Does America have a good or bad customer service culture? You might just remember some bad examples that you’ve heard somebody complain about, because all the good ones are usually taken for granted by anyone. I’d like to mention a few things that I really like about American customer service. Being from Germany, I have first hand experience of customer service between two countries, two continents, different cultures.
Call center shortcuts
Yes, call centers especially if you’re trying to find answers can be really horrible and sometimes you just keep talking to a machine instead of a real person. But there are ways around it, too. While on the phone just keep pressing “0″ or say “agent” repeatedly no matter what the machine is asking you.
You can even dial the number for Spanish to get a hold of a real person faster, because the waiting line for Spanish is usually a lot shorter. Most of the time the Spanish rep will be understanding if you pretend to have dialed the wrong number and then help you in English. They are usually bi-lingual working for an American company.
Tip: To avoid all that, check out the app from GetHuman.com. It’ll show you what phone number to call to get directly to a human representative. No more talking to machines!
Ask a manager
“I would like to talk to your manager”. A common demand when you realize that the employee that you’re currently dealing with can’t or is unable to help you. Asking for their direct manager will often times get you what you want, if it’s not unreasonable. Regular employees don’t have the freedom to make certain decisions such as giving a discount or offering incentives.
Hang up. Call again.
Large American companies usually have call centers for customer service. Sometimes you get what you want right away and other times it just doesn’t seem to work. Don’t get frustrated, just hang up and call the same number again. You will get another customer service representative on the phone and hopefully this rep will be more experienced in how they can help you. No reason to waste 30 minutes of your precious time with a rep who obviously cannot help you and is just putting you on hold all the time.
Return (almost) anything and get your money back
This is something both my wife and I take full advantage of. Most stores will take back your purchase and return the money to you. Sometimes even without having the original receipt or labels on the merchandize. Why would I ever do that, you ask? You can buy a gift for somebody and have the option to return it. Birthday presents can be returned to a store that carries it even without having the original receipt. Instead of cash you will probably get a gift card over the amount from the store.
Costco is going the extra mile and even offers every customer to return groceries, if there’s still more than 50% left over. You figured that you don’t really like that beer after the 11th bottle? Just return the remaining 13 bottles of your 24 case and get the full amount back. I don’t want to encourage you to do that, but it’s an option. We did that for a net of oranges for example that turned out to be super sour.
Here’s another good one: You can return an opened item, but you’ll have to have the receipt for that. In Germany I wouldn’t be able to return something that has been opened, at least not that I know of. Not in America, they want to keep the customer happy, because happy customers will come back and buy more. They get it!
Get more without paying more
It’s no secret that the American food industry pays the waiting staff a very low salary and throw them at the mercy of the customer’s tip. That means the person taking care of your table is really making sure you’re happy and will bring you everything you need and as they are capable of. They are always on top of things, ready to top up your soda even though you just took your first sip. So, if you want more sauce, more of your favorite side item or another one of these biscuit rolls, just let them know. However they won’t be able to bring you another steak. That would cost extra for sure.
Threaten to cancel and magic will happen
I highly encourage you to consider changing your insurance, cable/dish and internet provider every year, if not every 6 months. Too many people just get comfortable with how things are even though they wish the bills were lower. A special deal was usually the main motivator for us to sign up with a certain provider in the first place. But once this deal is over, your wallet is really hurting.
If you don’t want to switch providers and hate the hassle of getting familiar with a new company and their hard-/software, I have good news – the Retention Department. Just call the regular customer service number and tell them you want to cancel your contract because money is tight or the fees keep increasing. They will quickly transfer you to customer retention and these guys are the ones with the power to let magic happen. Most of the time they will really work with you and either lower your bill, give you extras, extend a special deal or transfer you to a new one. They want to keep you as a customer and you should take advantage of it. And if they just won’t give in one tiny bit, you can still just stick with them and tell them you will have to rethink your decision and hang up.
You have nothing to lose, so try it out!
Have you ever wandered through a store, obviously trying to find something, and just couldn’t find any associate to help you? In America you’re most likely to be greeted from an employee or they will come up to you and offer help within the first 2 minutes after you’ve entered the store. Some of us (including me) find this a bit overwhelming, because there are times where we are just killing time, waiting for our partner and all we want is to browse the shelves without being bothered. But it’s actually a great example of good customer service, because it’ll end up saving you time if you are really looking for something.
Send a complaint, get miles in return
I’ve heard this multiple times ever since I started reading into the world of travel hacking, but I haven’t had a reason to complain yet. Well, nothing that is recent enough to qualify for compensation. What you’ll need is to be a member of the free dividend miles programs (e.g. American Airlines AAdvantage, SouthWest Rapid Rewards, United Airlines MileagePlus, etc.), so that you’ll make it really easy for airlines to transfer free miles to you.
Let’s say you’ve had a bunch of delays, missed your connection flight or the airline lost your luggage and you had to wait for it a couple days. These are reasons to send a polite (doesn’t have to be harsh) letter or email to their customer service department. Mention that you are a frequent flyer or even first time flyer with their airline and what an inconvenience you’ve had last time you flew with them. There’s a chance that they will transfer a few miles to your account to make up for the inconvenience. Again, you have nothing to lose. Just don’t make up stuff.
Quick and easy refunds or replacements
I live in a small neighborhood and whenever I order something online, the mail carrier usually just drops the package off in front of my door step in plain sight. That’s an easy target for thieves and so it happened to me one time I was expecting a delivery. I ordered contact lenses worth over $300 from Lens.com and was following the tracking code daily, because I was running really low on lenses and didn’t want to wear my ugly glasses to work. One day the delivery was completed according to the tracking code, but the package was nowhere to be found. The comment in the code said “left at door step”. After running around the house twice and checking with my neighbors I still couldn’t find the box, so I emailed Lens.com the next day. I was expecting a long back and forth, but to my surprise they apologized for the inconvenience and offered to either sent another order next day free of charge or reimburse the whole amount. I gladly accepted their next day shipping offer and got my new lenses the following day.
A similar great experience happened to me at Amazon. I purchased and received a cheap remote door bell, which turned out not to be working. I filled out the return form at Amazon.com online and they sent me a replacement right away. Best part, I didn’t even have to go through the hassle of sending the broken item back.
As you probably know, other cultures are often not that generous in letting strangers (customer or not) use their store’s bathroom. And if they do, it sometimes comes with a fee. While America is pretty good in charging for a lot of things, bathrooms are not one of them. You can literally walk into every store and can be 99% sure that they will let you use their bathroom. It’s just common hospitality here. I also don’t notice a lot of people relieving themselves into the bushes like in Germany. Free and easy access to store bathrooms really makes a difference.
Okay, enough praise for American Customer Service. They do have their flaws, too, and I might dedicate an article to all the bad examples another time. In the meantime, why don’t you share your best (or worst) customer service experience in the U.S.?