I have learned (as many of us have) that customer service at most companies generally sucks. Companies are in love with frustrating & endless voicemail trees (hey, at least if you're going to subject us to the VM tree, make it so that if someone presses "0", it goes to a real live person. Please?) and the customer service reps are usually just there to tell you why you're wrong and how they have to stick to their policy.
So I've found a way to bypass this mess and go straight to the top. As a business owner myself, I have realized that senior management generally does care about the customer's experience. I think they're the only ones that realize a customer's revenue is what drives their jobs. Using my technique (which I'm about to tell you about - hold your breath!) I've been able to communicate with the CEO or appropriate VP of basically any publicly traded company with which I have a quarrel.
Now, keep in mind that what I'm about to show you is kind of like Karate. If you're suddenly empowered with these great tools but you don't know how to use them, you give the whole thing a bad name. So please use this newfound knowledge judiciously. Think of it as a GNU public license for a process instead of an application: You can use what I'm about to tell you, but first you have to promise to try going through the normal customer support system. (It makes a better story to the CEO anyway when you can tell him or her how & why their customer support system sucks, and use specific examples).
OK enough lead in, here's what I do. Let's say, for example, that you are having a problem with your mortgage company, as I recently did. I was on direct deposit with Washington Mutual, and the payment was supposed to draft out on the 15th of every month. Well, their collections agency kindly sent me a letter on the 11th saying I hadn't paid... this is 4 days before my autodraft (which they set up) was supposed to happen.
So after getting nowhere with their customer service folks, I took out my secret weapon: The first thing I do is go to www.Hoovers.com because first, I have to know who the executives are. Hoovers is not the only place for this information, but it's a great place to get it. Although they don't really publish it, they have a "lite" annual subscription plan that costs about $300 that'll get you access to all this information (Note: I am NOT affiliated w/ them, I just like their service). So using Hoovers I was able to learn lots of things... for example that WaMu had $15 Billion in revenue in 2004. Not a small player by any means. I also clicked on the "people" tab to learn who the executives were. I learned that Kerry K. Killinger is their CEO and Stephen J. (Steve) Rotella is their President & COO. So now I had the names I needed. This is the magic step part #1.
But having the names doesn't help much if you don't have their email address. So this is the REAL genius step. :) One thing you can try doing is just sending an email to several variations, like firstname.lastname@example.org, etc., and this sometimes works. If you're going to try it this way, you should put the other variations email@example.com, etc., in the BCC line, not the TO or CC lines. That way they won't know you're guessing. However, here's the better way: First, try a search in Google. For example, you can try typing "@washingtonmutual.com" to see if any email addresses come up in the search results. However, that usually does not work. And in this case, I didn't even know if it was truly "washingtonmutual.com" or if it might've been "wamu.com" or "wamu.net".
But what I realized one day after about a year of pondering this issue was that most companies put press releases on their sites. And most press releases have the name of a PR publicist who usually uses the same email addressing moniker as the CEO will use. So if you can just find the name to their PR contact - say it's Jane Doe, and you see that Jane Doe is firstname.lastname@example.org, then you know how to address an email to the CEO. And here's an easy way to do that: Just go to Google and type in your search box "Press site:wamu.com". That "site:" designation will search for the keyword "press" ONLY within the domain "wamu.com". (You can see the actual search here.) This saves you hours of poking around their site. And bingo! Up pops this result URL, which lists, at the bottom, their PR contact as JoAnn DeGrande - and what do you know! Her email is
Now we're talking! Joann just gave me the keys to email the COO - I now know it's email@example.com !!! So I sent Steve an email, and he wrote back (on his blackberry no less) within 10 minutes. Here's what he wrote:
From: Rotella, Steve [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, February 19, 2005 2:48 PM
Cc: Gross, Jeremy; Davis, Brad
Subject: Re: From Wamu customer - erroneous collection notice
I am truly sorry for the problems you have encountered and that we have not met you expectations. And, no customer is lowly to us. You are our highest priority.
I will get this to an executive who will deal with it first thing Monday. I am traveling but will ask him to keep me informed.
Again, accept my apologies for the problems.
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld
So there you have it - problem solved (thanks Steve, in case you ever see this, for your fast response - at least someone at WaMu cares about customers!).
Like I said... use this tool with care & caution! And spread the word, maybe companies will get rid of their voicemail hell trees and actually teach customer care reps to "care" about the customer's needs, not just repeat the company mantra.