Eight Ways to Beat Bad Customer Service

April 7, 2009

You can’t hide from bad customer service; it can happen to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.  You can however, launch a pre-emptive strike against crummy customer service and nip hours of impending doom in the bud.

Bad Customer Service is Expensive

Bad customer service can not only ruin your day, it can waste your valuable time and also cost you a lot of money.  I’ve had bad customer experiences dealing with many different types of companies but some of the biggest time wasters and potential money losers have dealt with health care and insurance matters.

I won’t punish you by sharing my infuriatingly insane experience with extreme incompetence dealing with ADP FlexDirect “customer service”.  I’ll also spare you my latest tale of broken promises and frustrating phone marathons to verify health insurance coverage for our soon to arrive baby.

Eight Steps to Beat Bad Customer Service

Instead, I’ll give you a playbook for beating bad customer before it has a chance to beat you down.  I don’t know about you but I’m getting really tired of having to make sure a company does their job.  Unfortunately, if we don’t stay on the offensive, sooner or later a company will fail us and we’ll be the one wasting time and money.

The first step to beating bad customer service is to assume ineptitude.  Every customer service department you talk to should be considered inept until proven competent.  (Important Note: This doesn’t mean using hostility or rudeness; simply think of them as a 2 year old that you have to walk through everything).  Once you’re in that mindset follow these steps to beat bad customer service:

1) Ask the name of person you’re speaking with
The primary reason for this step is so you have a point of reference when you have call back and follow up.  A secondary benefit is that if you refer to the person by their name you’ll stick out somewhat from the other dozens of people that work with that night and it might help you get what you need.
2) Get a ticket/issue number
Once you’ve explained your question or problem, immediately ask for a ticket or issue number. If you don’t do this (and sometimes even if you do) you’ll end up re-explaining the issue to someone else the next time you call back.

3) Ask if they’re adding call notes
Just because they open a support ticket doesn’t mean they’ll put your details in it.  Ask them if they’re recording the details of your conversation.  Specifically request any facts that you want noted.

4) Write down date/time of conversation and details
When you call back into customer service they may ask when you last called, who you spoke with, and what your issue number is. Keep a written record of your conversation so that you have these details handy for the inevitable follow up.

5) Ask for detailed action steps
Like any abusive relationship, we think this time it will be different, that they can change and won’t leave us with broken promises yet again.  We naively hope our customer service agent will take care of our issue or get back to us when the reality is they have a long list of other customers to address that will push our needs into the eternal to-do pile.

Instead, get specifics and get commitments:

  • Who are they going to call?
  • What form are they going to fill out? 
  • What are they going to mail?
  • When they will do it by?
  • What’s the turn around time?
  • Will you get a return phone call? 
  • Will you get status emails?
  • Will you get a letter in the mail?

Once you have all the information, recap your issue and how they’re going to solve it for you.

6) Get their phone number
As you can probably tell, I’m little pessimistic that your customer service department will take care of you or follow up.  Assuming they won’t, you’ll need to call them back.  Get a direct phone number or extension so you avoid the phone tree and re-explaining your issue.  Plus if you repeatedly contact the same person your chances of actually seeing progress on your issue increase.

7) Set yourself a call back reminder
Life is busy.  You may not notice right away if they don’t take care of you or fail to follow up when they said they would.  Setup an alert in your email program, or on your phone, or on your calendar to call them back by a certain date to let them have it follow up if no progress has been made.

8) Get angry
When parents are angry, kids react. When teachers are angry, students react.  When bosses get angry, employees react.  If you are angry, chances are your customer service department will react.  There’s a reason the old saying “squeaky wheel gets the grease” is an old saying.  It’s been true for a long time.

Perhaps I’m too nice.  Despite repeated call backs and multiple screw ups I keep a level voice and restrain myself from hurling a pent-up flood of obscenities at the person on the phone.  I let them know I’m not happy but I’m certainly not the loudest squeaky wheel. 

As I navigate the phone tree I get ready to yell and scream but when they answer it always seems counter-productive to lose it on the phone.  It sure would feel good but it probably wouldn’t get me any closer to my goal.  Instead I calmly let them know I’m pissed, appalled, and wasting my time and ask to talk to their boss.

Where Does Bad Customer Service Come From?

I don’t know that the blame lies with the people handling the calls.  My suspicion is that the companies they represent don’t have the right customer service quality processes in place and aren’t sufficiently incentivizing reps to take care of customers.  The people on the other end of the phone are just showing up for a job like you and I do every day.

They do their best but they’re paid by the hour and there’s only so much work you can do in 8 hours time.  This is why getting angry can be effective, it can help raise you up in the queue, or move you to a shorter queue.

I just wish the decision makers at some of these companies would read Seth Godin’s comments on customer service and answering the phone.  Until that time, stick with these eight steps to beat bad customer service.


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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11 Responses to Eight Ways to Beat Bad Customer Service

  • tom

    Customer service lacks in companies because of the employees, they simply don’t like the job for the general idea. I mean if you don’t care about the job, you don’t care about the company and that gets reflected to the customer hence why all these bad experiences occur.

  • Horlic

    Thanks for sharing. Yeah, get angry is the only chances the customer service department will react. You are too angry and you start scolding the customer services representative. May be you should try this approach. Tell them, It not your fault; it is my fault, it is my fault to buy or use co services, It is my fault to call and complaint. They will take a step back on the conversation and they will probably do something after you tell them off. Try it out.

  • marci

    Thanks for the info on Call notes – that was a new one for me to remember next time 🙂


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