When You Receive Poor Customer Service

As we get closer to the holiday season, the news is full of reports that retailers plan to hire fewer temporary workers than usual because of lower sales expectations. While this might make short-term sense to a business's bottom line, it's a recipe for frustration for you and me as shoppers.

Busy shopping seasons are often riddled with dismal customer service experiences, and this one will likely be no different, and perhaps worse. So, what should we do if we receive poor service? A clear option, of course, is to leave and never go back. Poor service sometimes occurs, however, in companies we actually like, and we want to go back. What then?

Here are seven tips for dealing with poor service:

1. Don't become belligerent - Yes, sometimes customers do get their way by becoming belligerent or antagonistic. But more often, belligerence builds a wall between you and the very person you are trying to get to help you. For example, accusing an employee of being incompetent (while perhaps true) will rarely result in them wanting to assist. Insults don't help, and besides, most of us don't really feel good about losing control of our emotions.

2. Express "calm frustration" - Expressing dissatisfaction or frustration is certainly appropriate; you want the person to know you're not happy. But you also want them to know you're a reasonable and appreciative person. Treat the employee with respect (even if you don't feel you're getting the respect you deserve), while at the same time letting him or her know you want something to change.

3. Be clear about what you expect - The difference between a customer service rant and a customer service desire is huge. While the rant might feel good for the moment, desire is what will more often get you results. Tell the employee exactly what you want. "I'd appreciate it if you could focus on me for a moment." "I'm not that tech savvy; can you tell me about the features in everyday language?" "I've been looking for someone to help me for quite a while. I'd appreciate it if you would help me." "I've been put on hold every time I've called; I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't put me on hold and help me with my problem." Take a deep breath and take a moment to think about your desired outcome.

4. Be reasonable - In the heat of the moment, we sometimes make unreasonable demands that seem reasonable at the time. When I supervised Guest Relations at Walt Disney World, I remember guests demanding we pay for their vacation expenses (airline tickets and all) because it happened to be raining during their visit. Of course they're frustrated, and of course we assisted them in making the most of their stay, but paying for their vacation wasn't going to happen.

5. Be persistent - With the previous tips in mind, don't give up if you aren't satisfied. If the employee you're dealing with isn't helping, ask to speak with a manager - and don't take no for an answer. I've been told that a manager wasn't available, and when I made it clear that I wasn't leaving until I spoke with a manager, suddenly one became available. Again, don't be belligerent, just be firm. And if the manager isn't helpful, ask for the contact information of his or her boss. Asking respectfully will often result in the manager sensing your persistence and providing the help you need. At that point the manager will likely realize that it's easier to solve your problem than to explain to his or her boss why your problem wasn't solved.

6. Take names - This one is especially important with issues that go beyond mere irritations. When management realizes you have documented your problem, including the names of those you've spoken with, they know you're serious and that you're willing to do what it takes to get what you want. Rarely do I have to go beyond tip 5, but when I do, this tip almost always leads to a solution.

7. Be prepared to cut your losses - How much time is the problem worth? Sometimes it's worth it to see the issue all the way to the end, and sometimes it's not. Your time is valuable, and it might just make sense to throw in the towel and accept that you're not going to be satisfied. Life is too short to tilt at windmills. 

I hope your holiday shopping experiences this season are smooth and merry, but I'm not delusional. Frustrations are bound to appear and it's important to be prepared to deal with the frustrations that are worth dealing with. I hope you find these tips to be helpful. I would also welcome comments that provide additional tips for dealing with poor service.