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How to Get Better Customer Service, and Skip the Rage | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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To get the best possible service, experts have recommended treating customer representatives with courtesy. Credit Andrew Ross/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

You’ve bought a product or service, and now — ugh! — there’s a problem. Your blood pressure climbs as you face an obstacle course worthy of “American Ninja Warrior” to get help.

What is the most efficient and least painful path to get good customer service? Call the company’s toll-free number? Chat online? Send an email? Complain on social media?


Eroding customer service

If you perceive a reduction in the quality of customer care, you are not alone. The frustration can turn some of us from Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk.

Among the findings of a 2015 “National Customer Rage Study” by Customer Care Measurement & Consulting: Companies are doing all the right things the wrong way. For example, they have call centers, but they’re understaffed, which causes complaints to pile up.

The report, conducted in collaboration with Arizona State University and Dialog Direct, was the seventh since 1976. The latest report found that 54 percent of customers reported a problem with a product or service in the preceding 12 months, an increase of 4 percentage points from 2013.

In 1976, that figure was 32 percent.


How did it get this way?

Scott M. Broetzmann, the president and chief executive of Customer Care, said companies direct consumers toward self-service, the lowest-cost approach. Consumers have been empowered by technology to perform routine tasks, such as checking an account balance or placing an order, but things can go awry when they have a question or problem.

Mr. Broetzmann said companies sometimes rely on “disingenuous approaches,” which can be vexing or meaningless to customers, to internally measure their performance. For example, some call centers require a representative to say a customer’s name at least three times during a call.

A 2015 report by the International Customer Management Institute, a training and research organization, emphasized that point.

“When it comes to selecting metric and data sources, it doesn’t make sense to measure something simply because it’s always been measured or because it’s the latest industry trend,” the report said. “Using old approaches or data sources and expecting new or different outcomes is a quick path to insanity.”


Why is poor customer service so maddening?

It is because we end up feeling invisible and disrespected, Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and a professor emerita of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, said in an email.
“Disrespect can inspire rage because in the most primitive parts of our brains it’s tied to our survival,” she wrote. In days when we were cave dwellers, “to be overlooked or irrelevant was to die,” she added.


What angers us the most?

The customer rage study found that nearly 50 percent of respondents found the statement “Your call is important to us, please continue to hold” very annoying, with another 17 percent saying it should be banned. Runners-up were: “That’s our policy”; “We are currently assisting other customers. Your call will be answered in the order in which it was received”; and “Can I get your account information again?”


What are the best ways to get help?

For quick solutions to small specific problems, try online chats, Ms. Yarrow said. They are ideal for handling issues like a promotion code or learning when your product will arrive.

“This isn’t the place for empathy or to complain,” she said.

Check a company’s Facebook or Twitter profile because some are savvy social media users, said Justin Robbins, the content director for the customer management institute. Other experts, though, have said that companies are largely slow to respond to complaints posted there, and that social media should be a last resort.


If you call for help

Write down as many details as possible, such as the name of the person you are talking to. Ask how the company is tracking you — is it by your name, or either a phone, account or case number? All of that can be useful if you need to follow up, Mr. Robbins said. You can ask to “escalate” a call, which is lingo for wanting to speak with a supervisor.

Be clear about what you want, said C. William Crutcher, the president of the National Customer Service Association. After outlining your issue, wait for a response. Don’t continue to talk and repeat your request. It is likely the representative got the message the first time.


Be civil and watch your language

No matter how frustrated you are, remain calm and treat representatives with “the utmost dignity,” Mr. Broetzmann said. Experts suggest referring to the representatives by name because it signals you are interested in working with them.

Research recently published by the University of British Columbia in The Journal of Applied Psychology suggested the quality of service received by customers was determined by what customers said to a representative.

“For example, personally targeting employees by saying, ‘Your product is garbage’ instead of ‘This product is garbage,’ can trigger negative responses from service employees,” the researchers said in a statement.

The researchers analyzed 36 hours of calls between customers and employees at a Canadian call center. When customers were not aggressive, fewer than 5 percent of the calls had problems. But researchers found that when customers used second-person pronouns — such as “you” or “your” — and interrupted, the service worsened in more than 35 percent of the calls.

For companies, customer service is more than an exercise in public relations. The customer rage study, drawing on several sets of data, extrapolated that businesses risked losing more than $202 billion in 2015 as a result of serious problems with their products and services.

As the customer management institute’s report observed, “If organizations don’t get on board with meeting customer expectations, they’ll soon discover that they may not have many customers left around to serve.”

(The New York Times)