On the Customer's Side

Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
Customers may not always be right, but they always deserve a timely response to their queries.

Customers may not always be right, but they always deserve a timely response to their queries. Companies that today ignore their customers will find it's a practice fewer and fewer consumers will tolerate--especially in the age of social customer, where consumers will not only share information with scores of other consumers, but they can also more and more easily find who to contact to get their issues resolved.One of those resources is journalist and customer advocate Christopher Elliott. Elliott has built his career sharing informative stories and providing detailed advice to help consumers get the most from their customer experience--and get resolution to unresolved problems they have with businesses. Elliott is known for his blog, On Your Side, which provides consumers with the contact information--names, phone numbers, and email addresses of the managers and executives in charge of customer service--for hundreds of companies.

I recently spoke with Elliott about customer advocacy and conquering complaints:

Q: What triggered your desire to become a consumer advocate?
A: It was a slow process, which I detail in my upcoming book, Scammed: How to Save Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals. I had a series of negative experiences that prodded me into writing about consumer issues. Once I did, I began to develop a rescue complex, which is to say, I made it my life's mission to help consumers. And here I am today.

Q: What are the most prominent issues facing consumers dealing with companies' customer service departments?
A: When someone contacts a company, they're either sent a dismissive form response or ignored entirely. I believe everyone is entitled to an answer, even if the answer is no.

Q: What are the most common issues customers come to you about and why do you think such problems are so prevalent?
A: Generally speaking, consumers complain about a product that didn't live up to their expectations. It's really a matter of managing expectations--the company's and the consumer's.

Q: Companies may deal with product complaints daily, but complaints about their customer service practices obviously indicate an internal issue within the company itself. What's one best practice recommendation you can offer companies facing incessant complaints about their service?
A: If you're experiencing a lot of complaints, it's because you want to. Companies know what it takes to fix a service problem, whether it's pulling a defective product or changing a contract of adhesion to make it more customer-friendly. They choose not to, because it makes them more profitable. The marketplace shouldn't reward that kind of avarice, but unfortunately, the playing field isn't always perfectly level. Oligopolies exist. Where they do, you'll find bad service coming from unrepentant corporations.

Q: Why is it beneficial for companies to solve such service problems instead of avoiding them?
A: Because if you don't, it will affect your reputation, and that, in turn, could affect your business.

Q: What's the best piece of advice you can offer consumers who are actively seeking a solution to their issue, but cannot seem to contact the right individual?
A: Visit On Your Side (www.onyoursi.de/wiki) and you'll find the right name. Beyond that, stay off the phone. Put everything in writing. The paper trail is key to resolving your grievance.