Why does it take forever and a day to get an answer to a customer service complaint?
Like reader Michael Trout, who filed countless grievances and waited a year before his auto insurance claim was processed. Or William Osuna, whose airline ticket took almost two years to get refunded. (Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the airline is now out of business.)
Truth is, many customer inquiries are addressed quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction. A 2010 survey found that 75% of all call center questions were resolved in a single conversation. And not only that, but they were fixed quickly – it took less than 30 seconds to answer the call and slightly more than five minutes, on average, to address the problem.
But not good, either. After all, a 75% success rate is a gentleman’s “C” at best. And there’s no telling how long the more serious complaints take to resolve. Also, the survey doesn’t mention email complaints, although past research has show that the simple ones normally get an acknowledgment in less than two days, and sometimes within minutes.
There are, however, the not-so-simple cases. Roughly one-quarter of the complaints fall into this category. This is when the call-center worker must defer to a supervisor or place you on “hold” or ask you to put your grievance in writing.
And so the wait begins.
Here’s how to speed things up:
Don’t wait to complain
If you’re experiencing a service problem, like a bad restaurant meal or an inadequate hotel stay, don’t wait until you get home to let your displeasure be known. Say something now.
Service employees are trained to make the situation right by comping your meal or offering you a room discount. Once you leave the business, it’s going to take a lot longer to get the problem fixed.
Write, don’t call
Many consumers feel the phone is the best way to resolve a complaint. It may be the worst. Why? First, there’s no paper trail, unless you record the conversation, which may not be allowed under state law. Without proof that someone said something, it may be impossible to collect any compensation. Also, call centers aren’t equipped to handle some of the more complex service issues. Instead, write a brief, polite email.
Make it easy to fix it
Resist the temptation to go on a rant. Instead, explain how a company can fix the problem.
And be realistic: A company that thinks you’re trying to take advantage of a situation may be less inclined to take you complaint seriously.
Be patient, but not too patient
You should get an e-mail form response back from a company after you send your complaint. After that, it can take anywhere from three working days to two weeks for a meaningful response. After two weeks, you can assume you’ve been ignored. Time to escalate your complaint to a manager.
Make a polite appeal, but be persistent
Taking your complaint to the next level will ensure your grievance isn’t overlooked. Here’s where good manners will serve you well. Angry emails tend to get “overlooked” while polite appeals are far likelier to get the attention they deserve. Keep the company on a short leash, checking back every two weeks to see the progress of your case.
Call in the big guns
Stuck in a holding pattern? Hiring an attorney or asking a third party like the Better Business Bureau or a consumer advocate like me to get involved is a proven way to move your complaint to the top of the heap. But use this only if you’re certain that you’ve exhausted all of your appeals. Think of it as keeping your powder dry.
All told, it shouldn’t take you more than two weeks to resolve even the most serious complaint. If it takes any longer than that, skip to the final step. Chances are, the company has no intention of responding to your grievance.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.