Consumer's Perspective: A Dozen Ways to Get Better Service

I am often asked, both by individuals and journalists who cover consumer-oriented topics, what consumers can do short of a rant on twitter (see tip 12), to get better service when interacting with organizations. Here are a dozen recommendations:

1. Be prepared. Know what you want and have relevant information ready (account information, statements, etc.).

2. Avoid busy hours. Just like the road system, call centers have “rush hours.” Some manage them better than others. Monday mornings tend to be worst, midweek (Tuesday through Thursday) afternoons or evenings are often best.

3. Give the process a chance. For example, dial the right number and enter the information requested by the system; the best organizations use that information to handle contacts more effectively. (And yes, your input saves them time and costs, but when designed right, helps you get through the process more effectively.)

4. Find the escape codes. Often, hitting zero, zero then pound, or saying “agent” once the first menu options are presented will get you to a person (first check for a menu alternative that gives you that choice). Alternative phone numbers are often easily found through search (thank goodness for search—nobody can hide numbers anymore!).

5. Be courteous. Many agents handle from 50 to 75 calls per day – they respond best to customers who are polite and specific about what they need.

6. Request “warm” transfers. If your call has to be transferred to another person or location, request that the initial agent stay on the line to ensure the transfer is successful and bring the secondary person up to speed. (The alternative is to simply transfer the call with no introduction – a “cold transfer.”)

7. Ask for a manager. If you feel the agent doesn’t have the necessary information or authority, ask for his or her manager; once transferred, verify that the manager has the means to address your situation.

8. Keep a record of contacts. Knowing when you called, who you talked to (name or extension number) and what was said or promised will help you later if a repeat contact is necessary (and will give you much credibility).

9. Pool your resources. Financial institutions, retailers, travel companies and others often reward higher-volume customers with better services. Concentrating your business with specific companies may put you in a higher tier.

10. Buy the level of service that makes sense. For example, there may be different levels of technical support available. If the service is important to you, it may be worth paying for a higher level of support.

11. Try the full range of automated options. Like ATMs or kiosks, you may really like the organization’s Web, mobile or other alternatives. Give them a try.

12. Make your views heard. This is the age of the empowered consumer, and the best organizations listen; they are tuned in to social channels and communities, ratings sites, and customer feedback in general. Be fair, courteous, and balanced. Finally, you can vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere.

As a consultant to organizations, I am impressed with the steps the best take to listen, learn, and serve you effectively. They want to hear from you, and are eager to understand more about the experience you have with them and others. Yep, bad experiences are still too common. But the trends are favorable!