Have you been scammed by a large company? Have you grown tired of getting the run around? If so, then you must learn about the art of Turboing to the top in the corporate ladder so someone treats you like a person, not a number. Right here, I’ll share helpful techniques to aid your plight to resolution, quickly and painlessly.
As large companies streamline their costs, they resort to outsourcing and offshoring every aspect of customer service. Do you think their own executives would really reach India if they had a problem? If you said, “No,” then you’re right! These days, almost all large companies have specialized departments to handle difficult situations experienced by investors, affiliates and important customers (like celebrities). Welcome to the world of “Executive Escalations,” “Executive Customer Relations” and “Executive Customer Service.”
My experience in writing this piece accurately comes from my previous position at AOL. I would often receive numerous complaints about the service from bewildered consumers, angry consumers and forwarded complaints from executives. Often, I was the guy who would act on these complaints, but in doing so I had the opportunity to learn what letters got handled, and what didn’t. This article isn’t necessarily specific to AOL, as I’ve spoken to several other folks who work in the executive-level customer service industry and this is a normal process to address inadequacies in customer service or products for customers.
Enough about me, let me describe what qualifies as material that is worthy of being escalated:
- Billing Errors — Double charging, Ridiculously large bills, etc.
- Customer Service Complaints — Inappropriate customer service, Harassment, Deception, etc.
- Repeated Product Failure — If a product doesn’t work, you replace it, it breaks again and you never get it fixed.
- ‘High Level Product Complaint’ — After exhausting regular customer service, often executive teams are better equipped to resolve your concern.
- Complaint on Service/Features — Like if you really dislike something that a company did (or didn’t do)…
… I think you get the picture. It usually is a fruitless effort to send political propaganda, complaints without merit or complaints on outsourcing in general because there really is no recourse other than just saying sorry and have a nice day. However, these all are legitimate points to bring up a primary complaint letter.
Important: Never turbo directly to the top without first attempting to resolve your concern with the first and second level support. If you ignore this, your complaint will result in being discarded; or at most, a postcard informing you to contact support. It is absolutely vital to have a legitimate reason to write to a company executive. They’re busy people, too. Exceptions to this would be if you were previously in contact with a corporate representative and it was expected that you contact them if you had any further issues.
As you begin to write your professional letter, you will need to be prepared. Whenever contacting a large company, always document the date, time, name of the customer service representative and phone number you dialed. This information will be used to supplement your complaint with facts. Having these details also make the corporate liaison’s job much easier in tracking down the cause for their lacking customer service. The reason why the phone number you dialed is important is because company use many different toll-free numbers where they route to different parts of the company and can aide in resolving transfer issues.
If you were quoted figures on a service or product, quote them, exactly. Depending on the company and their regulatory requirements; they may have your call recorded and may be able to verify your claim. Be sure you write down and ask about all the terms of any good deal. Basically, think of yourself as a reporter who need to take credible, bona-fide notes on something without question. I know this sounds egregiously paranoid, but trust me, if you are ever wronged in customer service, you have ammunition to back your claims up.
If a customer service representative was rude, disrespectful, or otherwise failed to meet your needs — be prepared with specifics. Don’t just say they were rude, have indisputable proof. (Recordings help, but usually are not necessary.)
Finally, calm down and don’t take it personal when a company did something wrong. You’re on the path to remediating them. 🙂
WRITING YOUR COMPLAINT
The key to receiving a favorable response in your complaint is to write it well. Here are points to keep in mind as you compile your letter together.:
- Articulate your Complaint
This is probably the most important part. You have to focus your complaint into a specific example with supporting details. If you state “Customer Service” as the complaint, that isn’t powerful enough. Instead make your complaint be specific to your experience, “Disrespectful Customer Service.” This will aid the reader (escalation specialist) to understand your concern.
- Understand WHO You Should Write To
A lot of people believe writing to the CEO of a company will get their point across. It won’t. You need to direct your concern to the right person or business unit in the company. Research the company’s organizational structure the best you can. A lot of large company disclose who manage various business units on their corporate site. A company’s corporate Web site will usually be listed as a link on the bottom of their Web site as “Corporate,” “Company Info,” “Careers” and the like. The Consumerist has a lot of information on companies to assist you in this aspect. Company information can also be obtained on Finance Web sites like Google Finance, too.
- Know Your Expectations, Lay Them Out Clearly and Stand by Them
Assuming your complaint was read and considered, what are you expecting out of it? Do you just simply want a refund or do you want to see a improvement to the service? Well, consider that and make it clear in your letter. If you expect something, make it very clear in the beginning, middle and the end of the letter.
- Write a Business-Professional Letter and CC Relevant People and Regulatory Bodies
For someone to take your complaint seriously, you must be reasonably professional and speak on even terms. Use of expletives or too much “In my opinion…” will significantly lower your credibility. Ensure your grammar and spelling is up to par. Have a friend proofread it before you consider sending it. Make sure they understand what you mean the first time. You should also CC (Carbon Copy) your letter to relevant business groups in your letter. It is good etiquette that if you are going to talk about another person in a letter, you CC them for their reference. Also, if you CC a regulatory body for the company, it ensures someone will review it. That is, the FTC, FTC, BBB or the ACLU depending on what industry the company is in. By doing this, you become more credible that you’ve done your research and put effort into the complaint.
- It’s Not Personal. It’s Business
When expecting change you need to understand that the company probably considered the acceptable losses (Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD) when changing something. So, if something doesn’t change, it’s not your fault. It’s more than likely that their business case exceeds your complaint and that is when you should execute on your expectations of canceling service, notifying media/press and so on.
- Be Reasonable When Asking for Change
When you want to some something changed, like say, getting rid of a complex IVR system; you want to be able to suggest an alternative that meets half-way so they can reasonably consider it. If it relates to something that makes (or saves) them money, suggest another monetization path to replace the incumbent with.
- Numbers, Percents, Polls, Petitions — WORK!
If you want to support your argument with facts, do a little research. If you want, spread an online petition around, do some polls with other customers. Make it fair and balanced, and don’t make it seem so egregiously against the company (like 0% like the change), because that’s unrealistic. Use a large sample like 1000 or more. Business analysts consider numbers over qualitative feedback (found within complaint letters), but product owners care less about numbers. Make both sides of argument.
- Be Respectful
Just because you dislike something, you should not treat your corporate escalation specialist poorly. It’s often their job to appease the business before users. If you want respect, you must demonstrate it to them first. Respect isn’t ass-kissing, but just acknowledge their reasons and cite yours. Even if you despise the company, you want to make it appear as if you are on their side — helping them improve — not trying holding them gun point.
- Never, Ever, Burn Your Contacts
I’ve seen this a lot — people either like or dislike the response from an executive representative and then give it out to their friends, family and post it online. You can rest assured by doing this, you will effective throw away the relationship you gained with that person. If you want to share your success story, ASK the person if it’s alright with them that you share your experience on the Internet. The only exception to this, would be if your escalation specialist has treated you poorly, or hasn’t made a reasonable effort to resolve the situation. For this, it’s only fair to provide notice that you will share your experience with “Influential contacts within the media…” as a last ditch effort to light that fire under them.
- Proper Mailing Address and Format
Sometimes when people write to a company, they aren’t sure how it should be formatted. I recommend sending all mail via Certified USPS or FedEx envelope so you can adequately track the delivery. Here is the address format you would want to use:
ATTN: <Name>, <Title>, <Business Unit>
<City>, <State> <ZIP Code>-<ZIP +4>
ZIP+4 is a four digit number appended on a ZIP Code that helps the Post Office in sorting your mail properly for speedier delivery. You can look up the ZIP+4 for any address on the USPS’s Web Site.
TIP! Don’t write “Urgent,” “Fragile,” “Personal,” “High Priority” or similar warnings. Doing so will only further delay the delivery. Many companies filter their postal mail for threats and is not afraid to tear into a piece of mail if it’s suspicious.
When sending the letter, be patient. I’ve seen responses take anywhere from one week to a month. When you get a response back; usually by means of a phone call, be relaxed and eager to right the wrong that happened. Usually the executive representative will inquire about the situation and get you talking. This is to confirm any unwritten developments and allows for rapport building. So, really, just sit back have a beer and become their friend.
The executive escalation specialist will eventually guide the call into making an offer to remedy the situation. Listen to them with full attention and clarify. This is the moment of negotiation. Much like a new job offer; you now call the shots on what is on the table. Instead of immediately saying “yes” or “no” to something; fire the situation back to them in the form of a question and ask them what they would expect for similar disservice. Many executive liasions will empathize with your situation and raise the stakes in the form of a refund, free service and possibly additional perks.
As you negotiate and feel comfortable with what you have on the table, let the represenative know that you appreciate them for being generous in resolving a customer concern. Then you can even chat about sports for a bit as you close the conversation up. When you wrap up your conversation, ask them if there is anyone you can notify for their superior customer service. Many of these specialists are comfortable with giving out their e-mail address or their manager’s. What you want to do from here is crucial if you ever want to go directly to the top again — send a thank you letter, confirming what they’ve done to your account and the top-notch service you receive.
Whatever you do, don’t tell all your friends their e-mail address. Executive escalation folks have jobs to get done, taking care of the next complaint in line. Sending them illegitimate or a high volume of work will hurt your relationship with them. If you forward an e-mail around from them, be sure to redact the “From” address as well as the “To” address from you. If you know someone who should contact them, follow-up and introduce them to your corporate contact and let them handle it from there.
I hope this guide helps you write to the corporate or executive offices more effectively. Understand that this is just from my own observation and experience and I agree that businesses and consumers mutually have obligations to fulfill when interacting with each other. Consumers are extremely fast-paced, and companies often take shortcuts resulting in upset consumers. The purpose of these teams is to ensure everyone has a fair chance at recieving quality service from the company — not to provide preferential treatment to the elitist of customers.