Monday, December 5, 2011

The Five Most Annoying Customer Service Practices

Last week I was shopping at my local branch of a large Canadian chain store when I heard a commotion coming from the customer service desk.  I looked over just in time to see an employee yelling "why are you giving me a hard time" to a customer who was trying to return something.  Yikes! In a perfect world, customer service transactions would be settled without voices being raised but whatever happened to "the customer is always right"?

I am always dismayed when organizations invest a lot in research and development, manufacture great products, conduct powerful marketing campaigns and then fall down drastically when it comes to customer service. Some companies have horrible reputations based solely on their approach to customer service when their products are actually great.  Some even have websites devoted to how awful they are and are still not spurred to improve the situation.

As someone who believes that companies can benefit from feedback, I am often on the line with customer service representatives.  So, based on my experience, here is my list of the five most annoying customer service practices that have to stop now:

1. Hidden contact info - Customers should not have to hunt through web pages, call directory assistance or do a Google search to find your customer service number.  What are you afraid of?  Put a Customer Service tab on your home page and list the various ways that make it easy for people to get in touch with you.  It should take no more than one click for a customer to find your 1-800 number.

2. Longer than normal wait times - How many times have you heard that "due to a higher-than-normal volume of calls, the customer service department is temporarily experiencing increased wait times"?  If the call volume is genuinely higher than normal, then this message is useful.  However, most of the organizations which use this recording have it playing all the time, which suggests that in fact, call volume and wait times are always high.  To use a Canadian example, every single time I've called Rogers customer service in the past five years, I have heard this message.  Rather misleading don't you think?

3. Advertising to unhappy customers - People don't generally call customer service when everything is going great.  Knowing this, why do companies think it's a good time to advertise to them?  If you're upset because your brand new dishwasher has gone on the fritz, do you really want to hear a recorded loop about the wonderful deals on washing machines?  Or worse still, a suggestion that, instead of staying on the line and talking to a human, you should hang up and go to the website.  If the website offered any assistance, you would have already resolved your issue there.

4. Requesting the same information over and over again - Often, when calling customer service lines, you are asked to provide information in order to get past the first stage of the voice prompt system.  You might be asked to give your phone number, membership number or credit card number.  When you finally have an opportunity to talk to a human, the first thing they do is ask for the same information.  If they're unable to help and need to transfer you to another department, the next person asks you for the same information.  It's a small thing but it just adds fuel to an already volatile situation.

5. Lack of empathy - I know some people disagree with me on this but I don't think customer service representatives have a right to get upset or annoyed when customers are angry.  I used to work on a 1-800 support line for the provincial government and people often phoned in a state of rage.  I didn't take it personally.  I just let them vent for a while and then I tried to help them. Even if I couldn't give them what they wanted, they were usually grateful for the opportunity to get it off their chest.  People call the customer service lines because your organization has let them down in some way.  Getting uppity with them is only going to make things worse.  Yes, it's tough to deal with angry people all day but that is the role and, if you can put aside your own indignance, there's an opportunity to make someone's day.


  1. Timely post Louise as I was just in a local grocery chain (which will remain nameless) where I wanted to cash in my lottery ticket...only $5 unfortunately but still wanted to be in and out. Three clerks behind the "Customer Service" desk made themselves look busy and when I finally asked for help it was like I had just asked a teenager to clean up their room.

    I'm boggled by how organizations seem to simply put people in with a "pulse" to handle their most precious commodity - the paying customer - and act surprised by the sometimes dire consequences. It seems that the mantra these days whether in person or on the phone is "I'll be with you when it's convenient for me to do so, and please don't have something to complain about as I don't want nor care about it."

    Pretty sure had the shoe been on the other foot the three clerks would have reacted with the same disbelief I did...when a customer is at "Customer Service" aren't you supposed to provide some?

  2. Thanks for sharing Andy. Unfortunately, a lot of people in customer service roles don't actually enjoy helping others and rather than seeing a call or visit from a disappointed customer as a chance to brighten their day, they just want to get rid of you as soon as possible. In Canada, because we have a few industries that are still monopolistic, it's even worse because they don't have to try.

  3. Francisco RobertsonSeptember 7, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    I must disagree with the last point. I can understand being angry with a company, but there is no merit in taking it out on a customer service representative, and it's not fair, considering this person is not responsible for your problem. I had my share of puerile temper tantrums when I was a child, and I learned properly then that they accomplish absolutely nothing. When I see a service representative being terrorized by an angry customer, I feel empathy for the representative and none for the customer. The way I see it, it's bullying someone and taking advantage of the fact that they could lose their job for not allowing you to do so.

  4. Thanks for the comment Francisco. People feel very strongly about this one. I agree that no one deserves to be terrorized or bullied, on either end of the phone and if both people are acting respectfully, that shouldn't happen. But I also believe a customer should feel free to express frustration, sadness, disapointment and even anger if it gets the point across. When I worked on a customer service line (great experience by the way), I always reminded myself that my job was to find solutions, not to add to the problem by becoming emotional myself.