Getting the phone number for a company is easy: it’s listed in every directory, and the company wants you to call it so it can sell you something.
Finding the direct extension of a customer service manager? That’s not so easy.
Here’s a true story: I was at a recent customer service conference, and after a friendly conversation with several managers, I offered my card. They didn’t reciprocate, instead claiming they had “just run out.”
They were afraid I’d publish their phone numbers online. (With good reason; I would have.)
Maybe it’s just me, but you have the right to call the vice president of customer service or even the president of the company when his or her team fails to meet your expectations. You shouldn’t have to wander aimlessly through the phone tree of a company, pressing “zero” in the hopes of being transferred to an offshore call center.
No, you deserve better than that.
Here’s what happened to Mark Ladisky when he tried to contact Spirit Airlines about a recent customer service problem: nothing. So he found the name of the customer service manager through a wiki that I publish and cold-called. After leaving a message he pushed “#” – and that’s when things got interesting.
“I was able to access the Audix phone system,” he says. “Luckily for me, there was an option to select phone directory searches, and I entered [The CEOs] name, and to my
surprise, the system read back his extension.”
Then he reached the executives voice mail and left him a message.
Here’s how you can get a direct line.
Yes, the numbers are sometimes posted online. They’re sometimes firewalled on services like LinkedIn or Jigsaw.com but it’s easy to get in by signing up for a membership, which costs nothing.
Call after hours. If you phone a company after business hours, you’ll go straight to the company directory. You can dial the name of the customer service manager using your keypad and leave a message for that person. That’s often the quickest way to alert a company to your problem, especially if it’s an immediate one that can’t be done through email.
Zero is your friend. If you find yourself getting bounced to an assistant’s phone mail, don’t worry. A lot of voice mail systems will assign another person to pick up if that person isn’t there; just punch “0” before the beep, and you’ll be transferred to that person.
Be polite. Between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., you can find a lot of people working late, even though the switchboard operators have gone home for the day. If they pick up, just be nice and say, “Oh, I was trying to reach so-and-so (insert name of manager). Do you know what his/her extension is?” Often, they’ll give it to you for the asking (this is an old reporter trick, but it works great for anyone).
Try an alternate. Oddly, some customer managers readily reveal their private phone numbers, and even their cell phone numbers, to groups that then post the information online. I’ve found these in college alumni directories and nonprofit organizations that list their donors online.
Two words: company directory. A disgruntled former employee once mailed me the phone directory from her company. None of the information was proprietary, but it sure came in handy when customers asked for a phone number from that company. You’d be surprised where these company directories are left. Sometimes you can find one in the lobby of the businesses, unguarded. Channel your inner spy and use your cellphone to take snapshots of a few relevant pages.
Phone home. As a last-ditch effort – and I really do mean last-ditch effort – try phoning a manager at home. Many homes still have landlines, and the executives don’t want to pay extra to keep the numbers unlisted. If you really need to get through, and all else has failed, go for it. You have my blessing.
One more thing: Beware the “free” phone search scams. As I write this, there are several sites that charge you for running a “free” search for personal information, like a cell phone number, address and any other public records relating to the person. Don’t fall for it. You can find all the information you need online or with a little sleuthing, at no extra cost.
Of course, it shouldn’t be necessary to call a manager – ever. The frontline employees at a company should take care of your question or concern quickly. But in the unlikely event that you have to go above their heads, these tried and true techniques will serve you well.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebookor send him your questions at On Your Side or by email.