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Want good customer service? Put down the phone

Consumers are demanding better service in unprecedented ways. Public outrage has helped beat back efforts by Bank of America, Netflix, and Verizon to raise fees or alter services. Consumers are tapping into social media to air their frustrations.

“In the past people would be angry, but they’d be all over the country talking to their neighbors,’’ said Kit Yarrow, a professor at Golden Gate University. “Now they can connect online and have power.’’

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For example, petitions on Change.org were instrumental in convincing Bank of America and Verizon to forgo new fees. “Bank Transfer Day’’ called on Facebook users to move their money to a credit union or community bank. Here are some strategies:

Work the chain of command. It may be that the issue can be easily resolved with an e-mail or phone call to customer service. But if that isn’t helpful, one strategy is to reach out to the chief executive or another high-ranking officer. Most major companies have “executive resolution teams’’ that field correspondence from customers who take their complaints to the top, says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org.

Start by searching in the “About’’ section on the company’s website. Even if executive contact information isn’t listed, you can usually figure out e-mail addresses, based on the contact information listed for other employees. Otherwise, try mailing a letter to the corporate headquarters.

“Really boil it down,’’ Dworsky said. “If it goes on and on, they’re not going to have the time or patience to read it.’’

Make it easy for the company by quickly spelling out the resolution that you’re seeking. And don’t forget to include relevant information, such as order numbers and purchase dates.

Reach out and tweet. You don’t have to be Alec Baldwin to have your complaints heard on Twitter. Most major companies have a social media presence. And since they don’t want negative mentions turning up in search results, any reasonable question or complaint is likely to get a response.

At JetBlue, a few customers tweeted about a crowded gate that had only one agent. That triggered the airline’s social media team to contact staff at the airport to find out if any additional agents were available.

Citibank also monitors the site and tries to respond to any questions within an hour.

Call for backup. If you paid with a credit card, you can file a claim to have a charge removed. You need a concrete reason, such as a product defect.

If you suspect fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission or your state attorney general.

Stay connected. In rare situations, you may feel a company policy calls for a broad action. In the Bank of America case, online petitions were key. “It’s an incredibly efficient means of customer feedback that’s not controlled by the company,’’ said Ben Rattray, of Change.org.

Candice Choi writes for the Associated Press.
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