aware of the problem; other times, in addition to wanting something resolved, you might want monetary compensation or something else. Ask for what you want – you may get it or something that might help ameliorate the feelings you have for the company. Know that while you might want an hourly rate monetary compensation for the time you spent resolving the issue; that rarely happens. Attorneys have been known to say they bill out at $500/hour and want 3 hours of their time back. You may want to let the company know how many days or hours it took to resolve, and ask what can they do to compensate you for your time? You may get something, although not your hourly rate, if you have been courteous throughout the process.
  5. Ask what else you should know – Often there are downstream issues that could be avoided if you only were told about them. So ask. Ask what other problems might I know about that are downstream from this one? What else can you tell me that might avoid this problem in the future? A recent personal medical example comes to mind. I went to the doctor who recommended a test with another doctor involving an outpatient procedure. The office administrator advised me to watch how the doctor involved in the outpatient procedure coded the results. She said if he put down a certain code I paid $100, but if he put a similar but different code, my out of pocket fee might be closer to $1000. She was right. I was able to get the doctor to change the final code (it meant virtually the same thing), and avoided fighting a $900 fee difference. Luckily, the administrator was proactive. But it taught me to ask, as a customer, about avoiding any downstream surprises when I worked through future administrative issues. I learned how to be a more effective consumer of healthcare services!

Communication. It is important. It is how things get done – and yet it is not a mandatory, or often not even an elective course in high school or college. Both companies and customers need to do a better job in communicating in order to avoid rage. Some people have mastered the art of communication, and are more at peace with resolving issues. We all have the choice to be one of them.

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