So, she and others suggest, first try customer relations. Yes, that old standby. Phoning is still quicker and usually more effective than e-mail. If you want to skip all the menu options and voice mails, try looking at get2human.com, a website that keeps lists of what buttons to push on your phone to get to a live person when calling particular companies.
When you do reach a certifiable human and express your problem, don't begin by yelling — even if you're frustrated beyond belief, counseled Chris Morran, deputy editor of The Consumerist website, owned by Consumer Reports. Adopt "a sternly polite tone," he suggests. "We call it "˜parental.' People don't respond well to anger and profanity, to being demeaned and insulted, even though it's a very easy trap to fall into. Kindness and politeness is so rare in customer relations that it actually can be rewarded."
Another piece of advice: Keep an open mind. "Companies really are not out to get you," said Kyra Mancine, a copywriter at national catalog company QCI Direct, whose call center handles hundreds of customers a day. "If you call us screaming and rambling, it puts us on the defensive," she said. "We want to help, but we need you to remain calm so we can understand what the problem is."
Ask for help instead of demanding a solution. "Appeal to the person — "˜If you were in my situation, you'd feel this way,'"‰" advised Randi Busse, owner of the Workforce Development Group, which offers customer-service training and coaching. "Remember, she's a customer herself. Try and separate the person from the company."
Other tactics to get what you want: Don't use up valuable time complaining about past problems. Acknowledge that the person you're talking to probably isn't responsible for your problem. Offering your own name can make for a friendlier transaction. Be sure to get the customer-service representative's name at the beginning of the call, not at the end, when the conversation may have deteriorated and your complaint-taker might hang up.
"What used to be a one-on-one transaction is now one-on-many."
If you're not getting anywhere with one representative, hang up and try again. "We call it the customer-service lottery," Morran said. "I've had it myself with Time Warner Cable. I was stuck with one representative for 30 minutes, hung up, and then called back to someone else, and it was resolved in five minutes." You can always ask for a supervisor, who often has considerable leeway to resolve a complaint. Busse, who worked at a Verizon call center for 15 years, suggests asking the customer-service representative to brief the supervisor on your complaint so you don't have to.
And document, document, document. Keep a written record of the time and date of every phone call and of the customer representatives' names. "If things go downhill," Mancine said, "you want that paper trail." Another option is to record the phone calls — if that is legal in your state. The law in 38 states and the District of Columbia allows you to record a phone call without the other party's consent.