One of the cornerstones of our consumer society is customer service. That’s that horde of underpaid/under-loved folks on the other end of the telephone whose sole mission in life is to listen to you complain. But they haven’t always been there. In fact, for 99% of human history, the world worked on the Roman adage: Caveat Emptor. (Let the buyer beware!) Then, in the early 20th Century, along came a guy named Harry Selfridge (British department store/Netflix TV series) and, in a moment of sheer madness, coined the phrase, “The customer is always right.” Customer service was born. Since then, the industry has grown exponentially, and today billions are spent every year trying to answer the question, “What’s your problem?” Unfortunately, that’s very difficult because most people don’t know how to complain properly. So here are a few ideas that might help you the next time you feel you’ve been ill-used by capitalism. Good luck!
1 – Be honest (with yourself) – Do you actually have a complaint? The truth is the vast majority of people who phone customer service don’t – and they know it. They’re usually frustrated, angry, naturally grouchy and sometimes even dishonest. Most people just want to vent, and customer service is a captive audience that can’t tell them to shut up and go away. So, before you waste a lot of time (mostly your own) make sure your problem is legit. (Helpful hint: you were the one putting on the brag about how smart you were buying a cheaper product!)
2 — Collect your information – If you bought something, you have a receipt. Find it! It has all the information you need – who, what, where, when and how much. (Nobody cares why. See point 3.) Without the facts (readily available) you’re goin’ to sound like an idiot, and that’s not going to help your cause. (Helpful hint: no receipt? Your life just got a whole lot more difficult.)
3 — Be specific/Be brief – Nobody cares why you bought a new toaster– especially not the stranger on the other end of the phone. They’ve heard more rambling stories (eight hours a day/five days a week) than you’ve had hot meals. So, unless your previous toaster was abducted by aliens, forget the tale of woe, and get to the point!
4 — Don’t be a bully – Remember the person you’re talking to is trapped, and they can’t fight back. They don’t own the company and they haven’t personally set out to cheat you. Nor were they put on this Earth by Satan to thwart you. Trying to push them around just because you can is not a good look — and that includes swearing, being vulgar, calling them names and/or threatening them or the company they work for. Besides, when was the last time you went out of your way to help someone who just called you an asshole?
5 — Offer a solution – “So what are you going to do about it?” is not a solution. It’s a playground challenge. Here’s the deal. If you haven’t figured out what you hope to achieve from calling customer service before you pick up the phone, don’t pick up the phone.
6 — Be reasonable – I had a friend who was a travel agent (back in the day when such things existed) and she told me a customer once called her and demanded a replacement vacation because it rained the week he was in Mexico. Grab a brain, boys and girls: you’re not going to get a new house just because your doorbell breaks. The one thing you need to do throughout this whole process is remain on the reality train.
7 – The Harsh Reality — The minimum wage voice you’re talking to has no authority to do anything except maybe – MAYBE – offer you a replacement or give you your money back – never both. Normally, they’re just there to gather your information (see items 2 and 3) give you a bit of a verbal cuddle, and pass it all up the ladder. That’s it! So, the only rule of customer service is if, at any time, anyone suggests they’re going to give you more than that, take it, say thanks and get on with your life.