​Customer service failures have captured the headlines in 2017. As such, companies are becoming ever more aware of how their brand reputation is linked to individual customer service encounters!

As a consumer, how can you take advantage of this customer focus? Here are 5 ways to become a customer service expert consumer:

Know your rights.

Whether you are flying on an airplane or buying groceries, there are certain implied and government regulated consumer rights. Take time to learn what you can and cannot expect both legally and ethically from the businesses you buy from. Much talk followed the United Airlines passenger being dragged off a plane and the subsequent incident involving a family that was asked to leave when the name on the ticket didn’t match the name of the person flying. Every airline ticket you buy comes with about a page of fine print detailing what you as a passenger can and cannot do. Read it in advance of traveling. Just because the law and a ‘contract of carriage’ states that a business CAN do certain things, it doesn’t mean that it behooves them to do so in light of likely social media backlash. (see point 2)

Know available channels of communication and the power that they put in your consumer fingers!

Years ago, an incident like the aforementioned passenger being ousted from the plane would have probably garnered a brief spot on the local news and a possible paragraph in the local newspaper which would be used to wrap fish the following day. In an era of 24/7 cable national cable news coverage and millions of smart phones, Twitter accounts, and Instagram followers, even an incident far more insignificant than this can have long lasting repercussions for an organization. So how does that help you? For starters, make sure you have a Twitter account and know the Twitter handles of the companies with whom you do business. You will often get more immediate service using these channels than through an 800 number or a customer service counter. Also, make sure to sign up for frequent customer identification clubs. Whether it be an airline miles club like the American Airlines Advantage program, or a discount card at your local bagel shop, it demonstrates that you are a repeat valuable customer and are one worth listening to. Recent events demonstrated that a post referencing @Delta or @United on Twitter will likely be read by a host of their other frequent flyers, millions of consumer, and possibly the media, so they have to listen to you! The other benefit to you can be faster service via social media channels. As a 2 million miler on American, I know that American an incredible social media support team @AmericanAir and that if I am experiencing trip issues, a response will be almost immediate via this channel whereas even their elite telephone line may experience long wait times during travel interruptions.

Be reasonable and courteous no matter what your method of communication.

Yes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but a rude squeaky wheel doesn’t always get the best results. Have some compassion for the real person on the other end of the telephone line or your social media post and you may get more swift and compassionate action. If I am on the phone, I always listen for or ask the representative’s name when starting the conversation. I thank them by name in advance for their help and show empathy for the job they have. It is amazing what this can do for a stressed-out service representative who has just listened to the last five contacts rake them over the coals. At this point, I also indicate the amount of business I have brought them in the past and my expectations of continued great service. If, however, a courteous and productive response does not follow, I am not afraid to request that my issue be escalated to a supervisory level. (see point 4)

Realize that supervisors DO have more power than the first voice or text contact you have.

I will never forget dealing with my mortgage company after a tornado hit my house. Even though we had significant equity in the home, the mortgage company did not want to release any of the insurance funds they had received without what seemed like a ten-step process for each of the dozen or more contractors which we were going to have to use. I had finally had enough in my stressed-out state of life, and in a phone call with an unbending representative asked to speak with a supervisor. She assured me that she was a supervisor which I knew was probably not true, and refused to transfer me. I then asked for the proper spelling of her name so I could get it right in my nationally syndicated customer service blog and hung up the phone. Within an hour, she called me back and said that a supervisor had given permission for a release of partial funds! Now here is the truth of customer service today. You don’t have to be a columnist to be able to speak to a supervisor. Every consumer today yields great power with even a veiled or implied threat of a post on social media. Making sure to get a representative’s name before there is such a conflict (see Step 3) assures knowledge that they will be held personally accountable for what follows in the customer service encounter. Any smart business will conduct front line customer service training that empowers customer service reps, and also instructs them on when another voice becomes an asset to customer complaint resolution.
(see Step 5)

Learn lessons from customer service encounters in your personal life that apply to your work life!

Most consumers are also employed in the workforce. If you are one of those consumers, realized that you are enrolled in the University of Life every single day. What do you like and dislike about your customer service encounters as a consumer? These are the very same things that the customers of the business you work for will like and dislike about you. If you are a manager, have a monthly meeting where staff is encouraged to tell their customer service stories of nightmare and delight. It will not only be quite entertaining, it will be significantly educational. My customer service keynote and customer service book, “​Common Sense Service: Close Encounters on the Front Lines” is exactly that. I share the lessons learned from real close encounters that I have experienced on the front lines of business. The amazing thing about stories is that they are incredible memory anchors… far more so than 5 points on a PowerPoint slide! Write your own book at least in your mind. Encourage your team at work to do the same. The benefit will be better service to your customers and great stories to share with friends at your next cocktail party!