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The Art of Yelling

By Greg Harris

Is it ever OK to raise your voice?

Greg Yelling I started yelling on the phone the other night at my cable TV provider for what I considered to be horrible customer service. My wife, not pleased at all, felt that if I knew anything at all about customer service, I would have refrained from yelling. She insisted that I could have been more effective if I had been calm. I'm not sure I could have stayed calm, but she posed an interesting theoretical question. Is it ever OK to raise your voice in an effort to get good customer service?

The call began when I saw two charges for the same movie on my bill. In both cases I knew with 100% certainty that no one watched any movies on those nights. When I explained that the bill was wrong, the customer service agent laughed at me. I cut him off and told him his condescending laugh implied I was either dumb or lying. He responded that it was impossible for the television company to make a mistake.

When I asked him for details about the start time and duration of the alleged rental, he told me his computers were down and he could not provide me that information.

The condescension continued... He told me that since I was a good customer, he would make an exception thus holding the line that I was in fact mistaken. I then asked to have my account permanently blocked so this wouldn't happen again. He said that was fine and that he would accomplish this by setting my credit limit to zero. Those are words no one wants to hear. I asked to speak to a supervisor. He told me that I didn't need a supervisor because he was taking care of all of my needs. That's when the yelling started. After explaining every mistake, the supervisor agreed with my critique and said she would file a report with her management.

At Jameco we had a problem with a very large software service provider of ours. We called tech support, explained the problem and were told that they would research and respond. Two days later there was no response, so we called again. Again, we were promised a follow up. And again we received no response. We tried a third, fourth and fifth time by calling every name we had in our Rolodex from this company making the same plea for help. In every case we got reassuring words for a follow up and again we got nothing.

After a week with no indication that they were even working on the problem, the yelling commenced. I yelled on the phone and I yelled over e-mail. I yelled at the front line people but frankly I wanted to yell at someone with a title. Eventually, I got to do that as well and amazingly, within hours, it seemed like half the company was actively working on our problems.

A person with a vice president title assured me that he would personally look into the problem and report back to me what changes the company would make so this issue wouldn't happen again. A week later the problem was almost fixed, but the VP hadn't followed through. I wrote him back and complained that the lack of follow through existed at every level of the organization and it was costing my company money. Another week went by and still no response. You know me by now. It was time for more yelling about the lack of follow through. I was ultimately given a one month credit.

I'm told that this was the first time any such credit has ever been extended to a customer. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. What I do know is that the yelling absolutely worked.

By now it should have dawned on you that this newsletter is largely read by people who are potentially in a position to be yelling at me! My position at Jameco means that if there is an unhappy customer, I'm frequently going to be on the other end of the phone listening to the yelling. So as someone who both likes to yell and has the experience of being yelled at, let me offer some yelling tips.
The Yelling Threshold. The goal is to always remain credible as a customer even when you are yelling like a mad man. If you yell without reason, more than likely the company on the other end is going to stop listening. I like to have at least three legitimate complaints or mistakes before crossing the yelling threshold. Calculated Yelling. Don't yell too loud too fast. I try to employ the "slow build" strategy where the volume and body of my yelling slowly grows. Here I'm communicating that it will only get worse and give a not-so-subtle incentive for the target to quickly agree before it gets any worse. Strategic Yelling. If the company you are yelling at firmly believes it is not in their strategic interest to see things your way, they won't. I like to precede my yelling by a careful analysis of what I think is in the company's best interest. If for example you want to yell at me for following the company policy I'm likely to be less responsive than if you build an argument about why this company policy is silly.