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Good Customer Service: Getting it Right When Things Go Wrong

By (view all posts by stella.louise)
at 2:10PM Friday April 2, 2010
under Stuff We Like

I was in the mall last weekend and having braved the parking garage and finally squeezing into a spot between two badly parked SUVs (don't even get me started!), I headed to Nordstrom to accomplish my main goal:  to turn a $20 gift card into a jar of Mario Badescu Healing Cream.  Unfortunately, this particular Nordstrom did not carry the entire line and so I couldn't complete my mission.  The polite saleswoman told me the item could be found at their location at The Grove (much farther in distance, same irritating parking issues...) or at the Sephora in Century City (referring me to another store?  How "Miracle on 34th Street" is THAT?!!!).

As I sighed and started to turn away defeated, she piped up with, "If the item costs at least $25, we can order it and have it shipped to you for free..."

Well, what do you know--the Healing Cream costs $26, so I was in luck.  Ordered Saturday afternoon, arrived on Tuesday.  No muss, no fuss--and no shipping fees.  And most importantly, no having to drag myself across town to locate the product.
Now this story's happy ending isn't all that surprising:  Nordstrom's phenomenal customer service is practically legendary.  But it got me to thinking of those rare shining moments where a company really does step up to the plate and show that they value the people who buy their products or services.  Too often we hear--and have--horror stories of impossible to navigate customer service phone menu systems, interminable holding times and call center representatives whose accents prevent us from understanding a word of their pre-scripted "support."

There are entire blogs dedicated to illuminating the poor customer service experience--most notably Consumerist, which is a favorite of mine (after all who doesn't love a good snark?)--but I thought I'd go the positive route for a change and, with the help of my fellow Savings.comer's, highlight instances where customer service done us right.

Sara (aka WiscoVixen) is high on Verizon:
"Despite the company's enormous size, the CSRs at Verizon Wireless are super helpful. I once had a BlackBerry that would just randomly clear all my emails and text messages (later I found out, due to not enough GBs of storage), and both times I can remember calling in about it, the people that helped me were SO helpful. They spent all kinds of time walking me through tips and tricks to get my phone back working properly.

I've been a Verizon Wireless customer for eight years now, and I have no plans on switching networks any time soon...even though the iPhone has been taunting me from AT&T for a while now."

Lindsay is agreement with her, citing the following, "I have to say Verizon customer service is pretty excellent. I once went over my minutes and had a $300 phone bill and they waived all overages to keep me as a customer."

I have to say, my experience with Verizon has also been good.  Except for the one (admittedly new) CSR who told me it would cost $7 to terminate the unnecessary $1.99 long distance access (waived when escalated to a supervisor), everyone I've dealt with at Verizon has been very nice and helpful.  Especially a supervisor named Pat who went above and beyond to schedule a tech appointment at 6 pm to get my wireless internet up and running rather than subject me to the standard "We'll be there sometime between 8 am and 5 pm..." appointment vortex...

Joe G. also had a cell phone issue nicely resolved, "I went to Mexico and left my phone on the entire time. Which means I had about $220 worth of data charges from incoming emails. I called AT&T and they changed my plan and backdated it before my trip. Anyway, AT&T's cellular service still sucks but the customer service has been pretty good."

Annie and Scott both had positive cell phone experience was with T-Mobile with Annie stating, " I think the best service is the kind you don't even notice. Although, T-Mobile was pretty awesome when I lost my cell phone. They were like "How frustrating! We'll send you a new one in 24 hours." After Verizon (FAIL!) and Sprint (UGH. FAIL.) and AT&T (don't get me started), it was refreshing.

Scott reflected on his T-Mobile interaction saying, "I just had a really pleasant experience with a T-Mobile customer service rep...It did involve navigating a labyrinthian series of automated questionnaires and dept. transfers, but in the end I was able to speak with a guy named Herb (who was, as cliches would suggest, in India), who helped me sort out everything I needed to take care of."

I'm a T-Mobile customer myself and have been pretty happy with them--although their tech support can be hit or miss in my experience, depending on who's at the other end of the phone...

Lia and Jeff had some positive customer experiences while traveling.  Lia recalls, "I called [Continental Airlines customer service] in Portugal at 11am Europe time (when I was visiting) and I heard an answering machine for 30 minutes (in Brazilian, not Portuguese)! I hung up, called through Skype the US toll free number (4am Pacific time), they answered right away and helped with my issue.

Jeff got a free room upgrade thanks to a super helpful hotel employee:
"Last year I booked a Maui vacation through Expedia and it included the flight, hotel and car. I wasn't particularly excited about the location of the hotel room and wanted an upgrade to the ocean view room without paying for it.

I called the Westin in Maui and told them my story. He explained that nothing is guaranteed, but he made a note in the system requesting an ocean view room if available. When I arrived at the hotel, the same guy was working at the front and I explained my situation again. He was more than happy to help me with my request. Even though he didn't remember the conversation at the time, he was able to read his own writing and the ocean view room was mine!!
"

The person who waited on Diane and her family probably walked away with a nice tip due to their superior service as she recalls, "Last year, I was very surprised at the great dinner service we received while dining out at Macaroni Grill. They were super courteous and pleasant. Seems few and far between lately, so the experience definitely stood out."

Darin highlights the importance of finding a good and trustworthy mechanic--as well as making sure you take advantage of your warranties:

"A few months ago I took my car in for a regular tune-up and service. With only eighteen miles left on the warranty, I asked the service department to look the car over from top to bottom including all the major systems (electrical, transmission, engine, cooling, joints, suspension, exhaust, hoses, belts, seals, etc.) since it would most likely be the last time they had the car and any necessary repairs were covered. I pointed out a few items I thought needed investigation and told them to take their time since I didn't want to rush what could save me thousands.

Three days later the service department called to tell me they had found several items that needed attention, including the issues I had noticed. Those three days of waiting saved me $4,800 plus a free rental car and plenty of preventive maintenance on the car. And this is at the dealer.

Had it not been for the top-notch and thorough service department, I may be paying for all those repairs myself. When I went to pick up the car, I made sure to visit the service manager's office and explained what a good job his staff had done from start to finish.

The best part of the scenario is that the warranty division sent out an agent to inspect my car and the proposed work to be done...since I only had eighteen miles left on the warranty...and then signed-off on all of it."

While the USPS may be undergoing a budget crisis, according to Adam's experience their customer service hasn't taken a hit:

"A few months ago I tracked a package sent via USPS and the website said "delivered" but it wasn't so I opened up a support request on the internet with the problem and my contact info. I hit submit and 30 seconds later I got a phone call telling me my package was at the local USPS office and it would be redelivered tomorrow. I was blown away how quick the call came. Say what you want about the postal service, they have their customer support act together."

Erika, Amy and Jason had some good retail customer service experiences. Erika may have become a loyal Stacks and Stacks customer due to their handling of her issue:

"I worked eight long years in retail and feel that many customer service oriented companies leave a lot to be desired...but, I had a such a fabulous experience with a Stacks and Stacks CSR it actually gave me faith in customer service again! I received the incorrect furniture item for my daughter's bedroom that I'd purchased from them through Amazon. When I called Amazon, they weren't able to help me and directed me to fill out a form and wait to hear from Stacks and Stacks within three business days.

Since I didn't want to wait (I'm also a tad impatient when it comes to these sorts of things) I called Stacks and Stacks and the CSR helped me immediately and got the correct item sent to me. I wanted to keep the items that had been accidentally shipped to me, so she arranged for appropriate discounts so it would match the price of Amazon and didn't charge me for the shipping (since it was already at my house!). She also followed up on my order once it was shipped with and email and phone call to give me the tracking info and estimated time of delivery. A++!"

Amy sings the praises of Victoria's Secret:

"I had a great experience with Victoria's Secret a few months ago. I was gone on a week long vacation and totally forgot that my package was arriving in the mail. I checked my email during the trip and saw that it was delivered at my doorstep. Alas, when I returned home, there was no package in sight. I asked my apartment manager and she said she never got anything from UPS. Obviously, it had been stolen. I called VS up and told them that my package wasn't where it was supposed to be. The rep told me she would ship out my order the same day. No questions asked, free of charge too. I'm amazed she did since my order was over $100. Good thing I got the next package shortly thereafter."

And Jason is high on the speedy and personalized support from SmugMugs.com:

"Off the top of my head, the best customer support experiences I've had are from the Support Heroes at SmugMug.com.

You email them with a question and you hear back from a person in 5-10 min. No ticket tracking gobbledygook or anything, just "Joe" or "Dave" or "Andy" reply in common English. Their support guys are regular folks hired from among their fanatical fans to man the support posts.

I once had a color issue with a print and SmugMug contacted the printer directly and sent me an explanation and apology.

They're also really transparent as a company, and have accessible people, from the founders on down. I think it reinforces the notion that a company *is* people--not just some edifice--and that's a huge part of the appeal."

Robert said, "Sometimes it's what the people on the other end of the line DON'T do that counts," clarifying what hassle-free customer service means to him:

"Up until January, I had a Chase Visa credit card that I never used, and I wanted to cancel the card. I put it off for months because I thought I'd be dealing with a call center in a far-away developing country with a night shift representative reading line by line from a customer retention script of "valuable offers" as I keep telling them "no" as politely as I can, over and over and over again. Finally I built up my resolve and called. I immediately found myself speaking with a fellow Californian who canceled my card without fuss. The whole process took 30 seconds.

Whether this was simply a case of a large bank reducing their "risk" in an uncertain market or a tale of no-hassles customer service, I have no idea!"

It's heartening to know that there are still people who, when things go wrong, are willing to go the extra mile to make things right. If you're ever in a situation where you need to deal with customer service, here are some tips to help you get things resolved in your favor:

  1. Remain calm:  Yes, you've been on hold for what seems like nine hours--but snapping at the person on the other end of the line isn't going to help your cause. 
  2. Get their name:  Not just for the record, but to use proactively.  There is real power is using a person's name; it creates a positive connection.  So when that CS rep answers comes on the line and says, "This is Doris.  How can I help you?," make sure to say something like "Hi Doris!  Here's my issue..."
  3. Be polite:  Again, you've been wronged and you're frustrated--but the nicer you are to the customer service person, the more likely they are to help you.  I always make sure when I'm stating my case that there's a separation between the irritation I have at the company who @#$% me and my dealing with the employee of that company.  If you happen to end up with a surly rep, don't let that rile you.  Instead calmly and politely ask to speak with their supervisor.
  4. Be concise:  There's no need to go off on a tangential rant--make sure you can clearly and quickly identify your issue.  The CS rep is more likely to be able your issue if you don't confuse them with extraneous information.
  5. Know what you want:  What's your goal?  To get a charge you think unfair removed from your bill?  A free month of service to compensate from sporadic outages?  An apology? Know going in what you want to accomplish and make sure it's reasonable.  For example, if a retailer forgets to ship an item--or an item arrives damaged--having them re-ship it is a reasonable outcome.  Having them re-ship it AND removing the charge so you get it free is probably unreasonable.
  6. Escalate if necessary:  Often the person on the front lines doesn't have the authority to grant your request--even if it is completely reasonable.  In which case you thank them for their time and ask to speak to their supervisor. 

Any positive customer experiences to share? Let us know in the comments!