Like many millennials, I worked in customer service in high school, but began to look for what I felt was more “meaningful work” after graduating from college. I focused my job search on non-profits. Unfortunately, once I did get my “dream job,” life didn’t go as I planned. I found myself burned out from working for a Food Pantry, and began looking for work through a temp agency. Little did I know the career change would teach me a lot about how to get what I want out of life.
When the agency placed me taking calls for a health insurance company, I figured, at least the job would be a place where I could get a paycheck without having to mentally and emotionally take my job home with me. I never imagined that I would actually enjoy the work.
The temp position kept being extended, and I kept working on the phones. I had even stopped looking for other positions until my aunt mentioned that if I loved my phone-based position, I would really love working at a local luxury appliance company. At the new company, there would be a little more professional leeway in how I could help people. I would be able to do more than just tell people they were out of luck if what they were looking for wasn’t on their policy. A month later, I took a job with her employer, and found out she was right. I ended up staying there for over two years.
At first, I didn’t notice at first how the phone-based customer service positions were affecting my habits. The realization came one day as I was leaving Target with a new tube of mascara. The day before, I had bought $5 tube of mascara, but when I opened it, the head popped off. Before my customer service work, I probably would have just gone back to the store and bought another one; after all, it was cheap.
But my job training left me with some important knowledge: No matter how inexpensive the item, the company always wants to make you happy. Return customers buy more than new customers, and customers who are satisfied after issues are even better advocates for a company than those who never had a problem to begin with.
Now I’m here to share with you five principles how to save money and get the most out of customer service.
1. Keep a Record
If you have something that could possibly break in the future, keep the receipt. I advise that you scan or take a picture of it and save it on a folder on your computer, or in the Cloud. Better yet, register your products. Everything from refrigerators, to laptops, to hair straighteners comes with information on how to register your product. By registering it, you can ensure that a warranty — if it has any — is activated. Registering products also serves as a backup; in case you lose the receipt or other paperwork, the company should have a copy. It might take a few minutes of your time, but it will save you time and potentially money if you need to contact the manufacturer.
2. Be Prepared
Nothing gets you in the good graces of customer service faster than being prepared. If you have an order, reference, or item number, be sure to have it on hand. If you have a question on a product in a store, be in front of it.
I have had people try to troubleshoot their refrigerator while driving; it doesn’t work. Being unprepared can frustrate the rep for two reasons. First, one category their job performance is based on is “talk time,” or how quickly they can handle calls. In my positions, all of the 100 to 250 calls a day I answered were supposed to average to three minutes or less. The second reason is the longer it takes to talk to you, the more annoyed the caller after you will be about the amount of time they had to wait for an available representative. You are more likely to get a deal (that you are likely unaware even exists) if the person you are speaking with feels respected, because you were prepared for the conversation.
3. Make Contact Right Away
The sooner you contact the company with an issue, the better. I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve received where the customer called saying an issue had been going on since the beginning and just lived with it, but they are now moving and want it fixed.
The problem becomes insurmountable if the customer waits so long that the item is outside of any warranty. If they had called when the issue started, it would have been fully covered, but now costs several hundred dollars to repair. While the most generous companies might be willing to help outside of a warranty, even they have limits on how far outside of warranty they will assist. If something happens more than once, call. It’s always better to check than to have to pay for something later.
4. Know What You Want
Someday you will be so mad you just want to call the 800 number and give a company a piece of your mind. Before you do, take a big breath and think about what that company can do to make it up to you.
Companies want return customers (because they are more likely to buy more of their product than a new customer) and will do a lot to keep you. I accidentally over-drafted my checking account three times in one day, and I was mad at my bank for not alerting me that I was over-drafting, and for letting me do it two more times! I called, explained my frustration and asked for them to remove the overdraft charges. The rep took a bit and agreed to remove two of the three charges. Then he asked if I was satisfied. I said I would really like the third one taken off too, since I have never over drafted before. The representative took a while longer and then agreed to remove the final charge.
5. Ask, Ask, Ask
If you think there is a coupon somewhere, if your product shouldn’t have broken, or it just isn’t working right, call the manufacturer or ask the store. Many department store clerks have extra coupons at each register, so I ask about them, even if I’m not aware of a promotion. At one job, I could give free shipping or even a free service call, but wasn’t supposed to offer it unless a customer asked.
Even if you aren’t looking for monetary support, call the manufacturer for troubleshooting. I can’t tell you how many calls I have received asking for the name of a service company to fix an ice maker when after a few questions I discovered the reason the ice wasn’t working was because it wasn’t turned on.
Remember, most people who answer the phone genuinely want to help. I don’t know of any employee at these companies who showed up to work looking forward to annoying someone or ruining their day. Rather, at the luxury appliance company, our staff mantra was, “Our job is to make people happy.”
I can’t guarantee that these tips will always get you what you want, but they have helped me more times than not. Plus, when I get a call at work, I always appreciate those who do implement these strategies.
Hilarie is a mid-west girl working on moving to the Mediterranean, but is worried about the lack of snow there.
Image via Unsplash