Article

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

Learn how to identify bad customer service so you can protect your business and wow your buyers.

By Erin Hueffner, Content Marketing Manager, @erinhueffner

Published March 24, 2021
Last updated June 6, 2021

What was your absolute worst customer service experience? If you stopped doing business with that company and told all your friends about it, you’re not alone—and your customers would probably do the same thing.

Loyalty hinges on delivering a great customer experience. It’s not enough to just have a good product—companies are setting themselves apart by delivering exceptional customer service. Our Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2021 found that 75 percent of people are willing to spend more money on a brand that provides a stellar experience.

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

What is bad customer service?

Bad customer service is when a customer feels their expectations were not met. According to our Trends Report, the top indicators of poor customer service include long wait times, an automated system that makes it hard to reach a human agent, and having to repeat information multiple times.

People have expectations for how a company will serve them. If your customer support is not up to par, it can spell bad news for your brand. When customers have a negative service experience, they’re often quick to voice their complaints on social media. The message is clear: You can’t afford to ignore these annoyances in today’s digitally connected world.

Consequences of bad customer service

Poor customer service can cause customers to churn. According to our Trends Report, roughly 50 percent of customers will switch to a competitor after just one bad support experience. Do some quick math: Would your company survive if you lost half your buyers, effectively splitting your revenue in half? For most of us, that’s a hard no.

It’s not enough to just have a good product—companies are setting themselves apart by delivering exceptional customer service.

You might be thinking, But what about the other half who choose to remain loyal? Not so fast. Our report also found that 80 percent of customers will leave after more than one disappointing service experience. So, if your customers have just two negative experiences with your support team, most of them will likely leave (and go to competitors)—which can have a devastating impact on your business.

Offering excellent support matters even more with the ongoing pandemic. Our report shows that customer service requests are up 20 percent since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. Buyers are spending more time online and at home, and they’re looking to connect with you. The stakes are higher than ever, but so is the opportunity to make a great impression.

5 examples of bad customer service (and how to fix the situation)

1. Problem: The business doesn’t seem to feel bad for the upset customer

“I got ribs at a barbecue place in my 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?' ”

The words “customer complaint” probably make you feel a little jittery. But no business can avoid complaints completely. Instead of evading the situation, empower your team to know how to handle complaints. Namely, your support reps need to understand and care about your customers’ needs and frustrations. That means demonstrating—and sincerely feeling—empathy.

According to market research company IDC, 73 percent of customers say it takes a differentiated experience to keep them loyal, not just an acceptable one. So if you’re not paying attention to customer needs, your reputation will suffer because of your company's perceived lack of empathy.

Solution: Bake empathy into your ethos

Organizations with customer-centric business models don’t just have employees who put a smile on—their team members put customers first in everything they do. On a support team, that may mean:

  • Gauging empathy when hiring support agents—and letting it be a driving factor in choosing candidates. High-performing teams have agents who are driven by helping people and interacting with customers. Try asking a few interview questions for hiring great customer service reps during your next candidate interview.
  • Developing a contact center culture based on issue resolution, not call length. To keep customers happy, agents need to be able to spend as much time as it takes to solve an issue. That can be hard when they’re feeling pressured to have quick call times.
  • Using technology that promotes proactive support, like chatbot widgets that help identify common customer complaints. When agents can identify issues before they arise, it gives them more time to help customers who have complex issues.

Even if the system you use to handle complaints doesn’t change overnight, your agents’ behavior toward buyers can. Sometimes, simply letting your customers know you understand their concerns and you’re working to solve them can make all the difference in the world.

2. Problem: The company is difficult for customers to reach

“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.”

When companies are hard to reach, consumers often give up trying to get assistance without ever receiving help. To create a great support experience, you need to make it easy for your customers to find the information they need, no matter what channel they’re using.

According to Zendesk’s State of Messaging report, customers are using many new conversational channels such as SMS, chatbots, voice assistants, messaging apps, and chat—not just phone and email—to communicate with support teams.

Solution: Allow customers to connect on the channel of their choice

You can provide better service by appearing on the channels your customers are using to talk to friends and family. Here are the steps you should take to make your support team more accessible and successful:

  • Offer omnichannel support. You need to be where your customers are, on the channel of their choice. Providing multichannel customer service makes connecting with support teams fast, easy, and familiar to today’s generation of smartphone-wielding consumers.
  • Use software specifically made for omnichannel customer service. Use a tool that lets you track all conversations and switch between channels easily. By combining your channels in a unified experience, customer service agents can seamlessly transition from email to a phone call if the issue becomes too complicated—all from one interface.
  • Connect asynchronously through messaging. Unlike traditional customer service channels, messaging allows customers to hop in and out when it’s convenient. Agents can also serve more customers at once, which speeds up resolution time.

what is bad customer service

3. Problem: Your automated phone prompts are hurting more than they’re helping

“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 had no answer to my question.”

Thanks to our trends report, we know customers want their issues resolved quickly—so lengthy, detailed phone messages aren’t likely to resonate. While automated phone answering services used to be a top-of-the-line service solution, AI technology has made them practically irrelevant.

According to our Customer Experience Trends Report, most customers want to be able to take care of issues themselves, and they’re open to using AI if it means a faster resolution to their problems. Our report also found that the use of AI drives success among high-performing teams, making it a win-win for companies and consumers alike.

Solution: Use AI to upgrade your support messages

Gone are the days when you had to slog through a long, automated series of voice messages to connect with a business.

Most customers want to be able to take care of issues themselves, and they’re open to using AI if it means a faster resolution to their problems.

Today, interactive voice response (IVR) easily handles more requests by letting customers speak directly to the voice recording. Based on customers’ responses, calls are routed to the appropriate agent. IVRs can also direct callers to prerecorded answers to common questions, empowering customers to find the information they’re looking for independently and allowing agents to dedicate their time to more complex issues.

Similarly, chatbots can boost your customer experience by quickly resolving high-frequency, simple-to-answer queries—but you have to use them the right way. Here are some tips to get you started implementing this type of technology.

  • Context is key. Chatbots work best when they have access to the underlying customer context, like if the person always buys pants in the same size or recently returned an item. Use CRM software that gives your bots access to this backlog of client data—it helps the bot make meaningful recommendations and assist the customer more effectively.
  • Don’t lose the human element. Behind every well-oiled AI system, there needs to be a human presence. If your customer is getting frustrated or if the issue is too complex for a bot to handle, the system has to be able to intelligently hand it off to a live agent.

The right mix of human and machine is the secret sauce to seamless support—customers will leave the interaction feeling understood, not frustrated.

4. Problem: Your wait times are ridiculously long

“One time, 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.”

Customer expectations for fast response times have never been higher. Almost one in three customers surveyed in our Customer Experience Trends Report expects a response in under five minutes by phone.

bad customer service

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?

Solution: Use technology to help cut down on wait times

Here are a few ways to keep up with customer expectations and provide swift responses:

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

5. Problem: You transfer callers so many times they get whiplash

“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 got transferred to someone else. That person couldn’t help me either. So I was transferred AGAIN and had to explain everything all over. This continued on repeat for more than an hour. When I finally got to the right department, I was told they couldn’t help me.”

When a customer calls you for help, it usually means they couldn’t resolve the problem on their own. According to our Customer Experience Trends report, 63 percent of people always or almost always try to find answers on a company’s website first. So by the time they’re picking up a phone, your customers are likely already frustrated. Your job is to do whatever you can to help resolve the issue quickly and efficiently—with minimal back-and-forth.

bad customer service examples

Solution: Use the right software to manage your customer data

Agents need to understand a customer’s needs to create a good service experience. That requires access to the right data and tools.

  • Choose customer service software that gives your team quick access to customer data, all in one spot. For example, Zendesk enables support teams to work seamlessly in any channel and connects every single one of a company’s data sources to bring up the right information about customers automatically.
  • Use IVR to quickly sort calls to the right agent. Create a short series of prompts for the initial phone call that gets to the root of a customer’s issue so they’re routed to the right department from the start. That way, you won’t have to bounce them from agent to agent or make them wait on hold to find answers.

As a general rule, you should strive for zero transfers on most phone calls. Consider auditing your current transfer rate and look for trends on what causes the transfer. Lowering transfers may be as simple as investing in overall group trainings or using segmentation to focus your agents on specific needs.

Leave bad customer service behind for good

It takes a lot to make customers loyal but only one negative experience to break their trust. These tips can help your team consistently avoid the pitfalls and create great customer service experiences. With a proactive approach and a powerful CRM tool to support your team, you can ensure your company is one that customers will rave about—for all the right reasons.

Report: Simple solutions to the top CX challenges