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These days, customer support often seems like a dirty word. All of us consumers likely have an expectation of what constitutes good customer service, and, based on my experiences, many of are often disappointed.

What is good customer service, and why am I writing about it in a blog for caregivers? Good customer service is not the exclusive domain of any one type or size of company. I’ve dealt with large companies that are amazing and small companies what are awful, and the reverse. Having been in customer-facing roles most of my career, my definition of good customer service includes the following characteristics:

  • Monitored and responsive (and easily found) channels for reaching customer service representatives. I don’t care if it’s by phone, Twitter, Facebook, carrier pigeon, or shortwave radio. Companies need to make it easy to find their contact information, and they need to respond! (This is my biggest pet peeve!)
  • Customer service representatives who listen and empathize, not in a scripted, emotionless way, but in a sincere, “I feel your pain” kind of way.
  • Company customer service policies based on honesty and transparency. This means if the company is having a problem with quality or fulfillment or whatever, they should fess up and not try to make excuses.
  • Following through on commitments is a must. If the company promises to take care of a problem, or do something special, then they need to do it — no ifs, ands, or buts.
  • Representatives must be empowered to look for alternative solutions if required. They might have to recommend a different product, or even a different company, but in the end, they should be helpful and not obstructive.

What all these things have in common is that they demonstrate the company’s integrity, and integrity builds trust, and trust builds loyalty. I often read how loyality (either company or brand) is a thing of the past, but I don’t agree. I believe that while it is easier for consumers to switch, they would prefer to stay loyal if they are happy with the product, service or company.

So, back to “why am I writing about this in a caregiver’s blog?” The reason is that as a fulltime caregiver, and fulltime parent, experiencing good customer service is paramount to my efficiency and my sanity.

The Good, The Bad, and The “I’m going to scream!”

Here are a few heavily redacted examples to prove my point — I’ve changed the company names so no harm would come to the various customer service representatives.

When J first came home from short-term rehab, I bought a lightweight transport wheelchair from a well-known national medical equipment supplier. I loved the chair! After a few months, the brakes started to fail — I called customer service. After several attempts at explaining what the problem was, they routed me to Quality Assurance. As directed, I took photos and video and sent them to the QA rep who was nice but not so helpful. First they sent me replacement wheels, which turned out to be for a different model. Then, after I discovered that the problem was the brake assembly, they sent me an entire new chair and asked that I return the old one.

So I used the new chair, and after a few months, the problem reoccurred. Again, I had to go through the same process with customer service and then with QA. I explained why I thought they had a defect in their brake quality and specifically showed them what was wearing out. All I needed was that one little part. Then, after all of that, I heard nothing — for several weeks. No response to my emails, no response to voice mails. Then one day, a new chair showed up — a completely different transport chair that was certainly better build but much heavier.

This time, I called the QA manager listed on one of the last emails received, and he happened to pick up. I asked about the status of the complaint and about the new chair I received without notice. I asked if I needed to return the old chair which wasn’t that old. He said would look into it and get back to me. Now, four weeks later, I’ve heard nothing.

This example breaks many of the suggestions I offered above. There is no honestly or transparency, the reps and managers are not empowered, there is no honoring commitments, and in the end, I have no trust in the company or their products. And when you are transferring your wife from the chair to the car on a hill in the rain, you need to have trust in the chair!

As I mentioned earlier, the customer service problem that makes me crazy, is when companies don’t monitor and respond to their email, voicemail or social media inquiries. I used to get paid a lot to provide advice to businesses, but now I will offer some free advice:  If you don’t pay attention to your contact points, then don’t advise people to use them! In fact, don’t make them available at all. This holds true even for customer calls that you leave on hold. When I’ve called a company two or three times, I get the same “We apologize for the delay but we are experience a spike in customer calls” message, all it does is lead me to believe that either you have serious problems or you just aren’t staffing your call center adequately.

I have many more stories — I take pride in the customer service problems I’ve tackled on behalf of myself or my clients — but let’s stay positive and proactive.

What To Do When You Aren’t Satisfied

First, and most importantly, stay calm. Yes, there it is, I said it. I don’t always do it but I am a strong advocate of it. Stay calm! It’s likely that the person you’re screaming at has no control, no stake, and no authority. Treat bad customer service like a crime mystery and be patient and methodical about solving the problem.

Second, document everything and take names. It’s important that you keep track of what was said, what commitments were made, who you were talking to and when. This is useful as you escalate your case to the higher powers at the company, but especially useful if you end up suing or using an outside service like WNBC-TV New York’s “Better Get Baquero“.

Third, escalate, escalate, escalate! If you’re not getting satisfaction, ask for the manager. If the manager is not helpful, ask for the manager’s manager. Worst case, ask for the address of the CEO’s office so you can write a letter or call. I’ve written many letters throughout the years — some praising, most complaining — and for the most part, letters to the CEO do get a response. You might not get satisfaction, but you will get a response.

Finally, and maybe most importantly; companies — especially public companies — are especially sensitive to complaints voiced on social media. Post your problem, if you’re willing to be public about it, on Facebook or Twitter and be sure to tag the offending company. Be reasonable and thoughtful, and you might be surprised how quickly you get a response. TIP: this works great for getting the attention of your state elected officials.

I’m sure this topic will show up again in future posts, so I’d love to hear your stories and your solutions.

Thoughtful Comments Appreciated!

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