Throw a Fit, Get Better Service?


Thinks s/he gets paid by the post
Feb 8, 2003
Nomadic in the Rockies
This Forbes article ( [url] )[/url] describes what's behind those call center disclaimers like "this call may be recorded for quality purposes." I always figured it was for legal CYA and post-call evaluation of customer service.

But no, there are computers that listen for key words and even mood to alert supervisors to listen in on the call to avoid losing a customer or employee.

Now I suppose this makes sense for the business, but from my point of view if I'm a calm, cooperative customer then I am continually sent to the back of the line with the rest of the cows. My general personality and demeanor is to behave nicely and cooperatiely and I seem to usually get issues resolved quickly; but now I'm starting to feel like if I don't huff and puff on the phone I'll be given poorer service. I don't call a company to chat, if I call I have an issue that needs attention.

I've never been a ranting lunatic, but I may start practicing so I can get better service in the future.
I am naturally inclined to "puff" if someone isn't
seeing things my way. I used to joke that I had signed
up for a class in assertiveness training. People who
knew me thought that was pretty funny.

John Galt
Re:  A different approach

My father-in-law used to work the cameras for CBS News. When customer service wasn't helping, he'd ask them to call him back at CBS News. (This was particularly effective when he was assigned to the "60 Minutes" studio crew.) All his problems were usually handled on the first call.

My spouse has watched me torture many a "customer service" rep. I never have to throw a fit or even raise my voice. She claims that she wants to playback her own version of "This call may be recorded" before I get on the line. Hers would go something like this:

"You're about to speak to my spouse because the company has made a mistake. He's not upset or mad but he feels that the problem should be fixed and he can be pretty persistent. I have to warn you that he's retired and that this project is his #1 priority, so he has nothing better to do until the issue is resolved. If necessary, he'll tie up your headset for hours with his patient reasoning and his endless discussion of the situation. So go use the bathroom, get a cup of coffee, put a fresh tape in the recorder, order lunch, and settle in. You may want to alert your supervisor to hang around after the shift is over-- this could take a while. Or you could just do as he requests and quickly be free to resume your normal routine. Thank you for occupying him with your time so that I don't have to!"

Then I do exactly that. I take great care to frame the problem in terms of "the company" instead of "you". It's less confrontational so that operators don't feel as if they're being personally attacked and must defend themselves. They eventually tire of defending their bureaucracy (this never takes long) and they succumb to the "Helsinki Syndrome" temptation to do it my way. I'm particularly entertained when a rep feels that I must be educated on their company's business processes before I'm capable of understanding why a customer can't be serviced. I've engaged in many strange procedural conversations as a nuclear engineer, so I have no problem subverting a company's vocabulary & acronyms to my use. Eventually they realize how ridiculous their explanation sounds when I recite it back prefaced with "Now let me make sure I understand this. The company does it this way"... If I finally hear a sentence that starts with "Here's what we'll do" then I ask "OK, great! When can I expect that? What phone number should I call if there's a problem? What's your name and your supervisor's name? What's your e-mail address?" I use the same patient voice that my kid tries to escape by amputating her own body parts. It's not a Jay Leno voice or even Johnny Carson but more of a Gary "Laugh-In" Owens oozing of endless, droning, monotonous reasoning coupled with Frasier Crane's soothing chuckle.

If necessary, I haul out the heavy weapons and fight dirty. When they get my mailing address or phone number, I find out what part of the country they're in and I make small talk comparing its weather to Hawaii. (This works great anywhere north of Nebraska anytime after October. February in Minnesota? Problem solved!) I mention that I have plenty of time to wait on hold while they research my question or contact their supervisors, because I'm just sitting on my back lanai enjoying the view. I tell them how the morning surf session went, what I'll be doing that evening, what my account balance with them is, or how I'm taking notes for my posting to the discussion board dealing with their company. Eventually I make a connection with even the most occlusive rep, or the realization dawns that my publicity will be far more damaging than anything they've done to me.

I take good notes during this water torture because the most recalcitrant just don't get it on the first call. But on the second or third call, when I request them by name and my phone number activates their caller ID's flashing red light & siren, they start to recognize what this situation will do to their performance statistics. Resistance is futile.

I've thought of renting out my services to working people who don't have the time to deal with these problems. But then I remember that I'm not looking for a job...
Great topic.

I particularly enjoyed Nord's post. It should be syndicated for publication. :D

BTW my wife also says that my retirement "job" is resolviing problems on the phone with the insurance company, phone company, cable company, etc., etc.

My greatest frustration is that the customer services reps are never the ones who created the problem in the first place, or the ones who can change the process so the problem doesn't recur. Those are the people I really want to talk, just to vent my spleen with the folks who caused the %@^&*problem, not the poor CSRs who receive all the abuse for things they can't control.
A sore spot with me. It seems you cant get good service at all unless you're irate. I can list on one hand the number of companies that just do the right thing for the customer without irritation.

Thinking!Outside, who makes those nice plastic sheds and dog houses you can put together in an hour or so is a good one. I recently had a skylight from our big shed warp and blow off the shed, breaking it. I emailed them and their response was that a free replacement was in the mail.

Comcast cable, Dish networks and Ebays payment service Paypal all have demonstrated the most ridiculously poor customer service on the planet. Dish was about the worst customer experience in my life, and I wont do any sort of business with Paypal ever again. While I'm currently a comcast customer, as soon as DSL becomes available in my area I'll go right back to Directv, who gave me 7 wonderful years of service.

Sears and American Express also lost my business, both over two digit billing errors that they never resolved.

All five of these companies have actually told me that they would rather lose me as a customer and make no money from me rather than correct one of their mistakes, which were generally things that would cost them nothing, or a few dollars that were in dispute.

One of the things that still makes me shake my head in disgust is that many companies still havent figured out this "internet thing". They still operate in the mode that pissing off one customer is ok because they cant tell many people and other suckers will be lined up at the door tomorrow. Even companies that use the internet heavily completely discount the fact that I can go to a dozen "reviews" web sites and post negative comments about their service, costing them dozens, even hundreds of customers.

Worse still the outfits that consider customer service an expense item that produces no value and costs too much money. The first place for "cost savings". When I ran a business, I considered every connection with a customer an opportunity to strengthen the relationship...and make more money from them. It would NEVER have occurred to me to spawn a thought that said "Well, I can fix this guys problem, it wont cost me anything or it'll cost me five bucks, I think I'd rather piss him off, lose him as a customer and have him tell a thousand people that I suck".
Re:  A different approach

. . .My spouse has watched me torture many a "customer service" rep.  I never have to throw a fit or even raise my voice.  . . .
Well . . . good for you. But you clearly haven't talked with many of the custormer service folks I've dealt with in the past. I do not believe that any of the people who answer phones for "customer service" of most companies today have either the knowledge or authority to correct problems. They, in fact, are there as a barrier between the customer and the company. In addition, they appear to have the following marching orders:
1) Answer informational questions the best you can.
2) Deny any mistakes can be made regardless of the situation.
3) Under no circumstances forward a call to your supervisor or to anyone else. Never provide another name or number.
4) Continue to repeat our company's policies whether they apply to the situation or not.
5) Wear down the opponent . . . er, customer till he/she hangs up in disgust.

I have occasionally talked with a customer service organization that could be led to logical solutions, but it seems like fewer and fewer are really there for that reason.
LOL. That seems to be the script.

My favorite line to use which seems to break them down I get from an old friend.

When you tell them that they've done something wrong or whatever, and you get the invariable "We couldnt have done that" or "that couldnt have happened that way" (has that ever resolved the problem?) to calmly say:

"So are you calling me stupid, or a liar? And while you're deciding, I'll try to figure out which will make me more upset."
Quote: Worse still the outfits that consider customer service an expense item that produces no value and costs too much money. The first place for "cost savings". When I ran a business, I considered every connection with a customer an opportunity to strengthen the relationship...and make more money from them.

This ties back to where we left the discussion about work in the "Introvert" thread.

The most satisfying period of my career was the late '80s early 90's when the focus of business was on the customer. We sincerely worked to identify the customers' needs and to surpass their expectations. That all went to the wayside when we entered executive stock option era in the mid '90s and was surplanted by focus on continuously and inexorably reducing costs, pretty much regardless of the consequences. Productivity and head count reduction became the priorities.

Now it is very hard to find an organization whose first priority is customer satisfaction, even though it is still the key to staying in business for the long haul. This is particularly true for businesses where invididual consumers are the customers.
Guess I should register so I could edit my posts and change things like "invididual" to individual. :D
I enjoy the businesses like cable and cell phone, where they'll pay millions to draw in new customers with marketing and signup deals, and not do a thing for existing customers in good standing like throw them a bone or giving them good service so they'll stay.

I suppose you'll find a marketing guy running those companies, not a guy that used to run customer service ;)

I remember many years ago one of the companies I did business with (that I cant remember who may be an indicator that this isnt that great an idea - it was some optional utility like cable or a bill paying service) that did a "thanks for being our customer for 3 years, this months bill has been halved to show you our appreciation for your business". Nice.
Regarding cell phones... I called Sprint about getting a free phone (under a new customer promotion) since we had service for 3 years and were a loyal customer. When they said that the offer did not apply to existing customers, I asked if he was recommending that we switch to AT&T, who would treat us like a new customer. I then asked if he could check with his supervisor to see if that was really their official position. We got the new phone in the mail later that week.

I'm not anywhere as good as Nords at this, but sometimes have done ok.

It's like I always say; it's amazing what people will agree
to if you just ask.

John Galt
It works in every field of endeavor, business, romance,
etc. I try to negotiate just about everything, unless
I am convinced I already have a terrific deal and don't want to chance losing it by annoying someone.
I used this to great advantage when I was an active
real estate investor. I had to make a lot of offers
before I closed a deal, but when I did profitability was
a slam dunk. I would ask for all sorts of stuff. For example, I routinely asked the seller to leave 100%
of their personal property on the premises, unless it
was junk. Of course, this is not "throwing a fit", just
having the guts to ask. I did read about a woman
(I think it was in MONEY magazine) who made a kind of career of complaining. She was relentless in following up every slight, bad product or poor
service. She had received thousands of dollars in
refunds, rebates and free products. This took a lot of time and effort of though. Most of us just vow never to use
that company again and move on.

John Galt
Re:  Does anybody really know what time it is?

Yesterday (Thursday) my kid's plane flight was delayed. It was supposed to take off from LAX at 8 PM (LA time) and land in Honolulu at 11:48 PM but we were told it'd be an hour late.

At 7 PM Hawaii time (9 PM LA time) I called Delta's computer and was given the same old scheduled times. I figured the flight was still boarding and I didn't worry about it. At 9 PM Hawaii time, Delta's computer refused to give me Thursday's flight times because it was on the east coast and thus in a time zone where it was already Friday. To make things more comical, as I attempted to discuss this with my wife sitting next to me, the Delta computer interpreted my aside comments as a verbal response to their phone questions and it kept moving me to different menus. I finally had to hang up.

The Delta website hadn't been updated at all.

I finally phoned the Delta computer back at 9:30 and patiently remained mute to all of its impassioned pleas. In desperate frustration it connected me to a real, live human being. I explained the problem and asked them to look up the flight. She responded "Sir, flight 341 will land in Honolulu at 1:09 midnight."

What followed could have been straight out of a Seinfeld routine. I responded "Which one-- 1:09 or midnight?" "Yes, sir." "Those are two different times. Is it 1:09 or is it midnight?" "Sir, it's 1:09 midnight."

We lurched along in this vein for a while until I asked "How many hours from now will that be?" She said "I'll have to figure that out." I said "You're not in Honolulu, are you-- where are you located?" She said "New Delhi, sir." Hearing what I thought was a phonetic description of a suburb in Delta's hometown, I asked "In Atlanta?" and she said "No sir, the Indian Ocean." It finally dawned on me that I was communicating with a citizen of the country of India. She told me how many hours out the flight was and I said "1:09 AM?" She responded "Yes, sir, that's what I said, 1:09 midnight."

I gave up and drove to the airport. The flight landed at 1:09 AM. I'll never think of AM in the same way again...
Apparently midnight is colloquial for "during the middle of the night" in "Inglish". ::)

There was a report in in one of the computer magazines last week about a Dell owner who called Dell customer service about a problem with his computer on the last day before the warranty expired.

The service rep was in India where it was already "tomorrow" and told the customer that his warranty had expired the day before. The customer had to escalate the problem to a higher level before his warranty claim was finally accepted.

Hard to believe that problems with timezone differences weren't already anticipated when the call center was established.
Most outfits should build a little buffer into their warranties, a few days, weeks or months depending on the cost of the item and the length of the original warranty.

I'm reminded of when I bought a Ford truck a few years ago and had a bunch of little problems, decided to hoard them up and get them done all at once. In my mind saving myself and Ford from a handful of small servicings. A month or so before the warranty expired I brought it in. This is when I discovered that the dealer had sold the truck previously a month before I bought it, but the guys check bounced. However Ford considered the original sale to start the warranty ticking.

I was 2 days out of warranty.

So I called the dealer. Why of course, that could never have happened that way ("so are you calling me stupid or a liar?"). The salesman would have told me the car was previously sold but never driven, and that the warranty was shortened (he never said a thing), and also the truck would have been in a different place on the lot, signifying that it wasnt new. When I inquired as to how I, as a regular guy and not an employee, would know about the "different place" signifying a non-new vehicle, he was clearly flummoxed. I escalated to the sales manager and then to the assistant of the dealership owner. So sorry, nothing they can do.

So Ford keeps a hotline for out-of-warranty disputes. I called. Very nice people. So sorry, nothing they can do. I'm thinking at this point that I know how ford can save some money on headcount.

On a lark, I called the service manager. Explained it to him. "oh, the guys over in sales do that all the time, bring it in, I'll take care of it". Problem solved.

I'm still wondering how it is that the rest of the folks in the dealership didnt just suggest I talk to the service manager. Or why someone at Ford couldnt have said "well, sounds like you were trying to do the right thing and you paid a lot for your vehicle, why aggravate you by not honoring the full warranty you thought you had?".

But they can spend millions on their "have you looked at a ford lately?" campaign.

No, and not bloody likely since all three times in my life I've bought a ford, the dealer pulled a slimeball move on me.

At least I didnt get referred to an overseas call center.

I heard that Dell was taking their service and support back to the US because of low customer satisfaction, and because some productivity studies showed that the low cost overseas labor was also lower in productivity to about the same pay difference.

Proving once again that there is no free lunch.
I'm having an odd little problem, and because it is
actually "little" I have chosen not to throw a fit.
I do reserve the right however :)

For your amusement..............

I have two (2) Mastercards with the same bank. I
called the 800 no. and asked them to combine my
credit limits in one card and cancel the other. (Note:
I was not asking for an increase, just to consolidate).
The person on the phone asked for some information
including my income and told me to call back in 2-3 hours
for an answer. I thought that was weird since I have done this before, maybe 3 times, and it took one call
and a few minutes to get it all done. I called back and was told that it might be easier to go through my local bank branch. I did so, was asked the same questions and waited 2 days. Answer was "sorry, we can't do it." Not to be deterred, I tried another branch where I know the manager personally. However, he
turned it over to an underling who collected all of the
same information (again) and submitted my request
to "underwriting". No word after about 5 days.
The capper? My combined credit limit on the card
would be a paltry 15K. I presently have over $100,000
on deposit at this bank and my credit is golden.

Go figure.

John Galt
Heh, I had a similar credit card issue several years back.  I had a credit card with a $10,000 limit and an 18% interest rate.  the rate didn't matter to me too much, but I noticed an online ad from the same bank about a card with a 9.99% interest rate.  I thought, not
bad, just in case i miss a payment.  So, I call up the credit card company, tell them I saw their ad, and would like them to reduce my interest rate to 9.99% on my current card like the ad.  "Uh, you will get an answer within 24 hours."  Ummm, ok, I guess.  So, the next day or so (don't remember) they actually called and said they couldn't do it.  So, I apply online for the other card, am approved at the same credit limit as my first card, and I get it in the mail in a few days.  I call and cancel the other card and get all kinds of questions about "why ?".  Sucks I was still dealing with the same company, but can you believe this level of stupidity ??!!

inwave.comRe: Throw a Fit, Get Better Service?

Yes, I can believe that level of stupidity as I encounter
it every day. With regard to my odd experience with
this bank, I assume they have a book of rules/procedures and my situation doesn't fit. So far, no one has stepped forward to say, "Hey, this is dopey.
Just combine his cards and move on!"

John Galt
Isnt it rather absurd that companies will treat new customers who have never given them a dime like royalty, and give nothing to long time customers?

Then when the long time loyal customers leave for someone elses "new customer deal" they'll lay out millions to run yet another new customer deal.

I've been forced to take advantage of it by skipping through deals. I've been a customer of comcast twice, directv three times and dish network once, in each case getting $9.99 and $19.99 deals for six months, free hbo, free nfl sunday ticket, etc. I change credit cards, telephone suppliers, and used to change cell phone carriers until I got rid of mine.

At least ER gives you time to absorb the 'change' from one supplier to the next...
TH, I agree completely. I too jump all around for the
best deal, because I have time to do it. In the old days
(workaholic), I just kept paying to avoid shopping and
assimilating a new supplier. Once ERed, a new world of money saving options appeared.

John Galt
John, and TH, THEY, don't know we are ER's. I had the same problem with Bell Canada trying to jack me around with long distance rates here in London ON. Just say you're retired, and aren't putting up with this crap! :-*, and just mention the competition. The story quickly changes and rollbacks are in order! :D
As Paul Harvey says, here is "the rest of the story".

Yesterday I tried calling yet another bank branch
for help (this makes 5 people at 4 locations). I was told
they had to wait for "underwriting". Then in the mail
I got 2 form letters asking me to submit 2 years of tax
returns and a financial statement so they could continue
"processing". Remember, I was not asking for a new
card or even more credit, only to consolidate the limits
on 2 cards I already held. Stupid! I cut both cards in two, stuffed them into an envelope with the form letters, and mailed the
whole works to the local branch manager. By the way,
the bank was Fifth Third. They have seen the last of me
as soon as I can arrange it.

John Galt
Apparently midnight is colloquial for "during the middle of the night" in "Inglish".  ::)

Yes, I think it's just a language problem, although I've personally not heard this one - I would have expected to hear "due in at 1:07 today morning".

The informations are all there but it's just in a different different explanation type.
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