Article

Seven examples of bad customer service (and how to be great instead)

Bad customer service can hurt your business. How can support teams create better experiences?

By Erin Hueffner, Content Marketing Manager, @erinhueffner

Published December 12, 2018
Last updated July 15, 2021

What was your absolute worst customer service experience? If you stopped doing business with the company and told all of your friends about it, you’re not alone – and your customers are likely to do the same.

Loyalty hinges on delivering the best customer experience. It’s not enough just to have a good product any more – companies are setting themselves apart by delivering exceptional customer service. Slip up and you risk losing a customer forever.

So how can you make sure that you deliver perfect perfect customer service, every time? Read on for some real-life bad experiences, as told on social media, and learn how to avoid them.Seven stories and bad customer service examples.

What is bad customer service?

We surveyed 3,000 people worldwide to pinpoint this answer.

It might not surprise you to learn that the top indicator of bad customer service is long hold/waiting times while interacting with an agent.

The next highest-rated answer is...

An automated system that makes it hard to reach a human agent

... followed closely by...

Having to repeat my information multiple times

Slow service and wasted time are two major annoyances for customers, and these are things that you can address. In fact, it’s not something you can afford to ignore in today’s digitally connected world.

When customers have a bad customer service experience, they are often quick to voice their complaints on social media.

People have expectations about how a company should serve them, and if an employee mistreats them or the customer support is not up to standard, it can be bad for your brand.

How does poor customer service affect a business?

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report:

  • Roughly half of customers say that they’d switch to a competitor after just one bad experience
  • That number skyrockets to 80% after more than one disappointing customer service experience

Seven stories and examples of bad customer service

1. The support agent shows zero empathy for disgruntled customers

'I bought ribs at a barbecue place in town and they had squeeze bottles with barbecue sauce on the tables. I squeezed some onto my ribs and THREE DEAD WASPS came out with the sauce. The owner just happened to be there, and said, "What do you want me to do about it?"'

Uh... no. Dead wasps are still wasps

How to offer the best customer service
This one comes down to basics.

To provide excellent customer service, you really need to care about your customers, and this means demonstrating empathy.

Connecting with your customers on a human level is more important than ever before – because customer experience is what sets your brand apart.

According to research by IDC, 73% of customers say that it takes a differentiated experience to keep them loyal, not just an acceptable one.

So if you're not paying attention to customers' expectations, your company's reputation will suffer because of the poor service experience.

Customer-centric organisations bake empathy into their ethos. In business, empathy means putting the customer first in everything you do.

Empathy is also a vital customer service skill, so when you’re employing support agents, it’s something to look for in candidates. High-performing teams have agents who are driven to help people – they really love interacting with customers.

How can you encourage empathy?

It might mean letting your agents take more time with a customer to help resolve their problem instead of putting them under pressure to finish a call quickly.

It also helps when your technology lets agents provide proactive support – it's better for everyone when agents can identify problems before they arise.

All of this builds up to a customer-centric experience that can have a huge impact on loyalty.

2. The agent doesn't listen to customers' complaints

'I tried to tell a company about a bad experience I'd had with their product and the agent didn’t seem to care at all. I was so frustrated! It was like they didn’t care about me after they'd got the sale.'

How to offer the best customer service:

We like taking naps too, but listening to an unhappy customer is important.

Just the words 'customer complaint' probably make you feel a little apprehensive. But the truth is, no business can avoid customer complaints completely.

Companies that know what to do with customer complaints can actually turn a bad situation into an opportunity.

Five tips for handling upset customers

  • Stay calm and moderate in tone when dealing with a confrontational customer
  • When someone is upset, one of the main things they want is to feel heard
  • Take your time. Patience in itself can be calming. Let them think that you've got all day
  • Actively listen, acknowledge that their problem is real and apologise for the trouble
  • Tell them the steps that you're taking to correct the situation

How a bad customer service story can improve customer retention

If you start to see a pattern in customer complaints, it may be a cue that something needs to change.

For example, if customers are consistently confused about instructions or how to make a return, you could publish an article on that topic in your Help Centre. If you’re getting a lot of complaints about the quality of the product, look at it as something to investigate.

bad customer service

3. The agent treats customers with contempt

'Long ago, my husband and I were shopping for a TV at a major retailer. I had cash, but I couldn't get a salesperson to pay us any attention. When we asked to see the manager, a salesperson said, "Sorry, he doesn't have time for that." We left without a TV and haven't set foot in the shop since.'

How to offer the best customer service:

Everyone has good days and bad days. And your agents will have busy times when they can’t get to everyone.

Poor customer service happens now and then, and it isn't necessarily anyone's fault.

However, you need to make sure that your agents are well trained to be polite and professional during every customer interaction.

This sometimes means taking the time to say, 'I’m happy to help you! Would you mind waiting a moment? I’m sorry for the inconvenience.'

Customer service training is key to your agents’ success.

Not only that – well-trained agents can help your company build customer loyalty, which can drive the success of your business.

According to the Zendesk Brand Loyalty Survey, 72% of people say that they value customer service over price. Investing in building up your team’s customer service skills is worth the time and effort.

On the other hand, if a customer feels insulted or ignored, they might take their business somewhere else. And they're not likely to forget how they were treated.

4. The company is so hard to reach that their name is slang for poor customer service

'I needed some help, so I opened the app, but there wasn’t a way to message customer service. So I had to hunt for another way to get a hold of them and it took forever. It was almost like they didn’t want me to talk to them.'

How to offer the best customer service

This is a big one. We're not naming names, but we all know a handful of companies that are so famous for being hard to reach that all you have to do is say their name.

And customers give up trying to find a customer service representative before they even start.

You need to be where your customers are.

This means being able to help them on the channel of their choice, and it’s often on their smartphone or via live chat.

According to Zendesk's State of Messaging, conversational channels such as SMS, chatbots, voice assistants, messaging apps and chat aren’t as common as traditional channels like phone and email, but that’s about to change.

Businesses are adopting messaging for the same reasons that consumers are – it’s fast, convenient and secure.

And unlike traditional customer service channels, messaging is also sessionless and asynchronous – so customers can start and stop when it’s convenient. Agents can also serve more customers at one time, which speeds up resolution.

Your customers want to connect with you in the same way they connect with friends and family. So being able to provide omni-channel customer service is one of the best ways to create an unrivalled experience.

bad customer service

Agents need to be able to handle customers' enquiries quickly and efficiently on a variety of channels.

It really helps when your technology can track all of these conversations seamlessly and switch between channels easily. So, for example, if a customer contacts you via email, but the problem becomes too complicated for that channel, your agent can easily switch over to a phone call.

5. Companies use automated systems like a mediaeval barrier between customers and a human agent

'I really needed to talk to someone because my problem was complicated, but when I called the customer service number, I had to go through all these prompts that got me nowhere. And after all that, I still didn't get an answer to my question.'

How to offer the best customer service

Chatbots and automation can boost your customer experience if they’re used in the right way.

Customers want to take care of problems themselves, and they’re open to using chatbots and artificial intelligence if it means faster resolution of their problems.

And according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, the use of AI drives success among high-performing teams using the technology.

Chatbots work best when they have access to the underlying context – for instance, if someone always buys trousers in the same size or has recently returned something.

Data is key to context because it helps the bot make meaningful recommendations and assist the customer more effectively.

For example, knowing if your customer’s warranty is about to expire or if they’ve made complaints about another product recently. Having the tools to analyse your customer data and glean insights is what makes your chatbots helpful (or not).

Behind every well-oiled AI system, there needs to be a human presence.

If your customer is getting frustrated or the problem is too complex for a bot to handle, the system has to be able to intelligently hand it over to a human agent. This mix of human and machine is the secret sauce to seamless customer service.

bad customer service

6. The customer is put on hold for so long that they manage to finish watching every Lord of the Rings film

'Once, I was put on hold for more than an hour. I wanted to give up but I couldn’t, so I just had to sit there listening to smooth jazz, waiting to talk to someone. I still hear that song in my nightmares.'

How to offer the best customer service

Customers' expectations have never been higher. They want you to respond quickly.

bad customer service

Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, often prefer channels that lend themselves to fast responses – social media, in-app messaging and social messaging apps top the list.

Older generations still prefer more traditional channels, such as the phone and email. But even then, patience is short – almost one in three customers surveyed expect a response in under five minutes over the phone.

Today’s digitally savvy consumers are just not willing to wait if they don’t have to.

Knowing how fast customers expect you to respond is one thing. But what can you do if you can’t get to every call that quickly?

Best practice for speedy response times

Here are a few ways to keep up with customers' expectations:

  • Create an automated response to let customers know how long they might expect to wait. If it’s too long, give them an easy way to ask for a call back or leave a message for your team.
  • Flag priority customers and enquiries that need a response in your system so that an agent can follow up promptly.
  • Improve processes that might be slowing you down. Getting tickets to the right agents as quickly as possible is essential to speedy service, and automation can help route workflows for you.

7. You transfer callers so many times that they get vertigo

'I called customer service with a question about a healthcare bill. The person who answered the phone said they had no idea why I was given that number, because she wasn’t in billing.

I was transferred to someone else. That person couldn’t help me either. So I was transferred AGAIN and then had to explain everything once more. This continued for more than an hour. When I finally reached the right department, I was told that they couldn’t help me.'

How to offer the best customer service

When a customer calls you for help, it usually means that they were unable to resolve the problem on their own. The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends report found that 63% of people say they always, or almost always try to find answers on a company's website first.

By the time they’re picking up a phone, your customers are probably already feeling frustrated.

So, set yourself up for success with the right customer service software. Your team needs quick access to customer data to help them – so look for software that brings all of the information together in one place. That way, you won’t have to bounce customers from department to department or make them wait on hold to find answers.

And, it goes without saying, do whatever you can to help resolve an issue – it’s definitely a poor customer experience if you tell them you can’t do anything about their problem.

Managing your customer data for better CX

Agents need to understand the customer’s requirements to create a good experience. This takes access to the right data and tools.

For example, the Zendesk Support Suite allows customer service teams to work seamlessly on any channel and connects all of a company’s data sources to bring up the right information about customers automatically.

When you can manage your customer data and communications across channels effectively, you open up new ways to improve your CX:

  • Agents have access to all of your customer’s data in one place, so they don’t have to hunt for it in multiple systems (and that can mean less waiting)
  • A robust knowledge base can help customers help themselves so that they can find their answers and get on with their day
  • AI-powered article recommendations can be used to help customers instantly

Going from bad customer service to good customer service

Good customer service means putting your customers at the centre of your universe.

It takes a lot to