Six Ways You Can Demand Better Customer Service

If you've ever tried to call customer service in the last decade, you know how difficult and frustrating it can be.  Getting through the phone tree to the right department can be difficult enough, but getting to speak to a live person might take an act of Congress. Then there's the challenge of getting what you want from a customer service rep who is paid a little more than minimum wage and has little to no customer service training and absolutely no vested interest in the company for which he or she is working.  If calling THAT company again gives you nightmares, read on!  

1. Getting through the Automated Audrey Phone Tree

If the above picture doesn't send shivers down your spine, you've never tried to call for customer service!  There are a few things you can try, but I warn you.  The cost of customer service reps is rising with minimum wage and benefits a company must provide so they are using every tool in the trade to automate as much as they can...and they're getting wise!  Some of this will work for some companies and not others, but it's worth a shot! 

Click 0 for an operator.  Sometimes you can still hit zero, and it will connect you with a live body so that you can ask for the correct department when you aren't sure which one applies. 

2. What NOT to say to the customer service rep

If you've been able to reach a live body or a department that sounds appropriate, CONGRATULATIONS!  You're one of the few, the proud, the strong!  Now, don't tell your entire problem's life story until you know which department or person you need to speak with.  You'll just end up retelling it to six or seven people who don't care. Boil your problem down to a short sentence anyone who may or may not speak English as their first language would understand.  Don't share too much until you are sure you've got the right person who is paid to care about that particular least from 9-5.  

Try to keep your cool while talking with the customer service rep.  I'm sure by now that not only has your problem with this company been frustrating, but your experience in getting through Automated Audrey didn't help.  However, it doesn't help anything if you yell at the very person who stands between you and your resolution. Connie Customer Rep isn't personally responsible for the problem, but she can be for its disposition.  If you're particularly hot and bothered by this time, you might want to preface your complaint by saying that you don't mean to come off angry, but you're very frustrated and hope she can help you.  

 When your conversation is at an end, make a point to thank them for their time. If they did an especially good job, you might want to take the time to fill out one of their company's surveys at the end of the call or when it's emailed to you.  Further, I suggest that you write a personal note of thanks to the manager of the rep if she has gone above and beyond and it has saved you a lot of time and trouble.  I was a customer service rep for about 8yrs, and I can assure you that there were many complaints filed but very few letters of thanks.  One good turn...

 3. What you SHOULD say to the customer service rep

Nobody has trained in customer service anymore. When I did it in the 80s and 90s, there was a six week or so training before we were even allowed to get on the phones.  Then there were a few weeks of being monitored by a supervisor before we were allowed to solo.  Now, they are given a few hours of training and a script.  They aren't taught what to do if the customer strays from that script. Since there is a huge turn over in that field, they likely haven't been on the job long enough to think for themselves when something just doesn't fit.  

This means that you will be asked, for the sixth time, for your name, rank, and customer number.  Have all of that handy before you call if at all possible. They may or may not be trained in how to find you with only your name or address.  

NOW is the time when you should give a brief background and explanation of your problem.  Just enough to give them a good picture of what happened and what you want, but not too much that they become confused or bored.  And keep in mind that you may be taking to someone whose first language was not English. If that's the case, you'll want to use more generic terms instead of slang or more complex language.  

4. When to email instead

 If you can't get through to someone who understands English well enough, or you don't have the time to wade through the multitude of Automated Audrey prompts (as pictured above), but you do have the time to wait to address your problem it might be better to email the company instead.  

5. How to structure your email

 Again, it's always best to give a bit of background and be clear and concise when explaining the problem and what you'd like the company to do about it.  Here are a few things you'll also want to do: 

  • Address the person directly (if you have a name) or the department 
  • Make sure to include your full name
  • Reference your account number
  • List any product identification information
  • Tell them how you want them to reach you and any information they will need to do that: phone number or address
  • Thank them (so you're able to get more flies with honey...)

6. What to do if you can't get satisfaction from customer service

 Now if you've followed all these steps and have not been able to get satisfaction from a customer service rep, there are a few things you can do:

  • Hang up and dial customer service again.  It sounds odd, but each customer service rep is different.  A brand new rep may not be trained in what else she can do for you, but your next rep who is more seasoned, may have a better answer for you.  Or if an older rep just doesn't care anymore, a newer rep might be more energetic and willing to please in order to gain the notice of her boss when promotion time comes.  
  • Ask to speak to a manager. A manager has more at risk if you are not a satisfied customer than does the customer service rep.  A rep is judged on the speed of each call and the number of calls taken a day.  A manager is judged on how well the reps do and by how many angry customers make it up the chain of command. Too many unhappy customers that make it to upper management and that lower level manager isn't seen as doing her job and that leads me to my last option.
  • Write a well-written letter to the head of that company's department or the VP of Customer Service himself.  My father has done this many times, and I've done it several times with great results.  If a lower level manager doesn't want too many complaints, a higher level manager has, even more, to lose and more invested in the image and reputation of the company.  Again, give your name, your contact information, and the product information.  Be clear and concise about the background and the problem at hand. Tell him that you are writing to him because you were unable to get a resolution to your problem through normal channels.  Tell him what you'd like done, ask him to look into it for you and thank him for his time. 

 I once bought a brand new car that began having problems with the manual transmission only six months later.  I took it to the dealer, but they were unable to see the problem. By the time they were able to see the problem, they had told me it was no longer covered under warranty.  Customer service would do no more for me and the transmission was going to cost me a few thousand dollars.  I called the office of the VP of Service in my area for the company and explained the situation.  They ended up fixing it free of charge and even gave me a loaner car in the meanwhile.  

Now you can do it too!


  • JoJo Tabares

    Oh, I love it when they tell me they know I want to talk to a real person, but then won’t let me! LOL The information they usually need first is stuff I either don’t know or has nothing to do with the issue. Grrr…

  • Dana

    I’ve been dealing with our phone companies phone tree recently. I press zero but it just says, “I understand that you want to talk to a person, but I need some information first.” Then, “I can understand complete sentences so talk to me like you would a person.” Except it can’t. Maybe in a silent house, but I don’t have one of those.

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