“The agreement you signed gave you 14 days to return the device and avoid a $175 Early Termination Fee. It’s now 18 days and I can’t waive the fee,” the customer relations person told me last Saturday.
“But I never would have ordered it had your colleagues – two of them on two occasions – not told me it would work for me. And it doesn’t. They were wrong. And your colleague in tech support – with whom I just spoke – has acknowledged they were wrong. I also have their names and employee numbers. Plus, no one ever told me about the 14 day period.”
“I am truly sorry,” she responded. “But it’s still after the 14 days.”
Getting nowhere, I asked to speak to her supervisor, who came on the line after 10 minutes on hold. Ultimately, the supervisor waived the fee.
Almost all of us have experienced frustration in dealing with customer service staff. What should we do in these negotiations? Here are some tips, which will also help in other negotiations.
1. Be patient, persevere and don’t lose your cool
At one point in this 90-minute call when I was talking to the third representative (customer service, then tech support, then customer service again) and put on hold for what seemed like an interminable period of time, I felt like throwing the phone against the wall. But it wouldn’t have helped.
It almost goes without saying – patience, perseverance and keeping calm are extremely valuable negotiation traits. They’re especially impactful in dealing with customer relations personnel.
“Hold on,” you say. “Was it really worth 90 minutes of aggravation to even deal with this? Just pay the fee and move on.”
Of course, we all evaluate this differently. Personally, I hate giving up when I believe I’m right. In similar circumstances, if you’re like me, stick with it.
2. These companies want you – and this gives you leverage
Don’t assume big companies have all the leverage. If you’re a customer, they want and need you – and this gives you leverage.
Have you ever gone to cancel a subscription or return something and were transferred to a special department? It’s no coincidence that these folks often can give you special discounts.
Companies want satisfied and returning customers because you are profitable to them. Plus, it’s usually cheaper for them to give current customers the occasional discount than to seek out new customers.
3. Move up the chain
Finally, if at first you don’t get satisfied, move up the chain and talk to their supervisor. The higher up the chain, the higher the likelihood they have the authority to help you and the more likely they recognize the true value of keeping customers happy.
My former assistant was great at this – she never hesitated to contact the President’s office if and when a significant problem arose and she had reached a dead end lower down.
To be most effective here, it’s also critical to have documented your conversations with their front-line representatives, so track their names, employee numbers and commitments.
One more piece of advice – the setting in which you engage makes a difference. So should you do this by phone, e-mail, live chat, website form, or by letter?
First, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer (even assuming you have a choice – and some companies won’t even give you a choice).
In deciding, though, keep in mind it’s easier for companies to say “no” in an impersonal environment (like e-mail or letter) versus the more personal (like phone or in person).
Of course, the in-person meeting is mostly a thing of the past. This may be good for everyone, though, especially when you feel like throwing something.
Published November 2, 2014 The Arizona Republic