Not so long ago, America's corporate scalawags rewrote the definition of customer service by having a "convenient" phone number replace the customer service window.
Then you got ping-ponged around push-button hell — the frustration and anger building — until, if you were lucky, you were connected to a human.
That business model has been changing, thanks largely to people like Jeanne Bliss, author of "I Love You More Than My Dog: Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad" (Penguin). "A big part of what I do is coach executive teams when they want to build their business around customer experience instead of internal cost-cutting," she said recently from Los Angeles.
So with businesses more responsive, Bliss offered some tips on getting the most out of your customer service experience.
Level of difficulty: Medium. This should be easy, but it can be time-consuming — and there's still all that bad music you'll have to suffer through.
Calm down: Don't call angry. Collect yourself, be calm and cool, and you'll get better attention and better results. "Like your mother used to tell you, count to 10 first," Bliss said.
Getting through: Some places still make you navigate a maze of numbers to push. Cut through it by zeroing out — hitting 0 until you are connected with a real, live person. It works most of the time, though not always.
Be prepared: Have any helpful documentation at hand. "A lot of time, the people on the phone are what I call policy cops. They just want all that information. What you bought, when you bought it, any numbers. If you have all the paperwork it will expedite the process."
Schmooze them: Bliss admits this sounds counterintuitive, but she suggested being empathetic toward the person on the other end. After all, their whole day is taking calls from angry people. So early on, ask them how they're doing. "If you are nice, you'll soften them," she said. "They have been trained and they can extend gestures without asking permission — they'll be more inclined to extend them to you if you connect in a personal way."
"Who's your boss?" That customer service rep will certainly want to help if you threaten to go over his or her head. But be tactful. "If you're not getting what you need from the person you're talking to, you can ask to speak to their supervisor, but first compliment the person for trying to help you. So, 'Thank you so much for trying to help. Is it possible to discuss this with a supervisor?'"
Apply pressure: Social media is a great way to lean on these guys. Can't get through? Post something on Twitter or another social media forum. Say that you're a good customer and can't get through. Companies don't want your dissatisfaction out there for all to see.
Chat boxes: More companies are including chat boxes on their websites, though they're often not glaringly obvious, Bliss said. "Some of them are robotic, but in most cases human beings on the other end are typing answers to you." Then at some point you can ask them to call you. Some companies, like Lands' End, now have video chat, so you can see the real-life human you're talking to.
Right to the top: Still not satisfied? Bring out the heavy artillery. "If you're super exasperated, call the president's office. A website I really like is gethuman.com. They have contact information for more than 8,000 companies in 45 countries."
Copyright © 2015, RedEye