6

Background

I've read this question and this other one. My question is about a different situation, because it's the other party's paid job to answer customer questions.

Examples (over email/text)

Me: Hi, I found your property on [site]. Is it available? I'm looking for a 6-month lease.
Realtor: We have showings tomorrow at 1pm. Would you like a tour?
Me: [???]

That reply did not answer my direct question ("is it available"), nor my implied question about the duration of the lease (most properties are looking for a one-year lease).

Another one:

Me: Hi [trainer], I need to move our session to before 10am or after 4pm starting on May 10th. Which time would work for you?
Trainer: See u tomorrow at 2
Me: [...WTF?]

I've seen this pattern most often in non-English speaking cultures, due to the language barrier and cultural norms making it more palatable to give any sort of bogus answer, rather than saying "No" or "I don't know". Once I did see it with someone of a Western English culture.

Why is this happening?

How can I get the information I need?

How can I "educate" these folks that international customers may appreciate actual answers?


I've greatly trimmed the question to a far simpler situation. The original is here. As of Nov 22, 2020, it had received this answer from Sarah Bowman.

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  • 2
    You haven't escalated yet to a supervisor? May 3 '20 at 13:35
  • 1
    Just a note, Covid has made a lot of companies pool their support lines. You likely called your location, but were then immediately routed to another, active location which started the confusion with David.
    – Red Mage
    May 4 '20 at 12:06
1

I may be corrected but my experience with polite Japanese is identical to this. There it is impolite to say 'No' so they tell you as much truth as they can without breaking the bad news. The higher up you go in any organization the less hard information you can get. In the West it (used to be) impolite to ask a direct question of an elder. In Japan it is obscene.

In any case one tough solution is to quote them back as meaning what you would like them to say. When they say "We have showings tomorrow at 1pm. Would you like a tour?" you say "So you're saying it's available for a 6 month lease." Not a question but a statement, and wait for a response. They must contradict or confirm it to proceed.

In all business cases I repeat what they are telling me so they can hear it and agree or alter the meaning as needed. Most people are used to purring out the responses you hear all day. How often do you think he said "We have showings tomorrow at 1pm. Would you like a tour?" before you called? About twenty calls an hour.

You don't want the standard patter, you need a conversation. It's well within you rights to ask for it. You need not be impolite. If you shake their tree it is fair to reassure them "It's OK if it's not available, I just need to know. Thank you for the information." They can afford to wake up if there is business going on, especially if they want mine.

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  • The stark differences between answers to the very same type of questions I asked in an American culture vs. an Asian culture, can only be explained by this. Thank you. Jan 7 at 11:18
  • I am glad to be of service.
    – Elliot
    Jan 8 at 2:21
4

I'm reading the communication you had with Customer Support. Based on my experience with getting the answers I need from people in positions of authority (including professors, landlords, and customer service), I suggest you may have made a number of errors. I will discuss these below. For now, since you need help that is not forthcoming from your only contact in Customer Support, I support Yosef Baskin's suggestion in the comments to escalate this to a supervisor.

It is my experience in dealing with large stores and other companies that supervisors as individuals tend to be more mature and to take customer satisfaction more seriously. A supervisor will have access to all the company information that a regular Customer Service agent does and will be very likely to provide all the help you need, plus a sincere apology for your problems. I can't guarantee it, but an extra may even be thrown in to make up for your hassle. The last thing a company needs or wants is bad reviews.

MORE EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION

How might you have gotten answers earlier? Let's review the communication.

On The Telephone

You said:

Today they called me, I missed the call, and called back. The customer service rep (David) tells me he doesn't work at that location.

Me: OK, can you give me the phone number for my location? CS David: It's [...]

That was the same number I had called, so I figured I was dealing with a confused person, and resorted to email.

Instead of writing David off as a "confused person," you could have said something like this: "I think that is the number you are at right now. It's the number I dialed." Let your voice trail off as he absorbs this.

In face-to-face experiences with young people serving on Customer Service, I have found they sometimes try to get out of doing their job, or maybe they're so deep in daydreaming their brains are barely functioning. I can't document a specific situation but I do remember calling a person's bluff and it was as though they suddenly woke up and focused on business. I am thinking the above line might have served to "wake" David so that he would focus on the business at hand, which he was paid to do. There's no guarantee but it might be worth trying next time.

On Email

You say:

Me via email: Hi, I can't seem to reach your location by phone, can you please call me back at [...]
CS David (same guy? I don't know): Hi Dan, I cannot call you as I am at home in my lounge (Not to mention the fact I have no credit on my personal cell phone). [...link to pre-Covid 19 pickup instructions on their site not mentioning anything about contact-less...]

As I put myself into the position of CS David, I realize that he has no way of knowing that you are the same person he has just been on the telephone with. The email does not contain that information. Because it merely asks for a call-back and does not contain any business information, this email has all the earmarkings of a prank call or scam email.

Admittedly, you don't describe the community. If this was a very small community maybe he should have recognized your name. I have lived in small communities with no more than about 500 people including school children and babies served by merchants and companies of only a dozen or so employees. In such a community, chances are real that he would have recognized your name and situation. However, in that case he would hardly have felt secure to dilly and dally irresponsibly because everyone knows everyone else and bad behaviour has consequences.

But I have also lived for a long time in a medium sized city. I have learned that when dealing with large companies in urban centres, you have to be specific. In your first email provide:

  • Your full name
  • Work order number if any

In the body of the email explain:

I received a telephone message at (time stamp) from (their company name) by a (name of person if you got it) regarding (give specifics of your car rental deal). I missed the call and tried calling back. No answer. Initial instructions said the delivery would be contactless due to Covid, and that I'll receive further instructions the day of. I await instructions. I can be reached at this email address or at (telephone number).

That approach does a number of things:

  1. It tells Customer Support that this is serious business, not a prank call.
  2. It allows Customer Support to look up the details of your account and find the information you need.
  3. With this information, Customer Support can either call or write an email to directly answer your questions.

With this method, you will receive the information you need quickly, easily, and efficiently. There will be no need for further emails and there will be no frustration on either your part or of Customer Support.

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  • Thanks for the suggestions! I think my initial example was overly complicated, so I've replaced it with two others, far simpler. Nov 22 '20 at 20:34
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+25

When you ask a question, if someone gives you an answer that does not mean you have to accept it as the only answer you are going to get. Let's take your simplified examples:

Me: Hi, I found your property on [site]. Is it available? I'm looking for a 6-month lease.

Realtor: We have showings tomorrow at 1pm. Would you like a tour?

Me: [thinking: well it must be available or they would not want to show it to me, so that's good.] I only want to view if a 6 month lease is ok. Is it?

Another one:

Me: Hi [trainer], I need to move our session to before 10am or after 4pm starting on May 10th. Which time would work for you?

Trainer: See u tomorrow at 2

Me: Sorry, no, between 10 and 4 I cannot come. [Notice the rewording of the thing they may have misunderstood.] Can we do 4pm? [Making it easy for them to agree to something that will work for you.]

The way to get the answers you need is to just keep asking. Don't tell them their service is bad, don't wonder why they are so confused or stupid, don't try to construct world models based on what languages they speak, just ask again clearly and directly. Don't lose context by ending the call and switching to email, or calling back to get someone else. Add more information by asking again so that the person can answer you properly. When you can, reword your question a little in case there are issues like misunderstanding a word you have used.

If you believe that someone is specifically misleading you because their culture will not let them say no, ask a slightly different question. Say you ask "can I come today?" but don't feel confident the "yes" you received is real. Follow up. "Would it be better if I came tomorrow instead?" is less direct and may give them a way to let you know that today is actually not great.

If you believe that someone is ignoring your question because they intend to push you into doing something you don't want to do (such as signing a 1 year lease after you've seen the great apartment) just keep asking it. You have no obligation to abandon a question that was not answered. After the second or third time asking without an answer though, you may have to say "I am going to take that as a no" and take a decision like "I will not view the apartment because I only want to sign a 6 month lease."

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  • "[thinking: well it must be available or they would not want to show it to me, so that's good.]" - I'm more inclined to believe it's a sales tactic. I've never received such roundabout answers in Texas, for example. So "I only want to view if a 6 month lease is ok. Is it?" is a good follow-up. Thank you. I did something like that and eventually got an "Sorry, I don't think we can make those terms work." Nov 23 '20 at 22:48

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