Dealing with Phone Support

Getting the Help You Need from a Customer Service Representative, and Maybe Other Human Beings as Well

Ariel Lehrer

phone support

You have a customer service problem. You would like to use the company’s live chat support but they’re not that advanced. You will have to call the company’s customer service line.

Of course, this will mean being helplessly trapped in the automated answering service interminably while waiting for a human being from the other side of the world who will definitely not resolve your issue, right? Not necessarily.

There are more and less effective ways of getting the help you need when you call any company’s customer service number. The kind of service you get will depend almost as much on you as the person on the other end of the line.

Have an effective strategy. Your first step is to get through the routing system. Like your office, the first day of the week is the busiest. Try to call another day if you can.

It is important to have some patience and pay attention to what the prompts are telling you. You might actually be able to resolve your concern within the prompts offered and without having to wait for a person. If you cannot work within the automated system exclusively and you do need to speak to someone, selecting an option that applies to your situation will probably get you the fastest service possible.

If none of the options apply, there are several tricks you can try. You could dial any number. Let the rep who answers briefly know what you need and transfer you to the right person. Or dial zero. Most systems will direct you to an operator who can get you to the right person. If it is a voice operated system, you can say something unclear to the computer. It will then route you to an operator. If all else fails, do nothing. Your silence will cause someone to come on the line.

If you end up being on hold for a long time, do yourself a favor and put the phone on speaker. Do something else while you are waiting so that you will feel productive and less frustrated when someone finally does answer.

Interesting bits….

According to a British study: customer service complaints have increased by 14% between 2006 and 2007. read more

Editors Tip:

Get the customer service rep’s name as soon as you start speaking with them, and write this down. (You do have a pen and paper handy already, right?)

If they don’t introduce themselves, you can simply ask “…and to whom am I speaking?”

Not only does this help bring the conversation to a more friendly tone, it is also helpful if you need to call back customer service later and wish to speak to the same rep, or you can give your new rep the name you wrote down — as the original rep you spoke with may have kept technical notes about your situation.

Be patient. Once someone does come to the line, whatever you do, do not start the conversation by telling them how awful the automated system is or how long it kept you on hold. The company probably spent loads of money on it. They researched it thoroughly before shelling out this cash. They are not going to be quick to change it and they probably do not track its performance through their customer service reps even if they are reconsidering its functionality.

The system may have asked you to key in account information. If the rep asks you to repeat this information, remind him that you have already given it. Turnover is high and the rep may need to be coached to check that it is there, or he just may not understand how to use the system. It is also possible that your information wasn’t picked up properly. Do not let this be the straw that causes you to become unhinged. Give the information again.

Use effective communication skills. Once the rep is prepared to discuss your concern, you will want to follow all the same general rules you would follow in any situation in which you want to have effective communication. Don’t get angry, don’t yell, don’t threaten or intimidate, don’t be overly emotional or exaggerate your issue. You can behave in this way if you choose but you will create the same kind of dysfunctional dialogue that these behaviors will generate when speaking to any person. You also stand a great likelihood of being put in the “penalty box” by the rep. He may put you on hold while he takes a little break or mute you and laugh at your ranting with his friends.

Don’t enter the game assuming that the person on the other end of the phone won’t help you. You have to decide that you will be helped and that you can get the rep on your side. It’s much more effective. Be assertively polite, meaning, have some determination that you intend to get your issue resolved while remaining calm and collected throughout the call.

Think ahead about what you will say and be prepared to explain yourself briefly. It’s hard for the rep to listen to long stories. Bear in mind also that the rep’s pay may be based on how many calls he or she takes. That means they may be motivated to rush you through the call. You can let them work efficiently but be sure they are addressing all your questions. If the rep can’t change a policy a supervisor probably can.

Remember you are speaking to a human being. Customer service reps have a pretty grueling job. The pay is not usually that great and they spend a great many hours a day effectively serving as a punching bag for a lot of disgruntled people. You may reach a rep who just doesn’t care about your problem or who is having a terrible day, professionally or personally.

If you see that the call is not going to go in your favor you now have to make a choice. Are you going to tenaciously fight it out to the very end or take a chance on another rep? You could choose to make an excuse to politely end the call and go back into the queue to take your chances on a more friendly rep. Don’t forget that the rep is probably recording everything that happens in an account log. If you blow up the next rep will know it. If you go the supervisor route, be sure you have given the rep a chance to help you.

Don’t ask for the supervisor at the beginning of the call. You must be persistent and firm when asking for the supervisor. The rep may not want his boss to know how poorly he has performed on the call. The rule in many companies is that he doesn’t have to put his supervisor on the phone until your second request. If the rep isn’t so quickly getting his boss, it’s helpful to remind him that you know the call is being recorded. You’ve put him on notice that you know the protocol.

Don’t wait until the call has gone wrong to get his name. Do this at the beginning of the call. It is important to ask for the rep’s name and id number but make note of the time and date that the call begins as well. This will help anyone who may be researching what happened on the call to pull it from their records.

Be determined. In the worst case, you may not be getting your problem fixed today on the phone. The fail safe method for resolution is the old fashioned snail mail to a department head, or email if you can get your hands on the address. Hang in there, if it is important enough to you, most companies really do want to provide good customer service.


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