Customer Experience News & Trends

5 of the worst customer service stories — and lessons you gain from them

There’s one good thing about acts of bad customer service: People who care about the customer experience (like you!) can learn valuable lessons on how to be better from them.

“The positive customer service stories define the model of great customer service behavior,” says Kate Nasser, service expert at The People Skills Coach. “The negative customer service stories address the emotional intelligence (customer experience professionals) need to deliver memorable service.”

Here are some of the worst customer service situations from 2016 — and tips on how to avoid them in your organization:

1. Charge customers for bad reviews

Whether it was a joke or note, Union Street Guest House in Hudson, NY, posted a policy that it would charge guests $500 for bad online reviews. The owners claim they put it on their website as a joke — and thousands of bad reviews rolled in, mostly complaining about the policy.

They removed the policy and apologized, but not after a firestorm of scrutiny.

Lesson: Policies aren’t jokes. The more flexible yours are, the better. Maintain service polices that keep your company and customers safe and encourage a positive relationship.

2. Expect customers to know your system

One of Nasser’s clients shared this story from his past: After some frustrating conversation, a customer service representative once told him, “You’re not following our process!”

Lesson: Customers don’t want to be told about processes or policies. They want to know what you can do for them, not what they need to do for you.

3. Only answer the basics

At the IRS, only 43% of taxpayers who called were able to get through to a person after waiting an average of 28 minutes. And that IRS employee wasn’t always ready to answer their questions.

The IRS had announced it would only take “basic questions” during one tax season, encouraging people to pay accountants or tax services for help on more complicated issues.

Lesson: Be ready to help your customers, regardless of the complexity of their questions, perhaps reaching product designers, the CFO or CEO, if necessary.

4. Stay outdated

Kmart is ranked 12th on this year’s 24/7 Wall St. and Zogby Analytics Customer Service Wall of Shame, and its antiquated service and sales practices are at the heart of the problem.

Customers complain that the store’s outdated cash registers make purchasing slow and frustrating. On top of that, employees are required to attempt to sign up customers (who are already upset about the wait) for the store’s rewards program, which critics say is a cumbersome process and doesn’t benefit customers much.

Lesson: You don’t have to invest in the latest technology to keep customers happy. But you do have to maintain systems and processes that make it efficient for customers to do business with you.

5. Get too close, stay too far away

Despite its popularity, Facebook doesn’t have a very good customer service reputation. It was ranked 10th on the Shame Wall. Reasons customers complained this year:

  • It’s creepy. Facebook uses facial recognition technology and GPS data to recommend new friends — and customers feel violated by that.
  • It’s dangerous. Many data leaks have users concerned that too much of their personal information will get out.
  • It’s faceless. Facebook doesn’t have live customer support, so customers can’t share their concerns with a live person.

Lesson: Keep it real. Yes, personalize service, but stop short of creeping too far into customers’ lives. Be available where customers want you — likely still on the phone, via email and on social media (Facebook included).

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