Customer service secrets of big companies

January 10, 2015

th-1Today I’m revealing customer service secrets that big companies don’t want you to know.

Did you know that many big companies have special departments to handle customers who escalate their complaints in a certain way? And that the staff of those special departments are charged with making the customers they talk to happy by going the extra mile? I’m going to tell you about those departments and how to find them.

I first encountered one of these secret customer service departments when we had ongoing and difficult problems with our Comcast service.  At my wit’s end, I called the head of the company and his assistant pointed me to what Comcast calls its “executive customer service department.”  The charming and concerned customer service rep not only helped solve my problem but gave us a year of premium cable channels for our trouble. Wow! I was impressed.

That was something I remembered when catalog jeweler Ross-Simons got under my skin in a big way.  Here’s what happened:

Killing time in the San Francisco Saks 5th Avenue, I saw a beautiful ring that I coveted.  And one of my best girlfriends also coveted it.  But it was nearly $2,000 and neither of us coveted it that badly.

Still, I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I looked for something similar online. After several abortive attempts to get Etsy jewelry-makers to fashion the ring for me, I found something similar in a Ross-Simons catalog.  For less than $100.  I’ve purchased from Ross-Simons in the past and have always been happy with what I received.

Just thought he was cute.

Just thought he was cute. He liked the ring, too.

I quickly ordered two rings: one in my size and one in girlfriend’s.

Girlfriend’s ring came first and it was gorgeous. She loved it.  So did I.  But mine took about a month to arrive.  Ripping open the large envelope with excitement I couldn’t wait to see the ring.

Which had a huge diagonal flaw across the face.  How it passed quality control, I don’t know, because it was obviously flawed.

I called for a Return Merchandise Authorization. On the form I specified I wanted them to send me a different ring, not a refund.

A few weeks later I received notice of a refund, so I called Ross-Simons.  Their reps are very  nice, and the nice woman I spoke with had no idea why I didn’t get a new ring. So she placed a new order for me.

“Now, don’t send me the same ring back,” I cautioned. Because that’s happened to me. I returned something damaged and then got it back as its replacement.

Oh no!After a week or so, I got the replacement ring.

Actually, I didn’t. I got the same flawed ring back.

So I called and explained to a different rep.

“Maybe all the rings in that size have the same flaw,” she said.

“If so, then you have a real problem with QC,” I told her.

She said the only way we’d know for sure would be for me to hold on to the flawed ring and let her send a new one out in my size. Comparing the two side-by-side would tell us if it was a production problem.

“Can’t someone in the warehouse simply go eyeball the ring?” I asked.  She said they couldn’t.  “Can I talk to a supervisor?”  She said the supervisor couldn’t do more than what she just did for me.

I also tweeted Ross-Simons but got a not-helpful reply.  It’s true that Twitter is sometimes a good place to get customer service problems resolved, but this was not so for Ross-Simons.

A week later I received the new ring.  Upon opening the box I could see immediately it was perfect. Yay!

And then I tried it on.  It was too small.  The receipt had the correct size, but the ring was clearly a size smaller.

You’re probably thinking, she gave up, right?

No way! I loved that ring. So I looked up the number for the president of Ross-Simons, dialed and asked for his office.  The operator asked my name and company.

“I’m not with a company,” I said.  She asked me what this was about.  “A customer service issue that is driving me insane.”

2518EE4D53B2997E042461She told me that she would connect me with the customer service manager who handles customer service issues faced by customers who call the president’s office.

BINGO! I’d  hit the customer service jackpot.

I reached a very  nice customer service manager who was not only sympathetic, but got back to me within a few hours.

There was one ring left in my size and she’d sent someone to examine it in the warehouse. (You know, what I’d suggested to the earlier reps that they said was impossible. Nothing is impossible for an executive-referral employee like this manager.)  The face of that last ring was perfect but the mounting was flawed. New rings are due in Dec. 5, she told me, and recommended I wait for the new rings and she would send one out to me. Meanwhile, I should keep the other two rings to compare. We’d figure out the return later.

I told her we were leaving the country on Dec. 4 I warned her that I wouldn’t get back to her until mid-December and she said that was ok.  That ring arrived promptly, while we were gone and it had a brand new flaw. GRRR.

Still, here’s the takeaway:

If you can’t solve a customer service problem through traditional channels, and I encourage you to make every attempt to go that route first, you have another option. And that is to call the office of the president of the company. Chances are that his or her assistant will have a referral to the manager who is charged with solving difficult problems.

If the company does not offer you this option, you can call the Investor Relations Department of a public company, or its Media Relations Department.  If you are a blogger, you can use that fact as veiled threat, although I didn’t.  Often, staff in these departments will help you find a solution. It’s worth a try.

Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how it all turns out with Ross-Simons.

So how about you? Got any customer service secrets to reveal?

24 comments on “Customer service secrets of big companies
  1. Ricki says:

    I have many such stories since I found Cablevision executive customer service in 2005. After many days of abuse and sub, sub, dub par service, the CSRs telling me that had no supervisors and looking up the corporate office, my neighbor called me at work to find out if I was sleeping with the president of the company because there were 8 trucks at my house, rerunning lines!

  2. ryder ziebarth says:

    That is exactly what I did with Restoration Hardware! I looked up the presidents name, spoke to his well mannered, experience secretary who then put me in touch with a lovely woman who finally oversaw the delivery and installation of the proper bed frame to fit their headboard I had ordered moths prior. It had to happen twice, but boy, did it happened fast. All free of charge, plus two 20% off cards good for my lifetime.

  3. Great information to know! Thanks Carol!
    And I like your comment at the end… I have a blog and know how to use it!

  4. Always on the look out for “how things really work,” I love this article. I did something similar with the Heartbleed security threat. But I had my activist buttons pushed, too. We who have the luxury of time and agency to act – that people who are just trying to tow the line, make ends meet, and live their lives with not enough anything – can find the right person, office, or action. Everything being so damn hierarchical drives me crazy.

  5. Carol Graham says:

    Although your post is about customer service, I was smiling all the way through for a different reason. We have three jewelry stores and our own goldsmiths. We make all our own high end jewelry at very reasonable prices because there are no middle men — here is the smiling part. On a regular basis we get people coming in with knock-off pieces or pieces that have been machine made. They have either bought at a traditional jewelry store or on-line. They love the piece but of course, it will not hold up well. Consequently, we make them the same piece that will. We also get very angry people who have had bad experiences at other jewelry stores for the very reasons you were upset. When other companies (stores) have poor customer service, we benefit — see why I was smiling? We want our customers to walk away thrilled, not just satisfied.

  6. Lana says:

    Ah, customer service. So important to every company, but botched by so many! I have used the “executive level” at a few companies, including Pottery Barn and Verizon. Thanks for sharing this – so many of us just give up after awhile, which is what many companies are counting on.

  7. Janie Emaus says:

    Hi – I used to supervise a customer service department and you’re right. The higher up you go, the better the service.

  8. Carolann says:

    SC had declined in this country for sure. Great tips to remember. I never give up when I have an issue. There is always a way!

  9. I totally agree that good customer service makes all the difference. I just had a good experience with the Nike Fuelband team. I called to tell them that my Fuelband wasn’t working for the second time and they provided a mailer to ship it back and they will send a new one to me. Glad they were so nice. Makes me want to purchase their products.

  10. So funny you begin with Comcast. I had a horrendous problem with them two years ago and after tweeting about it, I was immediately connected with bigwigs (who contacted ME) and they followed me through the mess, which took about three months to resolve.

    Great service you’re offering here! Will surely help someone. 😀

  11. This made me smile Carol. Now why in the world do we teach little girls not to complain? To avoid conflict? Just see what happens when we flex our muscles a bit. Good for you!

  12. Toni McCloe says:

    Interesting. So if you can’t get good customer service from the people at the bottom then why are they there and why is somebody paying them for customer service? Are they paying them to give bad service – or no service at all?!

  13. I always wondered where those “special” guys were. The quickest response I ever received was when I posted my complaint on the businesses Facebook timeline for everyone to see. It was amazing!

  14. Alana says:

    Some years ago, my mother in law was having terrible delivery service with her newspaper. I ended up contacting the editor of the newspaper – problem resolved.

  15. Diane says:

    The only company I have ever called was my internet service company. And they were very good. I’m tucking this little bit of customer service info up my sleeve, however. Good to know!

  16. Good tips! On the few occasions I haven’t been able to resolve an issue, I’ve found that mention of a letter to The Better Business Bureau is like motivation on steroids… 😉

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  17. I once called the president’s office to get a Verizon problem resolved – and it did. I’m now Tweeting to American Express because I’m so furious with their customer service. We’ll see what happens.

  18. Haralee says:

    Some good tips that I didn’t know. Customer service is crucial for repeat business. It costs so much money to acquire a customer that not to keep them happy is foolish! Not every business has to be like Nordstoms, it would be nice, but they have to try and resolve your problem.My tip is asking for a customer loyalty representative with a company you are having issues with if you have been a long term customer.

  19. Michelle says:

    I get impatient way too quickly. I’m a very nice person (that is very nearly true) but if I get customer service and I don’t feel that I’m being treated well, then my inner bitch comes out.

  20. Cher says:

    Great article and fantastic info! The message is definitely to not give up!

  21. Okay I am dying to see this ring now!!! Pictures of when it comes in please.

  22. Joy says:

    Dang! I wish I had read this two days ago! Hubby was just on the phone with Comcast yesterday and got so frustrated.Had I known about this ‘very special’ info, I would’ve given him some tips. But thanks so much, Carol! I’ve just bookmarked this post! ;-))

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