How to get good customer service

Companies big and small know that good customer service keeps them in business. But as a consumer, how do you demand (and receive) great customer service? Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO), Neville Melville says it’s all about knowing what your rights as a customer are, complaining through the right channels, and rewarding companies that offer great service.

• Shop at reputable retailers who take customer service seriously. Don’t focus only on price, but also a company’s reputation and resolving of complaints. Read online reviews see if a company has had any complaints laid against it. “Also check whether the retailer is a member of the CGSO – they will display a sign in their shop window – which means you can ask the Ombud for help if you have a complaint,” says Melville. A new code governing the consumer goods and service industry, to come into effect soon, will also ensure that retailers who have signed up have proper internal complaints-handling processes, their staff are properly trained and enables alternative dispute resolution through the Ombud for concerned customers.

• Know your rights. The Consumer Protection Act offers a range of rights to consumers. For instance, if a product is faulty, you are protected by the ‘Three R’s’. You have the right to Return it, get a Refund or a Replacement. “But be aware that you also have responsibilities,” says Melville. “A company may ask you to produce the receipt or provide the original packaging,” says Melville. You can visit CGSO cgso.org.za to download a copy of the Consumer Protection Act.

• Do compromise. If you have a complaint, keep in mind that your demands need to be reasonable. For example, a restaurant may not be able to give you a free meal because your main course arrived at your table cold—but they could cook a replacement, give you a discount or offer you a free drink. “Customers who receive bad service often demand unreasonable compensation, but keep in mind the value of the product,” adds Melville. “Of course, a business that values its customers will know that that their reputation depends on its customers coming back, so give them a chance to fix the problem.”

• Use the right channels to complain. Melville advises consumers to be specific about their complaint and be clear about a proposed solution. “After being on the receiving end of bad service, you may feel like biting the head off the first person at the company you can get hold of, but wait until you can do it calmly and think the situation through,” says Melville. “Find out who is the correct person to complain to and ask to email or speak to them directly.”

• Keep a paper trail. Melville explains that you should keep a note of the different people you complain to and what dates you contacted them so that there is a trail to follow up with if necessary. “If you’re having no luck at floor level, ask to speak to a manager and if necessary the owner or CEO, if it’s a small organisation, or the customer care division of a large company,” says Melville. “Going right to the top is sometimes the only way to resolve a complaint, but work your way up the corporate ladder first.”

• Follow it up. If you’ve still not managed to resolve a customer complaint with the organisation, contact the GSCO and lodge a complaint. “A consumer who referred a complaint to a company and is dissatisfied with the manner in which it was dealt with it, or the outcome, can refer it to our office,” says Melville. He advises consumers to do this as soon as reasonably possible after and within 30 months of the consumer becoming aware of the event resulting in the complaint. The CGSO will then try to get the parties to agree to some sort of settlement, and the service is free.