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The 9 Circles of Customer Service Hell


We’ve all been there and can relate – we have a customer service experience that makes us want to bang our head on a wall and never, ever do business with a company again.


What are the 9 circles of customer service hell? As you read this list, created by Jay Steinfeld in an Inc. publication, see how many you find yourself nodding to vigorously…


  1. The never-ending voice mail phone tree
  2. The requirement to repeat your name, account number, etc., ad infinitum
  3. Hold, hold, hold
  4. The ominous sound, mid-conversation, of the dial tone
  5. The disappearing clerk
  6. The line that’s always 20 people deep
  7. The agent who doesn’t understand your question
  8. The “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the authority to do that” response
  9. The clerk who’s busy texting someone who’s clearly more important than you


All of these items are particularly troublesome, but there are some items on this list that are more eye gauging than others as they relate to customer service:


1. Voice mail tree: what was supposed to be an efficiency in business has become problematic in many respects. Most disturbing are the voice activated voice mail trees. I’m not sure if I speak too softly, or having speech issues I’m unaware of, but I find these to be the most frustrating – I end up having to yell at the voice mail system to make them understand, sometimes to be told by the automated attendant that I’m interrupting and should be patient before giving an answer.


Solution: employ mystery shoppers to place typical calls to your business to navigate your voice mail system to find out what’s working and what isn’t. By mirroring typical customer needs via telephone, you can pinpoint areas that need improvement. Similarly, you can use a hot transfer feedback option that, if a caller successfully navigates the voice mail tree, can leave their feedback at the end of the call.


2.  The requirement to repeat your name, account number, and other identifying information multiple times: I’ve seen this from time to time in the service industry, but have noticed it most often in the medical industry. I recently took my daughter to a new doctor. After spending 15 minutes filling out all of the required forms, we were ushered into the examination room, only to find the nurse seated at a computer waiting to ask the same questions I just filled out so she could enter them into the computer. Surely there’s a better way to do this!


Solution: survey your front line staff, the ones who are responsible for the day to day aspects of your business. They may feel as frustrated as customers do with some of the data collection gathering and might have solutions to streamline the process. Coupling employee and customer feedback may give insight into ways to make the process smoother all around, which gives employees the opportunity to serve more customers and keep satisfaction at a strong level.


3. Employees who don’t have the authority to make decisions: how often do you hear this? “I’d love to help you, but I don’t have the authority to do that.” While they may be able to find a supervisor who can help, it’s just one more touchpoint a customer has to deal with, and wait for, which can harm customer perception.


Solution: empower your employees to make certain decisions on their own to help customers quickly and within one conversation. Find the most common customer issues, the best ways to handle these issues, and train your staff on troubleshooting. Help them ask the right questions and collect enough information to make an informed decision on how to best satisfy the customer. Go one extra step and give them the ability to make that decision and help the customer without needing to go through a supervisor.


While this won’t work with every case, and some situations will require help from a supervisor, giving employees the power to make decisions for the more routine situations can go a long way in customer satisfaction.


Do you have any circles of hell you’d like to add? What is the most frustrating customer service aspect you’ve come across? Feel free to share and join in the conversation!