Good customer service is the norm, but poor customer service is far from rare. You are unhappy. They (halfheartedly and mechanically) apologize for your inconvenience. That mechanical apology, from someone whose whole day is spent apologizing to people for their inconvenience, does little to satisfy us. The other party is thinking, “All I can do is apologize? What else do you want me to do?”

Really? Is that truly all a business can do? What is it you want them to do? Put some thought into that question before you place the call. Then ask for it. Complaining is one thing. Complaining with a plan gets results.

Businesses have quite a bit of flexibility. Even when something is “company policy,” the policy was made by that very company. If they can make the policy, they can also build in exceptions and make judgments on the spot. Sometimes, the other party offers a particular perk. For those times when they don’t, ask for what you want, and make it specific.

  • Is the problem with a hotel? Ask for hotel reward points.
  • Is the problem with an airline? Ask for a voucher good for cash off a future flight.
  • Is the problem with a restaurant? Ask for items to be removed from your bill, the entire meal being comped, or gift certificates for future meals.
  • Was your television service out more than it was functional last month? Ask for a reduction in your bill.
  • Were the company’s instructions so ambiguous you thought you were doing exactly the right thing only to incur charges you did not want? Ask for the charges to be removed.

I have encountered every one of those situations at some time. These requests all describe solutions a business can offer. 

Talk to the right person

The only question which remains for you is to determine whether the person you are speaking with has the authority to grant the request. Either they do or they don’t.

If they don’t, then you ask to speak to someone who does. If they do, but are uncooperative, ask to speak to the next person up the chain. Nobody likes to have his or her boss involved in the problem, and everybody likes to able to make a problem go away. By being straightforward about what it will take to satisfy you, and being reasonable in your request, you place yourself in a good position to turn “I’m sorry for your inconvenience” into something you can really use.

Poor customer service is no longer shared with only a few close friends and co-workers. It is Tweeted to hundreds of followers and posted for a thousand Facebook friends to read. Businesses know that unresolved customer complaints are shared throughout personal networks, often very large ones.

While we normally receive good service from the businesses we frequent, the opposite is inevitable. When it happens, you need not be a victim. Figure out what you want, and ask for it.