How to get what you want from customer service

customer_service.top.gif By Linda Stern, contributing writer


(MONEY Magazine) -- Press 1 if you're delusional enough to think that the customer service rep you just spoke with actually gives a damn about your $5,000 cellphone bill, your exploded microwave or cancelled-without-notice flight.

Fortunately, not all technology is on the side of the companies that hide behind tortuous voicemail systems Savvy consumers are increasingly harnessing Twitter, Google, YouTube, and the rest of the web to get their complaints heard.

"Companies used to worry that a dissatisfied consumer would tell seven people," says Barry Moltz, who advises companies on customer service strategy. "Now you can tell 7 million people."

Case in point: Last year, after his guitar was allegedly damaged on a flight, singer-songwriter Dave Carroll wrote and performed a ditty called "United Breaks Guitars" that spread virally via YouTube. The result? A guitar manufacturer gave Carroll two new guitars, and United made a charitable donation in his name.

Fortunately, you don't need killer licks to get customer-service satisfaction; you just need to know how to get results online.

Find your quarry

Complaining directly to a company still works, but you'll need to break through to a live person to get any kind of resolution. A good place to start: Gethuman.com, which gives tips on bypassing the voicemail systems of thousands of companies.

No luck? Head up the food chain. With all the info that's online, it's fairly easy to find a firm's top brass. After his utility company removed trees on his property -- and his calls made no headway -- Joseph Goldberg of Harrisburg, Pa., tracked down the company's president online. Googling the name, Goldberg found a letter the exec had written that included a phone number. A call resulted in an offer to replace the trees.

Get the name of the president or CEO from the investor section of the firm's website or via the company directory at Consumerist.com. E-mail is usually more effective than a call. The boss's address may not be listed, but you can usually figure it out from press releases: If the publicist's e-mail is firstname.lastname@company.com, the president's probably is too.

Gather ammunition

Unhappy consumers gather online at sites like complaint.com, complaintsboard.com, consumeraffairs.com, my3cents.com, pissedconsumer.com, and ripoffreport.com. These six -- which recently earned accolades from the Consumer Federation of America -- have logged thousands of complaints, so they can be useful in helping you determine what type of remediation to request.

Search the sites to see if other people have had similar issues. If lots of folks' microwaves exploded, the company may have a standard resolution. (You should note in your complaint that you know it's a common problem.) If your experience is unique, see how the firm typically handles complaints. For example, when people got results from the airline you flew, did they get a refund or a voucher?

Strike at their reputation

If your e-mail doesn't get results, you can try embarrassing a company into treating you right. Many big corporations, including AT&T, Comcast, and Sears, have representatives trolling the web for aggrieved customers to protect the firms' reputations.

Try whining on the firm's Facebook wall or at the complaint sites noted earlier. (Just avoid statements that seem factual but can't be verified, such as "XYZ knowingly sells shoddy products" -- you could be sued, says Leslie Ann Ries, professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago.) And if you're on Twitter, air your complaint to your followers, ending it with "#[company name]." Businesses follow tweets that tag their names.

When Jeff Dodd, a Columbus, Ga., business traveler, vented on Twitter about what he thought was an excessive credit card hold for incidentals at a Kimpton Hotel, he got a quick tweet back from the company and a follow-up call from the hotel manager offering him an immediate refund and a free stay.

Press 2 if you think that beats being put on hold due to "unusually high call volume."  To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.98%4.08%
15 yr fixed3.09%3.11%
5/1 ARM3.20%3.22%
30 yr refi4.06%4.16%
15 yr refi3.17%3.20%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 17,799.69 -10.37 -0.06%
Nasdaq 4,741.59 28.62 0.61%
S&P 500 2,066.67 3.17 0.15%
Treasuries 2.32 0.00 0.09%
Data as of 1:09pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 17.10 -0.02 -0.12%
Apple Inc 118.21 1.74 1.49%
AT&T Inc 34.69 -0.59 -1.67%
Intel Corp 36.37 0.78 2.19%
Microsoft Corp 47.80 -0.18 -0.39%
Data as of 12:54pm ET

Sections

Digital Ally makes cameras that police officers can wear. They may get used more in the wake of Ferguson. But this is an incredibly risky stock. More

Russia's finance minister warned Monday that his country is losing up to $140 billion per year because of falling oil prices and sanctions with Western nations. More

Obama doesn't have the authority to create a startup visa, but part of his reform announcement could include a workaround for entrepreneurs: 'parole status.' More

Nearly half of all Americans say there's a chance they'll have to work during a holiday between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to a new poll. And one in four say they'll have to work whether they want to or not. More

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.