What You Need to Avoid
Why does negative news spread so much faster than positive?
Because we all love a good story! But when it happens to you, it’s not so funny.
People love reading about bad customer service stories. They go viral because we’ve all been there – on the phone desperately needing help from customer service, or waiting in an endless line at the airport.
When you read about a bad customer experience, you feel empathy (and maybe some outrage) on behalf of the wronged party. It’s maddening when companies disregard the same customers they’re meant to serve, and it’s a near-universal experience.
Check out these five horribly bad customer service examples and what you can do to avoid them.
1. Walmart’s Pricing Blunder
You walk into your local Walmart and see a Lego set you want to buy for your son. You notice that the item at the store costs 35% more than the same exact Lego set on Walmart’s own website. What? Yes really. That’s exactly what happened to Clark Howard. But when he asked the team to meet their company’s online price, Walmart refused to price-match.
So he pulled up his phone and ordered the product online for an in-store pick-up. Howard says, “My son and I stood there and watched as a different employee came a few minutes later, picked the item up off the shelf, and brought it back to the holding spot for pickup.” Because Howard didn’t receive the email confirmation from Walmart.com until the following day, he couldn’t bring the item home that day. Instead, Howard had to go back to the store the next day — inconvenient, to say the least. Although Walmart doesn’t require that store managers match online prices, it would have been the best (and only) response in this scenario.
When companies prioritize a policy above the needs of customers, it shows. If you’re not sure how to respond in a scenario, think about what’s the kindest, most honest thing to do. This can easily prevent really bad customer service stories from happening on your watch.
2. Comcast’s New Low
There are lots of reasons not to like cable providers. You always have to argue for a fair rate, and most of the time, you don’t get what you need. But even in this not-so-helpful industry, Comcast is America’s most hated company.
In 2015, when Lisa Brown called to cancel the cable TV portion of her service, she was transferred to a retention specialist specifically trained to talk her out of it. She didn’t back down, though. Much to her surprise and agitation, the next service bill she received was addressed not to her husband, Ricardo Brown, but to “Asshole Brown.”
Just days after Brown’s story went viral, three more customers of the TV cable provider came forward reporting their names had been changed to derogatory words. Although Comcast leaders apologized to the customers and offered a two year refund, the incident still made waves. Because customers hate Comcast’s pricing model, and so many people can relate to the frustration, the story resonated with millions.
This bad customer service example typifies a work culture where employees are so fed up, they’re willing to sacrifice their jobs to make a point, and get a laugh. The best way to cultivate an empathetic customer service team is to treat the team with empathy, too. This sense of shared appreciation and respect will naturally extend to customers.
3. Target’s Trolling Incident
Not too long ago Target announced that they were changing how girls and boys items were advertised in their stores. In an attempt to create a more supportive and open environment for children, Target removed gender-based signs in some of their kids’ sections. Although a lot of people appreciated the change, some customers saw it as a move away from tradition for the sake of “political correctness” and commented on Target’s Facebook page.
Soon after, a Facebook user pretended to be Target’s help desk and trolled these unhappy customers. The Facebook user changed their name to “Ask For Help” and used the Target bullseye as their profile picture. They wrote snarky replies which did not bode well with the already livid customers. The perception was that Target didn’t care about their views.
As customer service expands into social media, there’s an increased risk for fake accounts that enrage (rather than delight) customers. Vigilance is the key to preventing a bad customer service example at your business. Always keep an eye on social media accounts. Although it can be difficult to stop these scenarios from happening, the quicker you shut them down, the better.
4. United’s Big Goof Up
United Airlines’ first big goof up happened in 2008 when United employees recklessly damaged the guitar of musician David Carroll. Sitting in his airplane seat, Carroll saw employees throwing around his guitar on the tarmac, powerless to protect his property. Like any concerned customer, Carroll went through the proper channels to report both the behavior and subsequent damage. “I notified three employees, who showed complete indifference toward me,” says Carroll.
The customer service experience was so appalling, it inspired Carroll to write and record a song called “United Breaks Guitars.” This musical rendering of his bad customer experience has been on YouTube for eight years, and it’s received over 17 million views! Employee indifference to the company’s mistakes ballooned into a PR nightmare for United.
Don’t you remember the Golden Rule? Treat others how you want to be treated. Empathy is the key to building a successful customer service team. If employees don’t care about the mistakes their company makes — and how they affect individuals — they’re not going to be invested in positive change.
Practice empathy with customers by asking more questions and mirroring their answers. No matter how difficult the situation, they’ll feel heard.
5. Gasp’s Retail Gaffe
Have you ever been in a shop and gotten snubbed by the staff? When Keara O’Neil went to an Australian clothing store called Gasp looking for bridesmaids dresses, the salesperson was pushy and mean, implying O’Neil didn’t have good enough taste to appreciate the company’s dresses.
O’Neil followed up with management over email who ferociously defended the salesperson. The Age reported, “In an email, the retailer asked her to do Gasp a favor, stop wasting the store’s time and shop elsewhere because she was not a ‘fashion forward consumer’ who could appreciate a ‘retail superstar’ with ‘unparalleled ability’.” The salesperson also called O’Neil unrepeatable names in a leaked internal email and and warned other “rude and obnoxious clowns” to stay out.
Gasp thought that this incident was a good thing because of the press the company received, but research indicates otherwise: a horrible customer experience can trigger a negative spiral of bad customer service that perpetuates indefinitely.
The adage “all press is good press” doesn’t apply to customer service — going viral for terrible service isn’t worth the momentary traffic boost. When you try to justify your (or your company’s) behavior, you excuse toxic behavior and set a new baseline for bad customer service.
The Bottom Line: Always Put your Customers First
Unfortunately every person has a terrible customer service story to tell. Even when it’s not as dramatic or extreme, customers experience terrible service every day, and it slowly erodes a company’s reputation.
The best way to tackle bad customer service stories is to prevent them in the first place. When you create a supportive environment grounded in respect and customer appreciation, you’ll never find yourself among these negative examples.