If you’ve been reading this blog the past few months, you may have recognized that most of my tips thus far haven’t been radically new or original…no doubt, if you’re the type of person who’s interested in customer service blogs, you’ve probably come up with a few tips of your own over the years. And in the vast majority of customer service issues, my resolution usually involves making a phone call or emailing someone and getting a resolution with the first or second person I speak to. But of course this is not always the case. Unfortunately, sometimes even I just can’t seem to get an issue resolved, no matter how intense my power of persuasion may be. At this point, most people would likely give up and not cry over spilled milk. But I’ve always had a tough time letting go in these types of situations. Rather than give up, I go to the next and last level of customer service…the CEO!
Many people assume that since they are just single individuals in a large customer pool, they’re really not that important to a big business. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Any large business that is worth its salt will have entire organizations and departments devoted to making sure that customers are being treated well. Even though a single customer may seem inconsequential, businesses have long recognized that negative word of mouth is a big factor in attracting future customers and keeping current ones…if a business ticks off the wrong customer, they may suddenly find their reputation irreparably damaged. Especially in today’s social-network-focused society, most businesses operate under the (mostly correct) assumptions that it takes much more to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one and that resolving individual cases can prevent wide-spread negative word of mouth.
Knowing this, I often reference these facts to customer service employees who may not have gotten the memo that individual cases matter. I frequently find myself telling level 1 reps, “Do you really want to risk losing a customer for life…especially one who’s going to tell all his friends and family about his negative experience with your company?” This is a good way to test how persuasive I’m going to be able to be with this rep…if they seem like they really don’t care that much about this statement, they’re not likely to be convinced about anything else because they don’t have their business’s best interests as a priority. But if they react in a very positive way, agreeing with me and trying to find some way to resolve my issue, I know I’m talking to someone who genuinely cares about his employer’s future and can be persuaded to help me, even if I am just one person.
The more important point to take away from this is that while lower level reps may or may not care about you as an individual, large businesses cannot afford to have VPs and CEOs who don’t care about your issue. Why? Because no CEO wants to take up and find an article in the newspaper about a small-town, middle-America individual who’s going head-to-head with his Big Business over something that should have been resolved quickly and quietly. The last thing VPs and CEOs want is to deal with these individual “nuisance” issues. So to prevent them from having to, most large businesses have a department called “Executive Resolutions” or something similar to that. This is your last and best chance of getting the resolution you want.
It’s usually somewhat difficult to get to the executive resolutions department. Here are a few tips on how to do it: (1) Search on the Internet for the company’s executive resolutions department…sometimes others have already been in touch with this department and will provide names and phone numbers to reach someone quickly. (2) Search on the Internet for the email or phone number of the VP of customer service or human relations department for the company…see below before writing or calling them. (3) Search on the internet for the office of the president or CEO of the company…get their email or phone number and then read below on how to contact them.
If tip 1 worked for you, you’re probably on you’re way to a quick and easy resolution to your issue. These service reps are the best that the company has, and their core mission is to make sure your issue is resolved to your satisfaction…even if it means that the company will lose money or have to go outside its standard resolutions practices. I’m not suggesting that you’ll get a resolution to an unreasonable demand…if you’re asking for something that your friends don’t agree is a reasonable request, you might want to think twice about calling the executive resolutions department. They are typically very helpful and exceedingly courteous…but they’re also very smart and can quickly spot when someone is being genuine and reasonable versus when someone is just being demanding and irrational. If your request is reasonable and you present your case in a straightforward and courteous manner, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how helpful these reps can be.
If you can’t find an easy way to get in touch with these people, the next best option is to send an email to a VP at the company…typically, these will be quickly forwarded to the company’s executive resolutions department to get it off the VP’s plate and you’ll get a response back within 24 hours. Make sure your email is courteous and respectful…but don’t be shy about explaining how dissatisfied and upset you are about this issue. One of my favorite lines to put into one of these emails is, “It’s really very surprising and disappointing to me that I actually have to email a VP at your company just to get a resolution to what should be a simple-to-resolve issue.” Be forceful in demanding a response, but make sure to add a line about how you know the VP’s time is valuable and you’d really appreciate someone getting back to you right away. You can also call the VP’s office and do this same thing over the phone, but I usually prefer to have a digital paper trail to avoid having to explain the same issue to multiple people, which is much easier to do if you send an e-mail.
If you can’t find a VP to contact (or you’ve tried and haven’t gotten a response), there’s really only one step left…contact the CEO or president’s office. A simple Google search will usually provide this information for any large, public company…and it’s usually easy to find their email address. If you can’t get their specific address, see if you can find the standard email format for other employees at the company (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org) and fill in the CEO or president’s name. Assuming the address is correct, you will get a response. The first response may be an auto-reply, but pretty soon you should be getting a personal response from an executive support team member. Keep in mind, you will not be speaking with the CEO or president, which is fine because that’s not your goal…your goal is to get your issue resolved. Always make sure to include your phone number in the email and the best time to call you.
When you actually get that call from executive resolutions, make sure to write down the name and phone number for the person you’re talking to. Odds are, this case may not get entered into the typical customer service logs that companies keep for their customers, and if you ever need to continue this issue after the initial phone call, you don’t want to rely on the rep to call you back. Be prepared not to get a resolution immediately…sometimes it takes a few days for the rep to investigate your issue and come up with a resolution. Assuming your issue isn’t an urgent emergency, this is really not a bad thing…they are legitimately trying to help you, and sometimes they may need a few days to make sure that the next time they call you will be the last time.
My personal experience with executive resolutions departments has been overwhelmingly positive. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a very difficult customer to please…my expectations are incredibly high and I pretty much never take “no” for an answer. So when I tell you that the executive resolutions department pretty much always resolves my problem, you know they’re really that good! In the rare instances where I haven’t gotten the resolution I wanted, I was able to convince them that they should provide an alternative resolution that may not even be related to the original problem. I called the executive resolutions department of one credit card company because they were changing my rewards plan to something less valuable. Try as I might, I couldn’t get them to allow me to keep the original program…this wasn’t surprising, since they were eliminating that program for all their customers and their system wouldn’t allow me to remain. So ultimately, I said that I would settle for them giving me a bonus $70 credit, which would then result in my being able to cash in my existing rewards for a bonus $50. The rep happily obliged. So in essence, the company gave me $120 in order to keep me as a customer. I doubt that most of the other tens of thousands of individuals who were dismayed at the rewards plan changes actually spoke to executive resolutions or got anything at all.
Just remember, you are always a valuable customer, no matter how much the first level reps may convince you otherwise. Their primary concern is to go through all of their calls and get issues resolved using the system that has been created for them. But remember, you’re special…your problem can’t be solved by their system. The company’s response that, “Our system doesn’t allow us to do that” is quite simply unacceptable to you…you’re going to speak to someone who understands your problem and has the power to go outside the system because you’re smart enough to recognize that any company that limits customer service to a “system” without the ability for a human being to intervene and solve your problem has an even bigger issue on its hands than yours.