Be a Customer Service Ninja

Inspired to by Mike D’s Vonage story, Austin writes in a hot tip for all of looking to pole vault low-level CSR and reach the Valhalla of customer service.

“Most all large companies have some sort of executive customer service staff, made up of individuals who have the power to cut through all sorts of red tape,” he writes. “The key is knowing how to access these wonderful people who can make things right when everything else has gone wrong.”

    � For public companies, put the stock ticker symbol in Google Finance and pull up the profile page. The corporate office should be listed under Company Facts.

    � Call the corporate office.

    � Ask for a transfer to the office of the CEO.

    � You will likely get an exec. assistant but that’s good. Voice mail is ok, too.

    � Give succinct summary, including identifying details like order numbers and confirmation numbers.

    � Remain nice.

“Within a day, you should get the phone call equivalent to the holy grail–a call back by someone on the executive service team.”

Using this method, Austin says he got Verizon to do in three days what it hadn’t in three months: install his DSL.

His full letter, after the jump…

Austin writes:

    “In his email about Vonage, Mike D. actually mentions a very useful entity for those of us who do battle with various companies that attempt to screw us over. Most all large companies have some sort of executive customer service staff, made up of individuals who have the power to cut through all sorts of red tape. The key is knowing how to access these wonderful people who can make things right when everything else has gone wrong.

    I find the easiest way to get your issue heard is to call the corporate offices and ask to be transferred to the office of the CEO, the assistant to the CEO, or some similar entity (reference the executive by name if you want to sound like you really know what you’re doing). To find the corporate phone number, a little basic sleuthing in Google is necessary, since the normal customer service number will likely either not know the phone number or not be willing to give it out. For publicly traded companies, just plug the ticker symbol into Google and pull up the Google Finance profile page–the phone number will usually be listed under “Company Facts.” Even if the company is not publicly traded, it usually isn’t difficult to find the phone number using Google–it may even be listed in some obscure corner of the company’s web site. Alternatively, you can also attempt to find the email address of the CEO or other executive, but I find that calling is often faster, because that makes them realize that you are so upset about something that you took the effort to find out who to call.

    The operator will likely transfer you to an executive assistant, but this is exactly what we want. Sometimes it will be voice mail, but occasionally you’ll get a real live person. Either way, remember that you are dealing with busy people, so don’t bother rambling on about your problem, but rather try to give a succinct summary, including any identifying details that may be helpful (order numbers, confirmation numbers, etc.). As with many other things in life, remaining civil and calm will do wonders, particularly since all you need to do is get your foot in the door.

    Within a day, you should get the phone call equivalent to the holy grail–a call back by someone on the executive service team. At this point, they may or may not have been able to access the complete details of what has already transpired, but now is a good time to fill them in. This person will be the one who will work with you until your problem is resolved, so if they don’t immediately offer it, be sure to get their phone number so you can contact them again should any other problems come up.

    On a personal note, just a couple of months ago I had to make use of this strategy when Verizon decided that the DSL line I had ordered for my new apartment was clearly something I didn’t want, and customer service kept pushing back the scheduled installation date until it was over three months from when my lease started. Heck, once when I was on the phone with a normal customer service supervisor trying to see what was holding up my order, he rolled back my installation date by two weeks on the spot, but couldn’t give a reason why he needed to do so! At that point, I was so frustrated that I found the corporate switchboard phone number for Verizon, did exactly what I describe above, and am happy to say that within two and a half days I had a fully functioning DSL line in my new apartments, something that probably would have not happened for at least a month or two had I not contacted the CEO’s office directly.

    I hope this tip proves helpful to everyone out there who may run into a brick wall known affectionately as customer service.

    Austin H.”


Edit Your Comment

  1. Smoking Pope says:

    Very good advice. In all but one case, when I’ve had a complaint that I’ve felt strongly enough about to employ this strategy, this has worked.

    The exception was America Worst airlines. They lied, lied, lied (I mean really flagrantly lied) to me, and cost me 18 1/2 hours of my life waiting in an airport. I finagled the CEO’s e-mail address and got his assistant. After proving AWA’s dishonest behavior, I was given… a single travel voucher good for 6 months (to conver the inconvenience they caused me AND my wife). This not only didn’t cost them anything, but would wind up with me giving them more money because I almost never travel alone. I burned the damn thing.

    Oh, and KinderCare corporate ignored multiple repeated phone calls and e-mails to their CEO. But for non scumbag companies, this strategy works GREAT.

  2. scingram says:

    Not a bad call, but idealy something you dont want to have to rely on. Custome Service reps should be there to assist you just as well as these executive reps should. But we all know that this is not the case. I have written my CEO (Qwest), with a complaint from a friend and had the same sort of response. The issue was resolved the next day. It does work, but should really be the exception, not the norm.

  3. Plasmafire says:

    Is that picture available as wallpaper?

  4. OkiMike says:

    I was going to say, can I get that as a wallpaper?

  5. Ben Popken says:

    This is the largest size you can get without paying Getty images $150 or so. The artist is “The Vapor,” so you might have luck searching that way.

  6. trixare4kids says:

    When I was the victim of ID theft, one of the worst companies to deal with was Pac Bell. They have so many departments who don’t know what the other is doing and/or don’t talk to each other at all. After weeks of run-around, I called corporate and got the red carpet treatment. Problem resolved in 24 hours.

  7. sp3nc3 says:

    Apparently Austin has never heard of the ancient ninja art of “Using Paragraphs.”

  8. QuirkyRachel says:

    I wish I had known to do this when I was trying to get DSL from SBC (also for about 3 months).

  9. saintonge says:

    I’d like to point out that Google no longer has any Company Facts, or at least they didn’t when I tried to look up, who had screwed up my wife’s account very thoroughly. But some more websearching got me a page with the names of various Amazon corporate officers, and so I e-mailed Jeff Bezos, with a carbon copy to all of the rest, and finally got some action, after a ten days of frustration.

    Thanks for the tip.

  10. Trackback says:

    Cleaning Cast-Iron Pans – As long as there are no cracks or nicks you can clean it.Complaining to Executives at Companies – If you are out money, you may find it easier to bypass the Customer Service area and go as close to the top as possible• For public companies, put the stock ticker symbol in…

  11. Sportsfan22 says:

    This is one of the best sites I have ever came across. I have to thank my Son Chris for giving me this link. I am truly appreciative of your work. Please keep it up. If there is anything that I can do to help please let me know.


  12. Bats1 says:

    A New York Times article today, August16, 2007, highlights Netflix’s effort to buck the no customer support trend. The article is called “Victory for Voices over Keystrokes” and highlights Netflix decision to fight Blockbuster with what we used to call “customer service.”

    Everyone concerned with this frightening trend of big business to bite the hand that feeds it should make sure that Netflix brave decision is applauded, and successful.

    Gary Pelphrey

  13. nordictom says:

    I think everyone has valid remarks on the contacting of the CEO. I used this method 10 years ago when we were buying our house. Our credit report had more dings than a junk yard gem. It worked, about 99% of the time, I even spoke with a few CEO’s. I also got their fax number & followed up with evidence showing their company reported it wrong. 100% of the time I received an apology letter & clean credit within 30 day’s.
    Nordic Tom

  14. increaser says:

    I similarly solved a problem with Verizon a few years ago by calling their executive offices. For months the company was double charging me for DSL (via autopay) and no one seemed to know why. I searched for hours on the internet for numbers to call until I reached someone who listened and answered with such calm I knew it would be resolved. Within days I got my $600 dollars back.

  15. pixelperfect says:

    This technique does work. My husband and I continually got screwed over by US Airways. The last straw was when I tried to redeem a free voucher that I had gotten for previous ineptitude and the customer service rep told me to mail it to her, then I called back and found that I wasn’t supposed to mail it to her and I ended up having to pay out of pocket for her mistake. After many many many screw ups by their airline, I went to the web site and found their “about us” section and the executive bios and names listed. I found the corporate address and sent certified letters to the executive vice president of customer relations. I got a letter back with a refund check and more coupons which is what I wanted. When writing a letter, email or calling, ALWAYS include an action step… i.e. if I do not hear from your office in X days, I will take further action (list action).

  16. WhitRD says:

    @Bats1: I had a similar experience with Netflix — I couldn’t get the instant viewing feature to work, and within minutes of calling the customer service line, I had a very friendly guy on the other end telling me how to fix my problem. It was such a nice change!

  17. Zaos says:

    Just did this for Verizon Wireless (the cell service not Fios service). Spoke with a gentlemen at 11:31, off the call at 11:36, back from lunch at 12:25, got a call at 12:28 and the account is being refunded properly which according to the store would have taken a 3 month period (which the Lady promptly she would reprimand them because there is no 3 month policy, they were yanking my chain)

  18. SigmundTheSeaMonster says:

    I’ve the exec contacts at XO Communications from a previous (search & destroy) issue with their billing (nightmare).
    If you remain calm and courteous, show that you’ve been diligent (details in the call dates, contacts, and pertinent case information) and express concern over your treatment, you will get results.
    I still give XO Communications sales and billing an F. But their executive team, and their technical router support team are A+.
    Oddly, we got our services changed (disconnected and returned their premise hardware in May) and they decided to bill us for a full month…and how without hardware?

  19. Proletariat says:

    @Zaos: My wife and I have wasted literally 2 years of our lives on our problem with Verizon DSL. Two years ago, we ordered DSL for the house, then decided we didn’t want it after all and canceled the next day. When the box arrived we sent it back to Verizon, unopened, and we actually paid Verizon for the setup charges even though we never touched the service. Of course, one month later the bill arrived for a month’s usage, which was impossible since we never even opened the box. We called then and everything was supposedly resolved. Then 3 months later we started receiving the collections notices. We kept calling, and we kept getting new collections agencies. Now I know it was only $31, but why should we have to pay for something we never even used? Thanks to this thread, we called today and hopefully all will be fixed for good. Thanks again! P.S.I think it is sad that I used roughly 12 hours of my life on a phone resolving something that never should have happened.

  20. calchip says:

    I have used these sort of techniques for probably 20+ years to deal with otherwise completely intractible problems.

    10 years ago, it was easy to actually reach a senior executive or at least their assistant… I once spoke to the actual one-and-only personal assistant to the then-president of Sprint after a so-called “executive customer service” drone insisted that no one could solve my problem and there was no one higher on the ladder than him. Magically, the supervisor of the person with no supervisor called me back the same day and my three-month odyssey was resolved in minutes.

    Another time, while trying to get a payment that what was thenGTE telephone (now Verizon) had cashed but not credited to my account, an unhelpful person in the credit department, when asked for a supervisor, told me “we’re all supervisors in this department.” After reaching an actual executive in their corporate headquarters, I got about 4 phonecalls from regional VPs, area managers, department supervisors and so forth, and letters of apology, along with being told by one of the VP’s that he’d had a (in his words) “come to Jesus” meeting with the department manager that instructed that all call center employees were supervisors.

    But there is one other very, very extreme step that I’ve used when nothing else works. I’ve used it only 3 times in 25 years, and it’s worked each time.

    I’ve found the name of the president or chairman and used public real estate records to identify where s/he lives, and then sent a short, very respectful overnight letter to his or her home, apologizing for contacting them at home but explaining that I’ve tried literally everything else, and it’s that or a very public small claims action combined with major press release.

    In each case, some horrified vice president (NOT some “executive customer service” call center agent) has called me within 48 hours and fallen all over themselves to apologize, before handing me off to someone who will resolve the situation, with a request that I call them back personally if the matter isn’t resolved to my satisfaction. I have gotten the impression that, at that point, I could literally have asked for the moon and they would have gotten it for me… but my approach has always been to never ask for more than what’s reasonable, so as not to “poison the well.”

    In a few cases, I’ve been able to leverage my rolodex of these higher-up contacts to resolve other issues with the same company years later, and they’ve always been very friendly and helpful.

    It’s unfortunate that one has to take this sort of action to get help so often these days, but it’s nice to know that in most cases, when you finally do get past the multiple firewalls of call center staff intentionally put in place to keep complaints from reaching management, they are genuinely interested in solving the problem, if only to avoid bad publicity.

  21. Gracie Jimenez says:

    I have been with Verizon for 6 years and just renewed my contract for myself and my 3 teenagers. Within 3 days my son’s screen cracked. I single mother of 3 paid over 700 dollars for new phones thinking if I spent a little more they would last longer than 2 years. Verizon would not give me a new phone and I did not buy insurance because we never use it. I will try this technique today. Thank God for the internet and smart people.

  22. TimF says:

    Something I found that was very effective was filing a complaint with the city utility commissioner’s office. We had persistent problems with our Comcast (big suprise), and we got a call a day after a formal emailed complaint. The executive customer service rep even came out to our house after a call to see the problem in person.

  23. viper says:

    Typical of all corporations that are more than willing to shove services down our mouths, but then have not even an inkling on how to assist when these cheap, thrown-together services fail. It’s the biggest corporate fail point, yet. Corporations dont (want to) see it, and probably never will, as long as blinded consumers keep purchasing their crap.

  24. ppevey says:

    Just tried calling Verizon CEO at (212) 395-1000. First call they said to hold and someone would be with me shortly, after which I got a steady busy signal; second call the phone rang twice and then dead air.

    How does Verizon get all the great ratings?? Verizon has the most incompetent WORTHLESS customer service I have ever experienced. I am totally frustrated! if the customer service rep doesn’t know the answers, they either put you on hold forever or let the call drop. This has happened over and over again – too often for it to be a “coincidence.”

  25. papa54 says:

    Verizon you need to step up to the plate and take care of your customers. Customer service to me is a grade of “F”. I have had so many problems with my DSL service I stopped counting. I have tried tech support and they failed to help. I have had lost of internet service, almost no speed, dropped calls, they have cancelled a ticket for in home service. Oh, I could go and on. I tried to call the CEO Ivan G. Seidenberg and got transfered to a busy signal, twice. I have taken time off to wait for a service tech to come to my home. Not to mention the outrageous amount I am paying for phone, internet, tv. I just sent an email to a MR. William Kula, Director Media Relations. Hope he can help.

  26. Tigger says:

    Had to contact my AG & elected officials about verizon.

    Mr. AG:
      Verizon Wireless is billing us over $18,000 for their mistake.  We have been through the most frustrating run around imaginable from their customer service and billing department.  My wife, Linda Todd, looked up our real time billing and found it to be $3,000 + and immediately contacted Verizon.  They promised to look into it.  3 days later our bill was over $18,000.  Again, we contacted Verizon customer service.  We have spent 30 + hrs on the phone with them and that is only after we started taking notes on each contact.  We’ve been told we’d get a call back from a department head several times but that has not happened.  My wife even took time off work to receive a promised call that never came as she cannot receive calls at her work.

      This has been a nightmare for us and threatens our credit.  When I review the itemization provided by Verizon’s service representatives and do the math, it becomes obvious to me that they have slipped a decimal point.  That in mind, it results in a perfectly normal billing.  We don’t know where to turn to.
    Verizon Service representatives say there is nothing more we can do but pay the bill.  To top it off, we have a cap on our billing and that was ignored and we were not contacted about the absurd billing.
      Please help.  I’m on a fixed income and such a bill is impossible for me.  They made a mistake and refuse to admit or adjust for it.  We have notes and times of our contacts with Verizon and need help.  We don’t know where to turn to correct this mistake.