Joey The Customer Service Rep’s Guide To Online Shopping

Hi, my name’s Joey, and I recently escaped a soul-crushing job doing Sales Support over the phone for a computer, fruit and electronics company. Many of the calls I fielded were from people who were in situations that were 100% our fault, but I noticed that the majority of the issues I solved were completely preventable because many consumers did not realize how much information was available about their purchases before they clicked “Place Order”. So, with what I know will be a hellish shopping season for both my former associates and former customers fast approaching, I decided to put together a short list of broad guidelines that could prevent a number of the problems consumers encounter.

1) If you plan on spending a large amount on an online purchase, then learn about the product you are purchasing. Even if you’re spending a small amount of money, learn about the product you are purchasing. Is this accessory intended for the device I have? Google it. Find out if the specifications match. Will this product do what I want? Google it. Learn about its features before you hand over your digits. The product page on the online store is not the final word on the product. What are the other consumers saying about this? Have they had any problems with this product? What are they doing with the product? Will the media you have work with this product? All of these questions can be answered with a five-minute web search. Flex your research skills, and don’t blame the company or the underpaid and overworked employee because you didn’t take the time to learn about your purchase.

2) If you plan on spending money with an online retailer, then learn about the company and their policies. Every retailer worth their weight will have a Sales and Refund Policies page, and the link is usually at the bottom of the main page, if not every page on the site. Click that link and you can learn a lot about what your experience might be. Can you return that product if you decide you don’t want it? Which items are returnable and which are not? Will there be a restock fee, and how can you avoid the restock fee? What are the terms and conditions of the rebates offered? What happens if your product is lost or damaged in transit? Will someone need to be present to sign for the package? Knowing this information not only allows you to anticipate different scenarios, it also empowers you should you need to contact a representative of the company. A knowledgeable consumer makes a good representative empathetic and willing to help, and shuts down the blame-shifting and evasion tactics of a bad representative.

3) When given the opportunity to review your order, review your order. Did you use the right credit card? Did you enter that coupon they e-mailed? Did you check out the rebates being offered? Did you get the discount you expected? Are the billing and shipping addresses correct? Should you consider a faster shipping method? If it says on the product page that it “Will Ship Within 24 Hours”, that means that it will leave the warehouse within 24 hours and arrive an additional day or an additional year later, depending on the shipping method you select.

4) Ship your product to a location where someone you know can sign for it. Most retailers will allow you to ship a package to a different address than the billing address, some will allow you to request a signature as proof of delivery, and some will require a signature as proof of delivery. If you can get the item shipped to your office or to a neighbor’s house, do so, and be sure to notify your credit card company of the alternate shipping address to avoid delays related to fraud prevention.

5) Realize that shit happens. For whatever reason, you decided not to walk into a store and put your hands on the product before you forked over your money, and in doing so you opened your purchase up to more risk. Items are damaged in transit, lost, stolen, misrouted; orders are picked by the warehouse incorrectly, specifications don’t match, and electronics are sometimes dead on arrival. Because you did not physically go to a store and inspect the product before buying it, you did not have the benefit of ensuring that you received the correct, functioning item, and you may not have the benefit of taking it back and exchanging it immediately. If you absolutely need the product tomorrow, or even in the next two weeks, consider purchasing it somewhere that offers instant gratification.

6) Document everything. Names of representatives, order numbers, policies you read online versus policies as explained by representatives, product information pulled from the retailer’s website, invoices, order confirmation pages, shipping notifications, tracking numbers, everything. Provide the company with a valid phone number and an e-mail address you regularly check so they can contact you if problems arise.

7) Should you have to call the company, be friendly. Even the best Customer Service Representative might be less helpful if you’re not willing to accept her help. The person to whom you are speaking did not personally take your product off the FedEx truck and smash it. Don’t treat her like she did. If you are calm and friendly and if she is a good CSR, she will listen to your problem, apologize for it, and already be working to fix it. If you are abrasive and confrontational, she will stare at the wall while you finish your diatribe and do whatever it takes to get you off the phone quickly. Your friendliness, genuine or not, is the best tool you have to decide the outcome when dealing with a call-center.

8) Know your CSR. Call-centers attract some people who are very bright, committed, kind, and hardworking, and they attract some who are not. Was there inflection in his voice when they answered the phone, or was he monotone? Did he sound like he was listening to you? If he gave you feedback while you spoke, even small “mmhmm”s or “ok”s, he was actively listening to you. If there was a lot of dead air, or if the CSR spat scripted responses, then you were speaking with a person whose ability to interact with people has been mechanized to a freezing point. Don’t be afraid to hang up and call back, and…

9) Don’t be afraid to ask for a supervisor! Supervisor is the magic word in a call-center. Even the good CSR who views you as a human being and empathizes with your problem can only do so much. If you ask for a supervisor, she may be authorized to do more without even connecting you with one. If what she offers will not satisfy
your problem, a supervisor will be able to offer more. A good CSR will be upfront about her limitations, and might even steer you towards asking for a supervisor by saying things such as “I’m really only authorized to…” or “I only have the power to….” She likely can’t tell you to ask for a supervisor, even if your situation demands one.

Thanks Joey, but that sounds like a lot of work. We’re going to go live in the woods instead.


Edit Your Comment

  1. ElizabethD says:

    Holy crap. This list may put me off online shopping once and for all. Sounds more fraught with peril than a super-secret spy operation.

    Mall, here I come!

  2. timmus says:

    I think it’s important to deal with smaller companies that have a good word-of-mouth reputation. As you ascend the hierarchy of bigger and bigger corporations, they tend to be built on efficiency rather than service. God help you if you have a problem.

  3. Plaid Rabbit says:

    That supervisor line at the last bit is 100% true. It got to the point sometimes that I had to learn easy euphamisms to get someone to ask me for a supervisor.

    Most CSRs will get get docked on a quality review if they tell you they need to get a supervisor. Seriously, don’t be afraid to ask, especially if the person keeps telling you “I’m not authorized to do that” 10 or 15 times.

  4. North of 49 says:

    Having been a CSR up until a few weeks ago I can completely agree with points 7 thru 9. You give the CSR a reason to go the extra mile for you and most times they will. Take their head off from the start you will get exactly what they have to give you and not one bit more. CSR’s are NOT all the same. Some rep’s kick ass, some suck ass.

    One last point. Don’t ask for a supervisor from the very beginning either. Wait for the CSR to drop a hint or two or if it seems they are trying to end the call.

    Research any online purchase!

  5. kerry says:

    What do you do when the CSR repeatedly refuses to send you to a supervisor? I’ve had that happen several times with a few different companies over the years, and it’s very difficult to keep your cool and not start yelling a bit when you have to say “may I please speak with a supervisor” over and over again, while the CSR is telling you that they don’t have a supervisor, or they’re not authorized to send you to a supervisor, or that their supervisor isn’t in right now. Ugh!

  6. Ben Popken says:

    Joshua writes:

    “10) Don’t run off at the mouth. Explain your situation, but try to limit it to information that is relevant to your situation. Don’t be the customer who says “I don’t have a lot of time”, and then proceed to talk about moving into your new home or being sick or your recent breakup. Just the facts, and you’ll be off the phone faster.””

  7. Yozzie says:

    Ummm… a “computer, fruit and electronics company”? Kind of an intersting combination of specialities.

  8. Plaid Rabbit says:

    I think, Yozzie, he may hav been trying to say “Apple” without actually saying it.

  9. Mr. Gunn says:

    As a comsumer, I don’t want to do all that crap he lists in the first couple steps. Shouldn’t the information he suggests we google about the product be available from the product page? Also, if I buy something and need to return it, I shouldn’t have to be familiar with the ins and outs of refund and exchange policy. I give the thing back to you, you give me my money is all I should need to know.

    The rest of the tips are pretty good, though.

  10. cac67 says:

    I’m a call center rep for a cell phone company and it drives me crazy when I try to steer a customer to ask for a supervisor and they just dont get it. I’m observed way too much to tell someone “I’m not allowed to give you what you want but a supervisor can authorize it.

    As far as wanting the company trying to sell you something to spoon feed you everything about it, it’s not in their best interest to tell you that everyone else that bought it hated it. You might want to reconsider investing that 5 minutes needed to google your purchase.

  11. synergy says:

    Hell, this is good policy for things you’re physically picking out yourself. If you think this is too much work, then you shouldn’t whine when you get screwed.

  12. synergy says:

    Come on. This is good practice for online OR physical buying. If you don’t do these things for your purchases, you shouldn’t whine when you find out you got screwed, mostly because you didn’t take the time to read the store policies.

  13. TTCFCL says:

    I thought all this was common sence :P

  14. Irish says:

    The best tip in dealing with CSR’s is to know who you are dealing with from the start. When I first call and the rep identifies themself, I ask them to repeat it, and to spell it. Also I ask then for their badge/employee/ID #. Then I ask who their supervisor is using the same process, spelling it out and also asking for their phone number.

    “Hello did you say your name was Bob Smith? Is that Smithe with and e or just S M I T H? Thanks Bob. Do you have an ID or badge number? S2503? Thanks again, Bob. Now who is your supervisor? Jack White you say? Would you spell that please? Just like the color? Great! And what is his phone or ext. number? Ok Thanks! Now here is my problem.”

    Once you have gotten that info, you will be amazed at how hard that person will work to resolve your troubles. They will want to be your friend. And if they are not capable of solving your problems, you now have the supervisor identified and can go straight to them. If I get to the supervisor level, I go through the same process again, verifying their info and their supervisor info before continuing.