Getting Results from Customer Service

The following guide to achieving a successful outcome in working with the customer service representatives of a legal publisher was developed by the Tools Subcommittee of the AALL Committee on Relations with Information Vendors from suggestions contributed by law librarians and legal information publishers.

    1. When problems occur, don't delay in dealing with them. Tackle those erroneous charges as soon as they appear on an invoice or statement; deal with that unordered item as soon as it arrives in the mail; claim that missing supplement as soon as its absence is noted. These occurrences don't go away by themselves. On the contrary, they multiply and become compounded.
    2. Review your issue against the AALL Fair Business Practices Guide to determine if any of the principles apply. Is there a "Practice to avoid" example that specifically addresses your situation? Cite the Guide in your voice and written communications.
    3. Identify the person in the vendor's organization who can solve your problem. When you have tried over a reasonable period of time to solve your problem with the customer service representatives but have been unsuccessful, contact the Customer Service Manager.
      1. If you are dealing with a publisher who has assigned a special customer service representative to your account, your category of library (academic, government, etc.), or your geographic region, be sure to deal only with that representative and build an effective working relationship with that person.
      2. When you want to have an invoice canceled or modified, contact the Credit/Accounts Receivable Department. For especially difficult problems, contact the Credit Department Manager.
      3. If you have an ongoing relationship with a sales representative who is effective at handling problems that arise after the initial sale is made, contact that representative for major or stubborn problems, but not necessarily for every small one that arises.
      4. When you are having problems with your local sales representative, contact the Sales Manager for the company or the Regional Sales Manager for your area.
      5. If you have trouble identifying the proper person to contact, you can:
        1. Ask your local sales representative. He or she may be able to identify a reliable and experienced customer service representative who can help you get results. This approach may be more effective than trying to get your sales representative to actually handle the problem for you.
        2. Contact the vendor's Librarian Liaison, if there is one. Many publishers have created positions specifically responsible for working with librarians.
        3. Check the publisher's Web site, catalog, customer service pamphlet, business cards, etc., for the names of department managers.
        4. Consult CRIV Tool: Vendor Contact Information Grids for phone numbers and addresses of many departments within major legal publishing companies.
        5. Request assistance from CRIV.
      6. Once you find someone knowledgeable within the vendor's organization, stick with that person, at least until the particular problem at hand is resolved. Find out his or her phone extension and address (e-mail and street address). Address all future correspondence and telephone calls to that person. If you are going to mail a check which needs to be applied a certain way to certain invoices, ask whether you can mail the check to this particular person to make sure the payment is applied the way you've both agreed that it should be applied.
  1. Have all the information needed to solve a problem at hand before you contact a customer service representative, whether by phone or mail. Provide all relevant information accurately in written correspondence. Examples of "must have" information when communicating with a vendor: account number, invoice number and date, check number and date (and cancellation date if you have a cancelled check); AALL Fair Business Practices Guide principle citations for Guide violations; names of people or departments contacted earlier, date of contact, what was promised to be done, and date by which it was to be completed; accurate publication titles and volume or release numbers.
    1. When using written correspondence, be sure you send your letter to the correct address. For example, do not send correspondence concerning a problem to the vendor's payment receipt address. Carbon copy all interested parties within the vendor's organization. For assistance in preparing correspondence, consult CRIV Tool: Sample Letters to Law Library Vendors.
  2. Keep copies of all correspondence regarding a problem, including e-mail messages and your notes of telephone conversations.
    1. Until the problem is finally resolved, keep all relevant documents in a file close at hand. Don't file them in your general file for that publisher. This way, if you receive a phone call from the vendor, you will be able to quickly discuss the matter. Also, because the file is within your view on a daily basis, you won't forget that the problem is still unresolved.
    2. Especially in the case of complicated problems that have defied solution over a period of time, when you finally reach someone who understands the problem and seems able to resolve it, consider asking for written confirmation of the solution. In case the problem crops up again, you won't have to start from scratch in trying to get it solved again.
  3. Give the publisher time to correct the problem. If you are speaking to a customer service representative on the phone, ask how the problem will be solved and how long it will take to solve the problem (e.g., "Should I call you back if I still see the charge on my April statement?") If you are writing a letter or sending an e-mail, tell the representative that you will take a certain course of action "if we do not hear from you within X number of days." Give the publisher a reasonable amount of time to investigate the matter, think things over, and provide you with a helpful response.
  4. It is okay to be firm and persistent, but also remain polite and keep an objective tone. You have every right to tell the customer service representative that the company's mishandling of your account, order, or problem has caused you a great deal of lost time and aggravation that will lead you to rethink future purchases from the publisher. However, you should retain your composure and professionalism at all times, no matter how exasperated you may be.
  5. Prevent problems before they occur. Then you can ignore the seven suggestions listed above.
    1. As a general practice, maintain your accounts in good order. Pay invoices on time.
    2. In the case of returned items, be sure to include a copy of the invoice with the item. On the invoice or in a letter attached to the invoice, state the reason for the return. Also, tell the vendor what you want the vendor to do (e.g., cancel the invoice and the subscription; cancel this particular invoice but maintain the subscription). Send a copy of the invoice and your instructions to the Customer Service Department just in case the Returns Department does not forward your message through proper channels.
    3. When you are claiming items you have not received but should have, make it clear that you are not ordering a second copy of an item, but rather that you are claiming an item already on order.
    4. Participate in surveys and otherwise provide publishers with suggestions as to how they can provide better service to their customers. For example, if you attend the Annual Meeting, make a point of visiting the Exhibit Hall to talk with publishers about your experience working with their customer service representatives and departments.
  6. How to deal with a contract term you don’t agree with. When reviewing a contract, you are able to negotiate terms even if a contract seems standard. If you see a term that you don’t agree with, ask for that term to be stricken. Alternatively, you can ask for the term to be further defined so it is more clear what events trigger the clause and when the clause will be applied. At the end of the day, remember that you can chose to do business with another vendor if your needs are not getting met.