New ways to get great customer service

By Anthony GiorgianniConsumer Reports

If you’re having a problem with a product or service, there are more ways than ever to get satisfaction, if you know how and where to complain.

With easily-accessible online forums, user reviews, social media, and other high-profile outlets, the last thing a company wants is for you to bad-mouth it in public. That's especially true if you have a legitimate gripe that can easily be addressed.

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That’s why it’s not unusual these days for companies to respond directly to complaints posted on their websites or Facebook pages. A Sears rep, reponding to a complaint, recently wrote:

“Alicia, we would like to look into your refund issues. Please private message us the original order number associated with your order. Thanks.”

In fact, consumer opinion is so important to businesses that they often encouraged you to give them positive reviews on shopping websites. Such reviews are especially important to individuals who sell on such sites as eBay and Amazon because they may not have a big brand name, glitzy website, or physical location to reassure customers who fear shopping with an unfamiliar merchant. "If you are satisfied with our items, " wrote one merchant to a Consumer Reports employee, "please give us a five-star feedback.”

Reaching out to shoppers is even happening in walk-in stores. When shopping at a Best Buy store in New York, a store manager gave a woman there a note describing the store’s goal to provide customers with a “World Class Experience. ” It also invited her to call or e-mail him personally for any assistance she might need with her purchase.

The important message from all this is that you may have more clout than your realize and you should use it to get satisfaction when you have a problem with a product or service. Of course, it’s not going to work every time. There still are plenty of companies that need to learn the hard way that if they ignore customer gripes, they do so at their peril.

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What to do

The goal of any company is to keep the customers it has and to attract new ones. And you should complain in a way that let’s them know that helping you will do just that.

Be nice. If you have a complaint and you approach the company with guns blazing, announcing that you’re not interested in remaining a customer, you’re removing a big incentive for the company to resolve your problem. Instead, be nice. Let the company know that you and your family are enthusiastic customers, that you like its products or services, and that you’re simply looking to resolve the current issue, which you’re sure that a company with such a good reputation will want to do.

Go up the food chain. Just because a customer service rep refuses to help doesn’t mean that’s the company’s policy. You simply may be speaking to an employee whose having a bad day.If you don't get the satisfaction you expect, don’t resist contacting the CEO. Use a web search to get a name. Some company websites even have links that let you email the executive offices. Of course, the head honcho probably isn’t going to read your complaint personally, but having your issue referred by the executive office is sure to get the attention of someone in customer service. Some companies even have executive response teams that give such complaints special treatment.

Post the outcome. If a company resolves a complaint you posted online, post a response explaining that it was resolved. It’s good for other customer to know, and it sends the company a message that good customer service pays off. Of course, if the company didn’t fix your problem, others need to know that, too.

—Anthony Giorgianni

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