No surprise: C able TV and phone companies cause the most grief, but customers complain about the lack of customer care in most industries."Everyone is stressed," says Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University
. As one neighbor told me, "Just talking about my customer-service issues brings back bad memories, like having PTSD." A customer-rage study by the W.P. Be prepared.Keep any notes, receipts and anything else pertinent at hand.
During 20 years as a professional mediator, Barbara Powelson never found a situation she couldn't resolve.
Then, she and husband Kenneth invested $3,000 in a new mahogany front door from a Denver-based company. Everything went according to plan until the installation. That's when she noticed the door jamb and trim were a different color from the door.
Instead of fixing the problem, the company procrastinated.
Finally, weeks later, the shop owner came by. "The owner began bullying me," she recalls. "He insisted there was nothing wrong with the door, and he would do nothing further." At one point he grabbed a paint brush and slapped gray stain across the top of the door. Then, he stormed out.
While the couple negotiated a $500 discount, it will likely cost them $1,000 or more to have the door sanded and restained by another company.
Is good customer service a thing of the past? It sure feels like it.
Everyone has a horror story. There's the woman whom a cable company keeps billing for a converter box and TV package, only she doesn't own a television and streams the service through her computer. Or the cellpone client who spent four hours on the phone with six different reps because she is paying $180 a month for what the company advertises as a $100 deal.
As one neighbor told me, "Just talking about my customer-service issues brings back bad memories, like having PTSD."
A customer-rage study by the W.P. Carey School of Business shows more Americans than ever are dissatisfied with the products and services they buy. Some 50 percent experienced a problem in 2013. And two-thirds who had issues were "extremely" or "very" upset.
No surprise: C able TV and phone companies cause the most grief, but customers complain about the lack of customer care in most industries.
"Everyone is stressed," says Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University. "We feel we waste our time on a problem or complaint talking to people who don't understand and/or can't help."
Blame the recent recession. Many businesses cut costs by axing workers, employing offshore call centers and slashing training budgets, notes Bitner. "Though business is now on the rebound, many have yet to reinvest in their people or service."
But a lagging economy isn't the only reason consumers are angry. Customer-service expert Shep Hyken says consumers simply have come to expect more at a time when many companies have decided to offer less.
"Businesses such as Nordstrom, Ace Hardware and Apple have set a high benchmark for great service," he says. "We compare others to them and get upset when they don't meet our expectations."
Max Campanella wanted to show off Longmont to some out-of-town friends, so he took them to one of his favorite restaurants for breakfast. As usual, he ordered a large grapefruit juice. When it came out in a 6-ounce glass, he asked the waitress for the large size as ordered, but was told that was what he had received.
Campanella asked the owner about the new "large" size. "She said I'd been getting 'free' juice and that's why the restaurant had been losing money for so long."
Expressing his disappointment, Campanella told the owner he might not come back. "Pointing to the crowded waiting area, the owner said, 'It's all right. I have plenty of customers.' "
Could he have posted a nasty review on a website like Yelp? Sure.
According to the customer-rage study, one-third of all complainers share their problem with their friends and followers on Facebook or Twitter. But we are 11 times more likely to complain using the phone than the Internet. As Bitner puts it, "We use the phone to complain; social media to vent."
Campanella's recourse was limited. "I was clearly told by the owner that our business wasn't needed. If it's the owner telling you (that), who do you go to?
"My family, close friends and entire team at work aren't going back," he says. "But honestly, she was right. There is always a line out the door. We really were all disposable."
Until businesses need us more than we need them, with customer service you can expect the worst, but hope for the best.
Rewarding the good guys
While we love to gripe about rotten customer service, there are businesses who do it right and earn customer loyalty.
Laurie Brock was dining at Jax Fish House in Glendale when her friend casually mentioned to the waiter that they were celebrating Laurie's birthday.
"We looked at the dessert menu, but were full, so we didn't order anything. Within a minute the waiter, Josh, brought me a birthday card with a gift certificate for a cocktail the next time I dine, since he couldn't buy me dessert," Brock says.
"I'll return and I've told many people this story. It's as important to spread the good word as the bad."
But how can you engender the kind of customer service worth spreading the word about?
From the get-go, follow the golden rule, suggests customer-service rep Hyken. Treat those waiting on you with the same dignity and respect you expect.
"When you walk into a business, make contact with that waiter, clerk or customer-service rep. Introduce yourself. Engage in conversation. Give them a vested interest in ensuring you have a good experience.
"You may find them eager to please. Smart companies know that a good relationship with a customer is their key to success," she says.
An estimated 56 percent of customers report they got nothing in response to their complaints about product or service problems. Here's how to be part of the 44 percent that gets what they want ? whether the source of the problem is a major appliance, a cruise or a skimpy glass of juice at a restaurant.
1. Stay calm; stay focused.
Ask the agent's name and use it. Say, "I know this wasn't your fault, but can you help me?"
2. Get to the right person.
Don't waste time outlining your complaint until you know you are speaking to someone who can help. The guy in tech support can't help with a billing issue.
3. Be prepared.
Keep any notes, receipts and anything else pertinent at hand. If you worry you'll forget something, write out a simple script with talking points.
4. Use powerful words.
Mention you are "shocked" and "disappointed" in the company. Ask to be "escalated" to a supervisor. (Seriously. That one word ? "escalated" ? works miracles.)
5. Be specific.
What will make you happy: a refund, a replacement, a simple apology? Know what you want and tell the right person. If you don't ask, the answer is always no.