Despite your best efforts to fix problems on your own, sometimes you just have to call for help—whether you’ve got broken gadgets, downed service, or just need to fix a company’s mistake. Calling customer service can be a miserable experience, but when it comes time to bite the bullet and give them a ring, follow these tips to make it go as smoothly as possible.
Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, after the spread of this hilarious (and painful) Comcast audio clip, we’re reminding everyone how to get the best customer service possible.
Step One: Get Through to a Real Person
Most of our problems are not so easily solved by a robot with a pretty voice, yet it’s every company’s first line of defense. These automated systems weed out the easy or obvious problems, but you know how to use Google, and you need an actual human to solve your problem. Half the battle in getting what you want is getting through to an actual person. Here’s how to make sure that happens.
Depending on when you call and whether it’s a widespread problem, this part of the process may see you stuck listening to Muzak while you wait for someone to pick up the phone (“Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line…”). There’s nothing you can really do here except wait, but there are a few ways to make it a bit more bearable.
Avoid wait times with LucyPhone. Previously mentioned LucyPhone is a neat service that will wait on hold for you, so you can hang up your phone and get back to what you were doing. When a customer service rep picks up, LucyPhone will call you back and connect you. If you’re a smartphone user, they also have an iPhone and Android app that will streamline the process a little bit.
Ignore the phone tree’s options. Before you even get to the waiting period, you’ll probably have to make your way through that company’s phone tree—i.e. “Press 1 for billing information. Press 2 for to locate a store. Press three…” I always wait until the end of the list before I pick something, because they often have an option “for other questions”. This will always get you to a customer service rep. Even if my question was clearly in the boundaries of one of the existing options, rarely do those options actually give me what I need. Usually if you haven’t heard the “for other questions” option two levels in, you aren’t going to. If you ever get an option for “tech support”, that’s usually a good choice too—even if you don’t have tech support questions, it’ll always take you to a customer service rep.
You can sometimes get by just by pressing “0”. Sometimes this is designed to connect you directly to customer service, and sometimes it just works if you press enough numbers the system doesn’t recognize. If it’s a system that asks you to say words instead of dial numbers, you can try saying “agent”, “representative”, or “customer service”, which also sometimes works. If not you might get lucky by just saying gibberish that it doesn’t understand. I’d feel bad bucking the system if the system ever got me anywhere, but I’ve learned that probability is not in my favor, so this has been my go-to move for awhile now.
Learn that system’s secrets. If you’re still having trouble, visiting a site like GetHuman or ContactHelp can give you instructions on how to get through to any given company. Just punch in the company you’re calling and you’ll have a few user-submitted options on how to get to a real person, and on average how long it should take. Often it involves one of the above tricks, but sometimes varies from company to company.
Step Two: Solve Your Problem
Sometimes you know exactly what needs to happen when you call customer service—all you need to resolve your problem is a minute on the phone with a human. Other times, you need to do a little preparation. Here are a few things you can do before you call that will speed the process along.
Research your issue. Chances are, you aren’t the only person in the world that had to call customer service with this issue, so see if you can find more information about the problem and what solutions may have been offered. Google the issue and see if someone’s posted about it on a forum, or check a site like Complaints Board and see if it’s a common problem. If you’re lucky, you may be able to get some direction on how customer service can best solve your problem when you call.
Gather everything you need beforehand. You’ll probably need things like your account number, an account password, and a ticket number if you’ve called them before. Gather all this stuff beforehand and write it down, so the call doesn’t last longer than it has to. Using a note-taking service like Google Docs, Evernote, or Simplenote is a great idea here, so you can always get quick access to it. This is also a good point to nail down exactly what you want, so you can explain your issue (and, if applicable, the desired solution) as clearly and concisely as possible.
Record the call. While most representatives will make the necessary notes on your case file, you never know when someone will make a mistake or go back on her word and leave you holding the bag. The only person you can trust to make sure things get done is you, so do yourself a favor and record the call yourself—even if the company “records their calls for quality and training purposes”. You can do this with a service like previously mentioned Fonolo (which will also skip the phone trees for you). That way, if something goes wrong later, you have some evidence on your side. Be sure you’re recording those calls legally, though, or you could get in trouble yourself. Photo by Kristy Andrews.
Don’t give them your life story. There are some details you may think are relevant to the problem, but aren’t. For example, if you’re porting your number to Google Voice, you don’t need to explain to the Verizon rep what Google Voice is—just explain you’ve ported your number to a forwarding service but aren’t leaving them as your carrier. The more concisely you can lay out your problem, the easier it is for them to solve it. The epic tale of how you got to that point probably isn’t necessary.
Escalate if You Don’t Get What You Want. Don’t be afraid to ask for a representative’s supervisor if things aren’t going your way. That’s part of their trained process, and whenever you ask to speak to a supervisor they will give you one. Often, these representatives can be a little more helpful, especially when the solution to your problem requires authorization that maybe first-tier representatives don’t have., There’s nothing wrong with asking for the supervisor, and as long as you aren’t being rude, you won’t be perceived as such.
Get the representative’s name and a ticket number. When you’re done with the call, you might think you’re done with the problem, too. Sadly, that isn’t always the case, and you may very well have to follow up again soon. Those subsequent calls will go much more smoothly if you can give them a ticket number, or even get a hold of the same representative. Some companies will even let representatives give you their direct line (don’t be afraid to ask!), which is extremely helpful for dealing with that issue later on.
Be persistent, but polite. It goes without saying, but we often forget in our moments of rage that the customer service rep isn’t the source of the problem (usually). Don’t be a jerk, say “they” instead of “you” when talking about what the company did, and stay calm and collected at all times. The better a customer you are, the more receptive people will be to your problems.
If you don’t get what you want, call again later. You’d be surprised how different of a response you might get from a different representative.
If All Else Fails, Call Executive Customer Service
If you’re getting the runaround from representatives and their supervisors, or your question is just baffling them, it’s time to move a little higher up the food chain. Beyond the regular customer service team, you’ll find “executive customer service” representatives, which are the folks running the customer service operation that are often able to help you when others can’t. Note that you don’t want to do this on your first call—these people aren’t there to solve everyone’s problems every day, and often you shouldn’t have to go that far up the food chain. But, for one reason or another, sometimes they can’t help you, and this tip will come in very handy on those occasions. Check out our full guide to executive customer service to understand more about how this works.
Every company and every representative is a little different, and unfortunately you won’t always have the best customer experience. It’s just a fact of life. But if you persevere and keep these things in mind, you should be able to get out with as much of your sanity intact as possible. Got any of your own tips for dealing with customer service efficiently? Share them with us in the comments.