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bad customer service

Sometimes things just don’t go right; you buy a piece of hardware and find out it’s broken. Or a service provider overcharges you by a significant amount, or a piece of software proves extra-buggy, or … you get the picture. I suspect you can probably think least one case in the last two weeks where you’ve had to talk over the phone or email to some company’s technical support or service department.

While many times these things go just fine (especially when you make sure to deal with companies that have great customer service), sometimes they just don’t work out well. The support people don’t understand you, or they refuse to help you, or you get bounced around between different departments in a vicious cycle of red tape. Just then, when things start going really wayward, is when you most need to keep your cool and be effective so that you do manage to work things out.

I’ve had the dubious pleasure of surviving one truly horrible customer service experience in the past month, and decided to share some of the tips that got me through to the other side. Here goes:


bad customer service

Photo: ShutterStock


The person on the other side of the line is probably trying to do their job. They are trying to do what is right (maybe for the company, maybe for you). At any rate, they are following company policy or some line of reasoning. When things start going badly, one of the first things we do is stop listening.  When you get angry at the other person, force yourself to calm down and listen to what they are saying. Try following their line of reasoning, because only then will you be able to convince them to help you.

Remain Calm

handling bad customer service

Photo: ShutterStock

This point is very related to the previous one. It’s very tempting to get angry at the other side; once things start going wrong, the other person is the personification of all that is evil and all that is wrong with the particular company or product you’re having trouble with. Only the truth is, they aren’t. The calmer you stay, the more chance you have of being listened to.

Know What You Want

handling bad customer service

Photo: ShutterStock

Before you call or email, you should have a very specific idea of the outcome you’re trying to achieve. Get a false fee cancelled, return a device, whatever the case may be – make sure you know exactly what it is you’re trying to get. This way you can say what you want time and again, and steadily work towards this goal during the conversation (or conversations).

Compliment What Is Right

Almost always (even with the most “evil” corporations) something is done right. Perhaps one part of the product works well; perhaps you got a prompt reply (even if it wasn’t the one you were looking for). Be sure to find whatever is right and compliment that. Show the other side you’re not a negative person out to get them or stir up trouble. A well-placed compliment can go a long way towards establishing goodwill and getting the other person to truly want to help you.

Keep Your Story Straight

handling bad customer service

Photo: ShutterStock

When we’re mad, we sometimes tend to embellish things. Perhaps when we began the support call, we described one set of events. As the call drags on and we get transferred around, it is easy to begin exaggerating the facts to make your point and seem more urgent. This is usually a mistake; most companies record their phone calls (not to mention their emails), and being inconsistent will make it easy for the company to claim that there was never an issue in the first place, or that things are not as serious. So make sure you have your facts straight before you begin, and repeat one version of events with whoever you’re talking to. You can even write down the basic facts on a “cheat sheet” and keep it handy for reference.

Insist On Getting a Name And Write It Down

On the other side of the line there’s a human being, and knowing their name (and repeating it) would help you both remember that. While sometimes you absolutely cannot get a name (this happened to me), if there is any way you can get the other side to say their name, write it down and use it. It helps build rapport, and is generally polite.

Don’t Make It Personal

poor customer service

Photo: ShutterStock

This seems to directly contradict the previous bit of advice, doesn’t it? Actually, it doesn’t. Keep in mind that the other person probably has nothing against you, even if it doesn’t always look that way.

Hang Up and Call Back

bad customer service

This is a tactic I’ve used successfully numerous times. Customer service reps are not all equally experienced. It has happened to me before that a rep gave me bad service or was unable to resolve the issue. Rather than finalize anything with them, I apologized, hung up, and immediately called again. A different rep would pick up the phone, I would repeat the same request and get a completely different reply (often a more helpful one). This doesn’t work every time, but if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere with the current rep, it is certainly worth a shot.

Speak To a Supervisor

Last but not least, you can almost always escalate things to a supervisor. That doesn’t always help, but if you’ve tried everything with the current representative and even tried switching reps, ask to talk to whoever is in charge.

Your Turn

Did you try any of these tactics? Did they work? What are your own favorite tips and tricks for dealing with horrible customer service? Do share!

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  1. Zonkerino Sqweakertown
    December 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    I like all these ideas of writing a letter (even a registered one), although the all-important issue is WHO TO ADDRESS IT TO. I find customer reps are reluctant to inform me as to who to send my complaint to: whether they have an ombudsman, or complaint department, or supervisor who would actually have some weight when it comes to making things happen.

    Any ideas as to how to find company X's best person to voice a concern with?

    • Erez Zukerman
      December 28, 2011 at 7:15 pm

      Yes, actually: I would take it up with their PR department. PRs in many big companies are more aware than ever to the power of social media. If you frame your complaint in a way that makes them realize that you might "go public" with it and cause an uproar on a social network, the PR people may very well do something about it.

  2. Joe
    December 21, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    one problem.  Indian call centres.  They just don't understand anything - and it's sometimes hard to understand their accents too, ring back till you're blue in the face - you'll be wasting your time.  One solution is to try to find another way into the company, a lot are smart enough to answer pre-sales calls more promptly and with better quality staff.  Next - can you post negative comments public on the web (like tripadviser).  And finally, don't do business with them again.

  3. Jhoffman58
    December 21, 2011 at 1:48 am

    On occasions where I felt the Rep was not going to properly resolve my issue, whether incompetent, unwilling or simply not empowered to do so, I will take it to the next level.
    The approach certainly varies depending upon the type of the company, but it has been my experience that some will be reluctant to forward you to their Supervisor. In this case, rather than getting confrontational and demanding to be forwarded, calmly ask for the name of the Manager, then call back and ask for that person by name.

  4. USA
    December 21, 2011 at 12:45 am

    Hang up and call back until you can get someone who can speak English.

  5. Guest
    December 21, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Logitech has an awesome customer service. A product I had was out of warranty, so they couldn't send me a replacement. But they gave a 50% discount code instead, something they didn't even HAVE to do. That's just awesome.

    Thanks for the article btw, some nice tips in there. Hopefully I'll never have to use them haha :)

  6. Eric Darchis
    December 20, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    When you feel that phone calls are not getting you anywhere, it is good to write a paper letter and snail mail it via registered mail. This might seem expensive but once the debate gets hot, you'll be able to say "as I mentioned in my original complaint by registered mail on xx/xx/xxxx (reference attached)...". This really shows that you are ready to take to court if needed.
    If it's for a service and you are actually ready to switch, you can say in your mail that they are not delivering the service you are paying for and if they fail to make it right by (reasonable date), you'll have to consider the service canceled. This very often gets things to move. And if it doesn't work, you'll be able to send another letter confirming the immediate cancellation.

  7. ANonymous
    December 20, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I almost feel bad about posting this, but when I felt the company was just not doing anything to correct my problem I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and within a couple of days I was offered the solution I originally requested.  

    Call it playing hard ball but if you have a reasonable request that's not being heard, sometimes you have to take it to the next level (beyond supervisors).  

    • Erez Zukerman
      December 20, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      I think that's absolutely brilliant. The only reason I didn't include it is that not all countries have a strong BBB (mine doesn't, for example). But yes, that's a very good idea.

  8. Sheila Warner
    December 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    I sometimes feel like I need to complete a meditation course before and after talking to some customer service reps. However, I agree that it's better to hang up and call back later as the next rep might "actually" be able to solve the problem. This happens to me a lot while debating charges for cell phone services I didn't ask for. If need be, escalating the matter to a supervisor most often gets the job done in a calm, peaceful, focused way.

    • Erez Zukerman
      December 20, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      Do you often find yourself hanging up and calling back, only to get a better rep?