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An Argument for Yelling at Customer Service

on May 4, 2016

When I mentioned to my wife and business partner Joy that I wanted to write an article arguing that sometimes it’s OK to yell at customer service, her first reaction was, “Please don’t.”

Yell_01The image of me  telling off some customer service rep would be a negative reflection of me and our brand.

Yes, true. But my hope is after reading this you won’t have a negative opinion of me and my brand.

I’m writing the post to ask if yelling as customer service can be validated. What about the times when you’re very patient with customer service and it flat out fails? Is it appropriate at this time to start yelling? Will it provide a solution or will it make a bad situation worse?

Is it the customer’s job to fix a company’s customer service problem?

In the following two stories, I either quickly or eventually discover there’s a deep organizational problem that goes far beyond my simple customer service issue. My polite behavior couldn’t fix it. I also don’t believe it’s a customer’s problem to fix.

Story 1: No procedure to handle gift returns

My friend Bill Biggar (mentioned in the article “12 Awesome People Who Should Be on a List But Aren’t”) bought me a copy of the movie “Defending Your Life” on DVD. What arrived in the mail was the first season of the TV show “Martin.”

WrongDVDBarnes and Noble made a simple mistake. They shipped the wrong product. This should be easy to fix. All I needed to do is call the customer service number, give them the order number and my email address so that they can send me a return UPS label. I would then ship the incorrect product back so they could send me the correct product. Seems like a simple enough procedure that any eCommerce company could handle.

Not so for B&N. As you read this remember that my sole goal is to give them my email address so they can send me a UPS label for me to return the wrongly mailed product.

Call 1: While I’m able to give the rep my order number and item number, the rep asks for the sender’s mailing address. I explain it was a gift and I don’t have that information. The woman explains she can’t do anything without that information. I ask to speak to a manager. I’m disconnected.

Call 2: I call back only to discover that the customer service department is now closed.

Call 3: Day two. I call again and I’m able to give the rep my email address so they can send me the UPS label. I wait a few hours and no email arrives.

Yell_02Call 4: Wondering where the email is, I call back only to discover the woman who I spoke to in the last call never entered my email address into the system. I explain that the item was a gift. That doesn’t seem to deter the customer service rep from asking me for the last four digits of the buyer’s credit card. I asked her how would I be able to give her that information if it was a gift. She explains that this is the only way she can process this return. I am now clearly realizing that B&N has no process for handling gift returns. Or at least the reps I spoke to were never trained on how to handle this. I am now incensed and I make it very clear that I’m annoyed as I’m four calls deep into a $5.62 mistake that they made that could simply be solved if the woman would just take my email address. At the 25 minute mark on this fourth call, they break me and I yell at them.

It is at this point I’m finally able to give them my email address and they record it. I receive the label, I return the wrongly mailed DVD, and I get the correct DVD.

Yes, it’s wrong to yell at people. But in this instance I felt justified doing it as it did solve my problem where the traditional technique did not work. Although, I do know that the reason of “solving your problem” is not necessarily a reason to yell. But in a situation where the standard method doesn’t work and you realize the company’s lack of procedure is causing you to waste your time, is it OK at that point to start yelling? The problem should have been solved in less than a minute, yet it couldn’t because the reps I spoke to didn’t know how to handle a gift return. If organizations don’t have procedures for simple customer service issues, like a gift return, then they’re going to have to expect some very angry customers. I was one of them.

Story 2: They have deeper problems than not paying me

More than 13 years ago, I took on an assignment to write an article about the then somewhat confusing HD technologies of LCD, plasma, and DLP. It was for a B-level tech publication called TECH Edge, and the pay was far below my normal rate, but I was eager to learn about these technologies so I took on the assignment.

TechEdgeCover_Article

I wrote the article, submitted my invoice, and after 30 days, no check. I called only to discover that the company’s policy is I get paid 30 days after publication. So I wait another three months (article was published in another two months – technologies probably changed by then) and still no check. I begin calling a couple times each week to get an answer as to when I was going to get paid. I was chronically given the runaround. Each time I was passed off to a different person. This went on for weeks until I decided on a long drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles that I would keep calling until I got someone who would give me the information on my check.

I began my drive and after about four calls deep, having talked to about six different people, one woman says to me, “David, I would love to pay you, but…”

That’s when I snapped.

Yell_03“I don’t give a shit what you would love to do. You’re contractually obligated to pay me. Where’s my check?!”

She hangs up and ten minutes later I get a call back with the check number. I finally received my money.

Again, I played the patient game for months and that didn’t work. It wasn’t until I yelled that I was able to get the solution I needed.

That’s not the end of the story.

First, I never worked for them again. No surprise. But more than two years later I saw a news story that the publisher of TECH Edge, Bedford Communications, was caught in a federal sting investigation for circulation fraud.

Edward D. Brown, president and publisher of Bedford Communications, and John Jay Annis, his director of circulation, were charged with scheming to fraudulently boost the circulation of Bedford’s Laptop by hiring a distributor to accept 15,000 copies that Bedford would claim as paid circulation regardless if they were delivered anywhere. – AdvertisingAge, October 26, 2005.

Their money problems ran much deeper than trying to avoid paying me. They were defrauding advertisers. They were crooks. And now they’re out of business.

NOTE: Purch acquired Laptop Magazine, and there’s currently a magazine called TechEdge published by the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA), which is not the same magazine.

Have you or wanted to yell at customer service?

Was I validated yelling in these instances? I don’t believe my wife and business partner Joy would ever yell at a customer service rep. It’s just not her nature. Is it in your nature to yell? Are there times that you’ve felt justified in yelling? Was it the only way for you to get the service you wanted?

I and fellow readers want to hear your story of justified yelling at customer service.

Creative Commons photo credit to amslerPIX, Ben Askins, Alena Navarro-Whyte, and Andrew Kimmel.

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