Bad Customer Service: Examples and How To Fix It

Published on:

May 18, 2021

A man standing at a counter being served by another man.

Delivering an exceptional customer service experience is everything. In fact, 95% of customers say it’s a factor in their choice of brand and ongoing loyalty and consumers are willing to pay 17% more for companies that have excellent service.

But what happens when companies are unable to deliver excellent customer service? Worse still, what’s the cost of bad customer service and more importantly, how do you fix it?

We’ll be looking at all this and more, including:

  • What is bad customer service?
  • What’s the cost of bad customer service?
  • Bad customer service examples
  • How to fix bad customer service

What Is Bad Customer Service?

Bad customer service can cover many different aspects of a customer experience, but ultimately, bad customer service is best defined as when a customer feels their expectations weren’t met.

The most common issues include things like long wait times, too much automation or having to repeat themselves a lot. All issues we’re sure you yourself have experienced.

There are different customer service expectations for different brands. We don’t expect the same speedy delivery from a seller of bespoke handmade items as we do from a seller on Amazon. But when we fail to meet these expectations, we deliver a poor customer service experience for customers.

What’s the Cost of Bad Customer Service?

When all’s said and done, bad customer service costs the UK a staggering £37 billion a year.

For individual businesses the picture is just as bleak. Poor customer service increases customer churn considerably. Around 50% of customers will switch to a competitor after a single bad customer service experience.

The math here should be obvious. For companies delivering poor customer service, they’re potentially losing out on half their repeat customers. 

Not only are they losing out on these customers, but they’re losing out on the friends and relatives of these customers through valuable word of mouth marketing. It’s estimated that a customer will tell 9 people about a positive experience with a brand, but they’ll tell 16 people about a negative experience.

In a world where more than ever we value reviews and word of mouth marketing, this means the real cost of bad customer service extends far beyond customer churn. Companies with bad customer service reduce their profitability by reducing customer lifetime value and making it harder to acquire new customers.

Bad Reputation

Joan Jett might not give a damn, but you should.

Overall, bad customer service damages your brand authority and reputation.

Think about the last time you bought from a company you hadn’t heard of. Chances are you looked up reviews on their social media, on Google My Business or on TrustPilot.

If they were bad, did you still go ahead and use the company or did you opt for another?

It’s much easier to gain a bad reputation than a good one. Customers are so much more likely to leave a bad review about a business than a good one. This means the odds are stacked against businesses in the first place.

One bad customer service experience probably has more significance to your brand than 10 good customer service experiences. More than ever, brands are being held accountable for their actions, customer service is no exception to this rule.

Kill the Lead

Even when customers ignore the bad press online or what their friends have heard about a business and do take the risk, bad customer service can still kill the lead.

We’re talking about simple things like failing to call back, slow response times or not having enough training on products to answer queries. It’s all super frustrating and makes customers likely to jump ship.

Employee Churn

That churn we talked about above isn’t exclusive to customers. The consequences of bad customer service seep into every aspect of a business.

Chances are if your company is going through a bad phase where customers are unhappy, profitability is low and productivity is dampened by endless service calls and complaints, your best employees will leave for greener pastures too.

After all, they’ll be the ones dealing with cleaning up the mess of bad customer service all the time. Too much of this will lead to them feeling overworked and burned out. It’s only natural to want to go somewhere the stress levels aren’t so high. 

Profitability Drain

All of the above essentially creates a vicious circle that wreaks havoc on your profitability.

You’re losing out on new customers and repeat customers because of your bad reputation. This reduces your profitability, so you’re forced to either start cutting costs or pumping money into marketing campaigns to plug the gap. 

If you cut costs, this puts more strain on your current staff. They’re struggling with their workloads and the standard of customer service plummets further. Your best staff leave because they’re tired from all the stress. You spend more money recruiting and training new staff. It feels like the costs keep on piling up.

On the other hand, you might pump money into marketing. It might bring some leads in, but because of the bad customer service, the problems aren’t actually fixed. It’s a temporary solution because you still haven’t fixed the internal problems you needed to.

Bad Customer Service Examples (and How to Fix it!)

As we said above, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to bad customer service. Different industries will have different expectations.

This said, there are some commonalities between companies with a reputation for poor customer service, just as the companies who deliver great customer service share things in common. 

For example, in Which’s best and worst brands for customer service report, three of the worst brands for customer service failed to handle complaints properly. 

It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Ryanair featured dead last out of 100, where customers described them as ‘greedy’ and ‘sneaky’. Similarly, ranked at 95, Virgin Media was also described as greedy. What this suggests is a failure to present a customer-centric service experience, instead being driven by profit.

It’s a similar story for BT and Scottish Power, ranked at number 98 and 99 respectively, where customers stated they didn’t feel valued and that staff members were aloof.

All this to say, fixing bad customer service isn’t a mystery. It’s actually pretty simple if businesses make it a priority. We’ll look at some common scenarios highlighted by unhappy customers and how to fix them.

Being On Hold Too Long

Being left on hold has got to be one of the most frustrating customer service issues. Even a few minutes can wind up the calmest of customers.

The fix is simple… get your queue times down. You can do this through ensuring you have the right amount of staff, especially during peak times, as well as implementing better call handling and management. 

Transfer, Transfer, Transfer

Right up there after being on hold too long is getting bounced from agent to agent. Worse yet, if a company has managed to keep you on hold for ages and then bounces you around after!

The solution here is simple. Agents should know where to direct customers to after listening to whatever the query or complaint may be. Keep staff up to date with training on call handling to avoid this. 

Repetition

Let’s look at a worse case scenario. A customer has been on hold for ages. They finally got through and explained their problem. They’ve been transferred to another agent who can help them… who then asks what the problem is again.

It’s poor phone skills and It’s enough to make anyone scream.

Customers don’t like repeating themselves over and over. It makes them feel like companies aren’t listening.

To fix this, make sure your agents are actively listening and taking notes. But also ensure they’re sharing information with other agents involved in the call to avoid the customer having to repeat themselves. This should all be part of your standard call handling technique.

Negative Vibes

The right tone and language makes a huge impact on your customer service standards. Calling up a company to be greeted by someone who sounds fed up, apathetic or stressed out is a surefire way to create a bad customer service experience.

Similar, agents answering queries by saying “they don’t know” and not offering any solution beyond this are hardly going to inspire confidence and trust in your brand.

Fixing this issue is all to do with giving your staff the training and support they need. The training aspect here is obvious, but it should also be regularly refreshed to make sure your staff remain at their best.

On top of training though, you should be ensuring your staff are able to get into a positive headspace. If they’re overworked and stressed out, of course they’ll find achieving this that much harder. Improving employee well-being and conditions can make a huge difference to customer service.

Lack of Empathy

Customers expect call handlers to be human. Not robotic, monotone cogs in a giant corporation.

When something has gone wrong, it’s only human to want some understanding. In fact, most customers aren’t even looking for agents to apologise - they realistically know it isn’t their fault - they just want someone to empathise with them and help.

If your call advisors are failing to do this, you’ll be delivering poor customer service.

Again, to fix this, you should be offering regular training for your employees to improve these customer service skills. You should also ensure your employees actually have the time and resources to effectively help customers, as opposed to being limited to reading from a script with minimal autonomy.

Have You Checked Our Website?

We get it, you’ve created an amazing FAQs section to solve lots of common issues you get queries about. That’s great.

But asking or telling your customers to use the website instead is a bad customer service experience. Chances are, they either checked the website already or they wanted to speak to a human anyway. In either situation, directing them to the website is unhelpful.

This practice has become more and more common as companies value tracking call metrics like call length. While there is some value in it, some calls simply can’t be dealt with in such a small amount of time and the quality of customer service suffers. 

You should be encouraging and empowering your staff to be helpful every time, no matter the query. 

Individual Call Agents

Everyone has bad days. We’re only human. However, it’s equally true that every job isn’t suited to every person. Sometimes this lack of compatibility or lack of customer service skills comes across as rudeness or an attitude and ultimately leaves a negative impression of your company.

It’s so important to keep an eye on how individual agents are performing and offer training, support and rewards where needed. You can achieve this with individual call handler metrics and scorecards to gauge their performance, their strengths and their weaknesses.

Poor Online Presence

Social media has become an invaluable tool for businesses over the past decade, but it’s come with its own new challenges. Staying up to date with social media messages, comments and more helps prevent bad customer service experiences.

A lot of businesses are missing the mark on this entirely, either through a lack of staffing or a lack of omnichannel customer service strategy. For the best customer service, you need both elements.

Similarly, online reviews have become another thing for businesses to contend with. As we mentioned above, you’re far more likely to receive a negative review than a positive review. But the issues don’t end there.

How do you deal with them? What do you say?

Many businesses make the mistake of responding with some unpersonalised, uncaring stock response, or worst yet replying with an unprofessional attack. Neither help your business. Your online reviews, both negative and positive, should be responded to with a personal and human touch. For negative ones especially, you should be taking the time to resolve the issues and attempt a service recovery wherever possible.

Incompetent Automation

Automation is something we’ve all accepted as a normal part of the customer service experience. Whether that’s in IVR systems or chatbots, they’ve definitely become the norm and for the most part, that’s fine. However, issues arise when automation causes more issues than it solves.

This could be in the form of hugely lengthy IVR systems where customers have to enter too much information, especially when they have to repeat it all to the agent anyway.

It could also be in the form of chatbots who aren’t intelligent enough and provide no value to customers, instead they actively frustrate them.

To fix this, you need to ensure your business is reviewing the customer experience regularly and implementing the best automation technologies.

Good vs Bad Customer Service: How to Measure

Customer service isn’t guesswork as to how well you’re doing. The best way to see what your customer service satisfaction levels are at is to measure them with customer service metrics. 

We mentioned one of these above, call length. But this is a shallow metric that doesn’t reveal much about the quality of the call. 

Instead, we’d recommend tracking the following customer service metrics:

Need Help Fixing Customer Service Issues?

Bad customer service comes at a high price for businesses. In a world when our customer experience is increasingly the only thing that can set us apart from competitors, companies can’t afford customer service issues.

Fortunately, they’re quite simple to resolve. Giving your staff the training, resources and support they need can help solve the majority of customer service issues and allow your company to increase its productivity and profitability in turn. Awardaroo can help with our bespoke customer service skills training courses. Find out more today.

About Paul Freudenberg

Paul Freudenberg is a business productivity coach and consultant with a focus on operational excellence delivering improved profitability and business performance, and Founder of Awardaroo in 2005. Paul has set the mission of Awardaroo to help raise UK Business Productivity from one of the lowest in the G7 to one of the highest by 2030. Connect on LinkedIn

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