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Using The Hierarchy

When you call the customer support, service or technical support departments of a typical large firm, you end up on hold for a while. When you do finally get to speak to someone, it will likely be one of many "representatives" working in the department you called. These are the employees charged with dealing directly with the public.

I don't mean anything demeaning in saying this, but representatives are the "lowest level" employees in their respective departments. If you consider the organizational structure of a typical large department in a big company, it is shaped like a pyramid; at the top is the "head honcho", a vice-president or department head of some sort. Several managers report to that person; in turn, each of those managers has several people each reporting to them, and so on. At the bottom of the pyramid are the representatives who "get their hands dirty" and deal with the public.

In most companies, especially today when the economy is booming and unemployment is very low, these representatives are poorly paid, and often also inexperienced and poorly trained. They are usually given very little leeway to resolve issues, to override company policy, or in fact to do much of anything that is "out of the ordinary". They are expected to try to enforce the company's will and resolve problems without "breaking the rules". Usually the person you are speaking to on the phone could not do anything special to rectify your dissatisfaction even if he or she wanted to. And of course, they sometimes don't even want to--you may get a representative with a bad attitude or one that is just having a bad day.

If you find yourself at a dead end with the representative you are speaking to, don't get mad. Calmly say the following magic words: "please let me speak to your supervisor." In every company I have encountered, the representative will in fact agree to do this immediately, even if until that point the person has been totally uncooperative. (I believe that it is standard practice to instruct representatives that if a customer gets to this point in the conversation, to allow the transfer to be made.) If the representative refuses the transfer to a supervisor, ask for a name and phone number; they may refuse however. If so, hang up the phone, call back and immediately ask whoever answers to speak to a supervisor. Be persistent.

Once you get to the supervisor, explain your case clearly, politely and firmly. The supervisor will usually be far more willing to try to resolve the problem for you than the representative was. If a supervisor has a call transferred from a representative, he or she will be expecting an annoyed customer. If you are polite and logical you will make it clear that you are a customer standing up for your rights. If you are emotional and abusive then the supervisor may well assume that the problem lies with you, not the company.

If the supervisor you are speaking with still will not assist you, ask to speak to their supervisor. Here, you should expect some resistance; sometimes supervisors will refuse to let the call go further "up the chain". If this happens you will have to explore other options. Usually though, you will be able to go up at least two or three levels in your attempt to get the situation corrected. Every level you go up brings you to someone who is more important, expensive and busy than the person at the level below, which increases your chances of getting the problem fixed, but also may lead to delays until you can get a hold of that individual.

Next: Spelling Out Alternatives


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