Persistent negotiation: An inoculation against crummy customer service

It’s a sad feature of the world we all inhabit: Most customer service representatives seem surprisingly unequipped to serve us. “I’ll have our technical department call you back when this matter is resolved.” (No you won’t). “Your internet service will resume by Tuesday.” (Try Friday). Like it or not, an excessively large proportion of our customer service representatives could not serve a tennis ball, let alone a customer with complex questions.

We can let it get to us, and sometimes we do. Or we can deal with it, most notably by steeling ourselves to negotiate, persistently, for the very things we have been promised and deserve. I’d suggest the latter, which can make life substantially negotiable.

Allow me to offer an anecdote from my own life that illustrates, the background being that I have long dreamed of owning a canoe, and it concerns a store we’ll call Rick’s Sporting Goods. As you read, notice the five unnecessary errors that necessitated five negotiations.

  1. Shortly before Christmas (and this part has nothing to do with a canoe) I realized I hadn’t purchased my daughter a critical Christmas present sold at Rick’s. Visiting a local Rick’s, I was told by several teenage males engrossed entirely in their iPhones that I could order it online. “Will it arrive by Christmas?” I asked. “It should,” they replied unconvincingly and without lifting their eyes from ESPN.com. Thus, I had to negotiate with them to pull up a new website on their iPhones—namely, Rick’s—then verify their own shipping policy and add some text to the order guaranteeing it would arrive by Christmas.
  2. Checking the order status online that night, I discovered of course that it wouldn’t. So I went on Rick’s chat platform and exchanged a couple messages with Suzy Helps-a-Lot, resulting in some sorrys but not a lot more. “Can you offer anything more in recognition of my frustration and the fact that I’ll now have to find the item somewhere else?” “Yes, we’ll take 20% off your next order,” she assured me.
  3. Having bought the Christmas gift on Amazon, I then visited the same Rick’s store in January to buy a canoe with said discount, only to discover that a different set of teenage iPhoners knew nothing about it. Furthermore, they knew very little about their own inventory, as they directed me to examine some canoes in the back when in fact no canoes would arrive for another two months. “How can I use the 20% I was promised (and that is printed on this chat record) when the canoes arrive in March?” I asked upon returning to the teenage iPhoners. And that negotiation finally convinced them to set down their iPhones and call their own customer service department, which sent me a promotion code valid for online purchases.
  4. Trying to use the promotion code to buy a canoe online in March (the first time one could do so for canoes), I discovered that it had expired. Calling customer service and explaining the whole situation again, including the fact that I was promised the ability to use the coupon for a canoe, I again asked what they could do—specifically, whether they could send a new code. Luckily, this negotiation led them to do so.
  5. Trying to finally buy the elusive canoe online, wouldn’t you know it, their website was broken! But a new Suzy Helps-a-Lot directed me to make my “online” purchase in the store and assure them she said it was ok. Of course, since Suzy had not recorded her recommendation in the system and the promotion code was restricted to “online” purchases, this necessitated yet another negotiation, just to use the promotion code. And finally, oh finally, I convinced them to do so and found myself with a canoe.

Now, few experiences with customer service are quite that bad. But it’s a sad fact of life that many are quite bad indeed. We can let it get to us, and often we do. But I’d suggest persistent negotiation instead, combatting crummy customer service with redoubled resolution.

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