While there are always exceptions to every rule, the majority of legitimate internet, catalog and brick and mortar companies, are honest. They sincerely try hard to do a good job for their customers. Yes, accidents and mistakes are inadvertently made. Clerks have bad days, shipping companies lose packages, things get broken in transit, emails never arrive at the right address and even hurricanes, tornadoes and floods can gum up the works. Yes it is true, the wrong items are accidentally picked and packed from the warehouse, even with human checkers specifically checking the shipping boxes multiple times.
Which brings up a good point. People are human and humans make mistakes. Don't believe me? Read the statistics for mistakes made by highly skilled surgeons in hospital operating rooms. Well, maybe you shouldn't if you have an operation planned but you probably get my drift here.
Although most companies strive to provide good if not great customer care, receiving consistently great customer support is also partly the responsibility of the customer. Huh? Yes, it is absolutely true. There is a definite relationship between receiving great customer care and how well the customer communicates with the company they are doing business with.
Yes, it is easy to whine, complain and bitch to all of your friends about problems you have experienced as a customer, but why not put that energy into creating a good customer care experience with you receiving a happy resolution to your problems or issues. Yes, it is true, with a little knowledge of how to communicate with customer care people, you can indeed control your own customer care fate.
Consider these follow great communication tips for achieving consistent good customer care:
1. Regardless of what has happened, give the customer service department a chance to fix it before you attack them and/or the company.
You would be surprised how many consumers who experience any type of problem will start their very first communication about the problem with all sorts of attacks. I have seen it with my own eyes. Some customers actually start their customer care contact with unwarranted bitchy, sarcastic, rude accusations regarding everything from false advertising to deliberately losing packages before the customer care team has even had a chance to figure out what the problem is, or offer quick and courteous resolutions.
What is even more surprising is that this happens with first time customers that have no history with the customer care team. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Try walking into a bar and opening every conversation with an insult or punch to the face. Your very life would quickly be in danger.
Keep in mind that a customer service rep can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Yes, it is their job and they are paid to help you. So why not help them do the best job possible by being polite and giving them a chance to serve you before you beat them up? Sarcasm, rudeness, verbal attacks, yelling or other bad behavior will only cause you to be labeled as one of those B**** people.
It is human nature to resist and fight back when attacked. Think about it, would you go out of your way to try and help someone that was being awful to you, especially when you don't even know why?
It is also human nature to help someone that is perceived to be polite, nice and genuinely in need of assistance.
2. Provide as much information as possible.
Give customer care a chance to shine before attacking them for a problem. Start any communication with customer care either by phone, email or in person, by politely and clearly explaining the problem or situation.
Provide all necessary information that will help the customer care team member help you.
Such information might include:
a. Order/Invoice or other account identification info. b. Date of purchase c. Clear explanation of the problem or issues. d. The best method to respond and when/where appropriate, the best times.
When possible provide multiple methods of contact including an email address, home and work phone and fax number, if appropriate.
Don't forget to include your name. You would be surprised at how many people forget to include their name when contacting customer service.
You would also be shocked at how many emails start without a greeting such as Hello or Dear Customer Care or even Hey You. You would be equally surprised how many emails leave out please and thank you or a formal close like Sincerely or Rotten Wishes.
I have not figured out whether this is the case because people don't understand the value of politeness and manners when sending emails or they haven't been properly schooled in how to send a written note.
3. Don't trust email or phone IVR services.
One of the largest problems for businesses today is email spam, viruses and other malicious attacks. As a result, sometimes customer email correspondence is honestly not received by a company. They can't respond in a timely manner because they don't know you have even contacted them due to undelivered or lost email.
Many customer care departments provide an auto responder message that lets you know that your email was received and is in the queue.
If you do not receive an immediate auto response message, especially from a large company, there is a strong likelihood that your email was not transmitted properly or received by the intended parties. Try resending your email.
Set a timeline for an expected response. Some companies only offer customer care service during regular business hours. If your email customer care was sent in standard business "off hours", give them until formal business hours to respond. Also, allow at least 24 hours for an email response.
Sending an email 15 minutes after your first email that starts by "Hey, what is taking you jerks so long to answer my email" will probably not endear you to the customer care team.
If you do not receive an email or phone response in a fair but timely manner, send a follow-up email and/or phone call.
Instead of being sarcastic or attacking, give email and the phone systems the benefit of the doubt. Start your follow-up by politely stating that you had attempted to email on month, day, year and time about account # and your problem but had not received a response and wanted to make sure that the issue had been formally logged.
If you do not receive a response after two reasonably spaced out email attempts, try calling in person during business hours.
4. Knowledge is power.
Before you contact a company to request a return or report a problem, review the company's return or problem reporting policies in detail. That way you are informed going in to the situation with what your options are.
In fact, it is best if you know the return policies before you even buy from that company. That way you know what your options are before you buy.
Again, most companies are honest and wish to do the right thing for their customers. Therefore most will pay for any mistakes that they obviously made like sending the wrong products. They will also take care of products damaged during shipping or those that were obviously defective when they left the warehouse.
5. Keep good notes.
The best way to make sure you receive great customer care is to track your progress and be willing to follow up. Log the first time you make contact and whether it was by email or phone. When possible, save a copy of the email for future reference.
Many companies do record customer phone and email correspondences. This is to protect them from claims of calls or emails that never happened. It also allows them to replay conversations to verify he/she/they said accusations.
When you talk to a live person, ask them politely for their name and then jot down a quick summary of the conversation you had. Ask them for timelines in which you can expect action. When in doubt, ask them to email you what the resolution was or what actions are being taken.
If your issue isn’t resolved during your email communications or during a customer care phone call, get the rep to commit to a date when it will be rectified.
Call back or email on that date simply restating the issues and address your correspondence to the name of the rep you were talking with. Be sure to provide a summary of what has happened since there is a chance the customer rep may not remember you.
6. Know what you need to receive great customer care.
You would be surprised by the people that are yelling and angry about a customer care problem who have no idea what type of resolution would make them happy.
Think about your options in advance and then decide what you need to feel satisfied. Do you want a credit for a damaged item on your card or do you wish for the company to try and replace an item that was damaged with the exact item?
If you know what you would feel best about accepting, tell the customer care rep your wishes as politely as possible. You might say, I know that the item was damaged in shipment but I would like to receive a replacement item as quickly as possible.
Keep in mind that lost or damaged packages are rarely the fault of the company. While many companies do their best, once a package is turned over to their shipping agent, they lose control once the trucks back away from their warehouse.
However, many companies, if you ask them for help dealing with lost or damaged packages will gladly work with the shipping agency to take care of you. Instead of screaming at a customer service rep about a lost or damaged package, ask them nicely to help you with the problem and let them show you what they can do to give you great service.
Always be willing to negotiate. If a company policy explicitly forbids a return of certain type of products, ask if you might receive a small store credit or store samples in order to try a different product. If a company thinks that you are sincere about doing repeat business with them, they will try harder to offer you a happy ending.
Business are in existence to turn a profit. Which is why some items can never be returned once they are used or opened. However, that doesn't mean that the company won't try to help convert you into long term happy customer by offering product samples or a store credit that will ensure future business.
7. Win with kindness and a sense of humor.
If you remain calm and polite while telling the customer care rep what would make you happy in dealing with your problem, almost every customer care rep will do their best to please you within the framework of their corporate policies.
Remember that it is probably not the customer care rep's fault that there has been some sort of problem such as sending out the wrong product from the warehouse. It never hurts to tell the customer service rep that you understand that accidents happen and you are not blaming them, you just want to have the problem resolved as quickly as possible.
It is always to your advantage for the customer care team to like you and want to help you and go above and beyond. Many customer care reps take upwards of 120 calls a day. Put yourself in their shoes and show some consideration so that they can bend over backwards to help you.
Remember that for every polite person that contacts customer care, there are untold bridezillas and desperate housewives that give the reps a hard time for no reason.
8. Avoid attacking the company or its products to streamline return processing.
Most companies understand that customers may not like everything that they buy. That is why there are return policies. However, while the average company will accept returns that follow their corporate policies, they will expect you to abide by their return procedures.
Insulting the product or the company is never a good way to get a fast and efficient return. Regardless of how you feel about a product, how much it cost or why you wish to return it, remain as neutral as possible and simply state "the product did not work for me". There is no need to say that the product sucked, was overpriced or looked like hell. Maybe it did, but why risk causing a customer care rep to resist you because of your attitude.
Be honest. If you used a product and the company does not take used products as part of their returns, don't try to sneak it past the customer care team. Most companies do carefully inspect returns and if they find that you have lied about using the product the customer care team will react towards the perceived deception by resisting any further attempts to work with you.
9. Never ask for a supervisor during your initial contact.
Unless the rep is downright rude, give the rep a chance to resolve the situation. If that doesn't work, send a follow-up email to the Customer Care manager or supervisor. Remember that customer care reps must follow corporate policy on issues such as returns and handling of damaged items. Sending a follow-up email to the manager of customer care after you have sincerely tried to get full resolution with your rep will get you the final word. However, contacting a customer care supervisor before you try and work with the individual reps will generally not work. The supervisor will only get involved after all other attempts have failed.
10. Pick your battles wisely.
Know when to accept the final word. Although you may believe that you should have 30 days to return a product that has been never worn, it the company has a 14 day return policy, don't waste five years of your life fighting about it. Even if you contact the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General and your credit card provider, they will support the company if there is a published return policy that they are abiding.
Don't argue yourself into an early grave over a $5 purchase. Figure out how much money you make on an hourly basis and decide if it is worth even one hour of your precious time to fight a company about. So don't sweat the small stuff.
11. Avoid threats.
Threatening customer care with a range of punitive actions from telling them that you will never shop with them again to publishing negative information about their company will usually not work. Not only are more companies taking legal action against customers that slander them in public forums on the Web - some companies like Filene's Basement are banning customers from shopping with them for life. Other companies are quietly sharing information about "unprofitable, bad customers".
Threatening to contact your lawyer or filing a complaint with whatever watchdog agency, especially when the customer care rep knows that their company is acting within their published business policies, will get you nowhere fast. If anything, it will usually make the customer care rep more resistant to helping you in any way, figuring it would actually be easier to turn you over to the company's corporate team if/when your lawyer does call.
12. File complaints wisely. The customer is not always right.
Consumers were shocked when Filene's Basement banned two shoppers for life from ever shopping at their establishment. It was so surprising, it made International News. Consumers were even more shocked when they discovered that many retail companies like Express now subscribe to a database that provides details about the return habits of retail customers.
Keep in mind that businesses are in business to make a fair profit. If a customer constantly returns products or winds up costing the company a lot of money due to customer care complaints, the company may look for ways to stop doing business with that customer.
While you definitely should exercise your rights to complain to the proper watchdogs when you are clearly cheated or ripped off, be careful that you only exercise formal complaints for serious reasons.
Some companies will even go so far as to politely ask you to take your business elsewhere. And yes, that is their right.
Complaining to the Better Business Bureau because you were not allowed to return a pair of six year old pants will lessen your impact. Many companies in the same industry do warn each other of troublemaking customers.
13. Always say thank you.
If a customer care rep has gone out of their way to help you, always let them know you appreciate it or say thank you. Not only is it common courtesy and good karma, it may help you the next time you have a problem with that company. You can jot down the name of the customer care rep that helped you and ask for them by name. If you thanked them the last time, they will probably remember or may have even entered it in the customer care logs that you are a good customer.
It is also wise to take the time to thank a company when you have a good buying experience. Many customers only make contact with companies to complain. Why not tell them when they do something correct.
I have personally learned to let managers and company owners know when I am being treated well. If I had great service at a restaurant, I will not only tip appropriately but I will make it a point to stop the manager on the way out and say "great service from Bobby tonight" or the "salads were exceptionally fresh - good job". That way, if there is ever a problem at my favorite restaurant, they know that I am not just a whiner but a loyal customer who shares the good along with the bad.
Keep in mind that anything worth having does take some communication and commitment on your part. Whether you got the wrong headband by mistake or your steak was undercooked, handling the problem with kindness but clear communication will help win over just about any customer care rep or restaurant manager.
Try it, you may like it.