Customer Service Empowerment Techniques Leverage Opinion

When you’re stuck with a company providing bad customer service

When a retailer or restaurant provides bad customer service, there generally are other choices. You can simply leave one and try another.

But, what do you do when the company providing bad customer service is the only game in town (e.g., telecom provider)? Or, you have a lender (e.g., mortgage loan) that you can’t just snap your fingers to change out? And, here’s a really scary and all-too-common scenario: You’ve been admitted to the hospital in an emergency situation. You’re pretty much stuck with the caregivers you get—at least in the near term.

The key is to find some type of leverage that will let the company know there are consequences to their poor customer service behavior. Increased customer service workloads because of the pandemic and resulting financial challenges put massive pressure on companies to deal with many disgruntled and disheartened customers.

Unfortunately, in some situations, such as the emergent hospital situation, you probably don’t want to stoke the ire of your caregivers who may literally have your life in their hands—at least not immediately. And, given the added pressures brought about by the pandemic, immediate options for relief may be out of reach.

But, in other situations, there are surprisingly effective levels of leverage that can address situations in the near term. One of my favorite examples involves one of my least favorite companies, Comcast. Years ago, in a galaxy somewhat far away, we kept having internet disruptions in our townhome.

After enduring the problems for far too long, we did some digging and learned that every time one resident in our building complained, the Comcast techs were coming out and “borrowing” signal from another resident to solve the problem. Then, that resident would experience the problem and call Comcast to fix it.

One day, in a fit of pique, I reached out to a Comcast PR exec and an upper level engineering contact. I told them that I would canvass the nearly 150 owners in our complex, many of whom were Comcast subscribers, and tell them about this state of affairs in an effort to get them to switch to another provider.

The next morning, an entire group of technicians descended on our building to redo the infrastructure. Needless to say, the signal was better from that point forward. Evidently, they didn’t want to deal with a potential exit of customers en masse or the possible reputation damage coming from it.

This didn’t solve everyone’s problem in the complex. But, it was a start. By gaining leverage, owners knew they had some bargaining chips going forward.

So, how do you find relief with a lender practicing poor customer service? Perhaps you’re getting conflicting answers or clearly inappropriate direction. Look for a leverage point with an organization that holds sway. In some cases, this can be an agency or organization with regulatory or legal oversight.

You can enlist the help of consumer advocates. According to their website, “We’re on your side. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a U.S. government agency that makes sure banks, lenders, and other financial companies treat you fairly.”

It is surprisingly easy to connect with a counselor, file a complaint, and learn about additional resources that may solve the bad customer service problem you’re experiencing. Depending on the issue, you may not get relief right away, but it can let the lender know that you’re not accepting their poor behavior lying down. This can go a long way toward finding successful resolution.

When the lender is prospective, such as in the case of applying for a mortgage loan, the leverage can be very different. Again many years ago, I applied for a second mortgage through Costco’s then-partner Lending Tree. I wound up making application with a loan rep at an East Coast bank.

From the very beginning, I emphasized the importance of making sure they got everything they needed up front. If there were documents they might need at some point, or questions they might need answered down the road, I stressed that I didn’t want to get to underwriting—only to be thwarted by issues that could have been addressed up front, and that proved to be deal breakers.

The rep assured me that all was well, she didn’t need additional documents or answers to any questions. Sure enough, it gets to underwriting—and the deal blows up.

Livid, I reached out to the Costco executive office, which in turn contacted Lending Tree. The next thing I knew, the head of the bank’s home equity department is offering me immediate loan approval with terms more favorable than the original loan. I got the pot sweetened on a Costco cash-back card for my time and trouble.

And, as a result of my complaint, the entire home equity department at that bank was subsequently audited.

Always look for leverage points, and determine if the benefits of pursuing bad customer service issues outweigh the risks. If so, go for it. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.


In an increasingly complex world deluged with communication overload, it’s more important than ever for customer service reps to provide accurate and complete information. Unfortunately, it’s ever-more-challenging to do this, especially when the issues involved are emergent and/or complex in their own right. Pandemic-triggered efforts to relieve both personal and business suffering have provided huge insight into what happens when highly-sophisticated and complex relief efforts collide head-on with customer service requirements to interpret, inform and advise. In many cases, customer service communication has been rife with inaccuracy and incomplete information. This is a major customer disservice.

Mark Lusky

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