15 Examples of Bad to Terrible Customer Service (& How Your Team Can Do Better!)

Clint Fontanella
Clint Fontanella

Updated:

Published:

What’s the one thing that can bring down even the biggest brands in the market and chip away at their customer base?

bad customer service

Answer — bad customer service.

Customer service blunders can damage your reputation — sometimes beyond repair — and become massive red flags for existing and potential customers. While there’s no one-size-fits-all blueprint for stellar customer service, you can avoid bad experiences by learning from some bad customer service examples.

So, let’s look at 15 times customers had to suffer through poor customer service.

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Examples of Bad Customer Service to Avoid

Disgruntled customers leave service reps very little room for error when dealing with an issue. Even the most successful brands can be susceptible to having a bad customer service moment if they aren’t focused on the customer’s success.

To prevent these instances, you must know what bad customer service looks like and how to overcome it. Here are some of the most common examples of bad customer service and how to turn them into good customer service.

1. Prioritizing Company Policy Above Customer Needs

As companies grow, they need to add more internal structures that help manage and regulate the business.

This often comes from corporate policies or rules designed to deliver a consistent customer experience. However, these rules sometimes act as roadblocks for customers.

For example, this article by Business Insider highlights a notable complaint made against a large retail brand. This customer found that a product was priced higher in the store than it was marked online. When he asked an employee to match the lower price, the employee denied his request due to the company’s policies.

Bad customer service examples, Business Insider example of prioritizing policy over customer service.

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The Fix: Create flexibility in company policies.

What’s frustrating about this case is that the buyer presented a clear opportunity for the business to offer above-and-beyond customer service. Instead, this decision led to an unsatisfied customer and a viral news story influencing thousands of potential leads.

It’s critical to note that customers trust brands dedicated to fulfilling their needs. Bending the rules — when necessary and reasonable — can be one way to make customers feel valued, gain their trust, and build loyalty.

2. Mismanaging Social Media

Savvy customers use social media to share feedback and grievances for brands. Some companies have trouble staying up-to-date on their social media channels, especially when offering customer support.

These businesses often provide inhumane or insincere responses to customer feedback and consistently miss opportunities to address negative comments or posts.

In one case, a major phone provider was asked by one of its X (formerly Twitter) followers if customer service reps could see user passwords. The company replied, “Yes,” and explained in detail how passwords were stored in their security system.

While this may have been an act of transparency on their part, this created a major security issue for the company’s users. Three days after the incident, the company changed its policy to protect all of its customers’ passwords. Here’s one of the threads related to the incident:

Poor customer service

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The Fix: Proactively invest in social media support for customers.

Businesses that haven’t added customer service measures to their social media channels tend to be vulnerable to social media crises like these.

Customer service reps should monitor social media channels and respond to customer feedback as quickly as possible. Customer service tools can help reps expand their bandwidth and better manage these channels without neglecting their phone and email queues.

Training customer service and supporting employees on this support channel is a great way to avoid a major social media crisis.

3. Ignoring Customer Feedback

Between the internet and social media, customers and brands are connected 24/7. A lack of response to customer feedback and complaints signals that the company doesn’t care about their opinion or value their contribution to the business.

Some airlines have a notorious reputation for mishandling customer feedback. In one case, a customer tweeted at the airline about lost luggage, and it took about eight hours for their social media team to respond.

Additionally, their response was confusing and demonstrated a lack of competency for the social media site. Over 76K users saw the thread below, and the story was even featured on multiple news websites.

Example of bad customer service, ignoring customer feedback on social

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The Fix: Set up systems to minimize response time.

This case is an excellent example of why response time is so important. Customers can upload messages to public forums and instantly influence thousands of potential leads. Responding to these messages quickly is important to prevent damaging your reputation.

In fact, X found that airlines that respond to tweets within 6 minutes are likely to make $20 more from the customer who wrote the tweet.

By promptly responding to customer feedback, your customer service team can satisfy frustrated customers by fixing small problems before they become bigger ones.

4. Waiting on Hold for Too Long

Nobody wants to be put on hold, which can be the most frustrating roadblock for customers with time-sensitive problems. In fact, studies show that 15% of customers hang up after being on hold for only 40 seconds.

One persistent customer put a company’s phone line to the test after being placed on a lengthy hold. After waiting on hold for two hours, the customer decided to wait and see how long the business would keep him on the line.

Fifteen hours later, the call was finally pushed through and notified him that his original request (which put him on hold in the first place) had been denied due to an error. The customer was able to call back and correct his issue, but the company claims they have no documentation of this call.

The Fix: Give customers different options to access support.

The company should consider additional ways to help customers connect with the support team. They may want to consider implementing customer service tools, like HubSpot’s Service Hub, to help the team efficiently manage their different support queues.

Whether it’s a social media channel or an email inbox, offering multiple communication channels is important in making businesses more accessible to customers.

5. Compromising the Customer’s Privacy

Brands should make their customers feel protected when they share their personal information. Gaining customers is the first step to building customer loyalty.

A common example of companies compromising their customers’ privacy is vocalizing a denied credit card. Cashiers and clerks will see that a credit card isn’t being approved and blurt out, “Your card is declined,” for the whole store to hear.

That can be highly embarrassing for a customer who may not know the card’s status and is more than capable of paying for their items. Even if the customer has another card they can use, that type of outburst can dissuade people from returning to the same store.

The Fix: Infuse empathy in your customer service.

In retail and food service industries, this type of scenario is all too common and is always difficult to approach as a customer service rep. When it does, reps need to remain calm and not draw other customers’ attention to the interaction.

Customer service reps should be mindful of their vocabulary to avoid saying anything that may come off as an assumption or a judgment. Instead of saying, “Your card was denied,” try something subtler like “Your card doesn’t seem to be going through.”

6. Providing Incompetent Chat Support

For many customer service teams, live chat can be a tricky medium for customer support and service. It’s highly efficient and can reduce phone queues. But it comes with built-in roadblocks that prevent the customer service rep from truly connecting with the customer.

One example of poor chat support is from a customer worried about a phishing scam sent to his inbox. In return, the company’s chat rep sent confusing responses that seemed to indicate that the customer should delete his inbox.

When the customer tried to clarify the steps recommended, the rep terminated the chat before sending another response. Below is the transcript that was taken from the interaction.

Incompetent customer service, example of a bad chat

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The Fix: Train support reps to communicate thoughtfully on chat.

Since live chat can’t portray a tone of voice, customer service reps must focus on sounding like a human when working on the chat.

Messages in chat can easily be perceived differently by each customer, so reps need to work extra hard to provide clear and understandable answers. Reps should describe all the steps to resolve the issue and use images and videos to clarify confusing issues.

7. Not Responding to Calls Actively

Waiting on hold when you call customer support is frustrating. But what’s more frustrating is not getting any response or call back. If you list a number to contact support and nobody picks up on the other end, you’re creating more friction for already angry customers.

That’s exactly what happened with this buyer when they tried calling a logistics company multiple times but didn’t receive a response. While the calls went through on one number without a response, the other number was inactive. The customer tweeted about this experience and quoted it as an example of “definitely bad customer service.”

bad customer service via phone call

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The Fix: Make sure your contact numbers are active.

If you’re offering support by phone, it’s table-stakes for you to have active contact numbers. In case your call support team isn’t available round-the-clock, specify their available days and hours next to these numbers.

You can also set an IVR message to inform customers that your support team isn’t available at the moment and notify them about the next best time to call again. This saves them the hassle of constantly contacting you and eliminates friction.

8. Not Respecting Customers’ Time

It takes only one bad experience for 80% of customers to switch to a competing brand. Customers demand quick resolution, and when the stakes are so high, you can’t afford to waste buyers’ time at any stage of their journey.

Not delivering instant customer service will set you up for a storm of negative reviews, like this furniture rental company.

Multiple customers have complained about their disappointing experience with the company where the support staff keeps delaying deliveries and pick-ups. With so many bad reviews about their slow and frustrating service, previous customers strongly discourage people from buying from this brand.

poor customer service from an incompetent department

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The Fix: Create strict guidelines for timely service delivery.

When customers are spoilt for choice, they don’t want to waste days (or even hours) waiting for support. Your speed of service can become a massive differentiator for your brand. So, define rules for your support staff to address a customer query, complaint, or grievance within a specific timeline. Communicate this timeline to end-users as well.

9. Making Life Difficult for Customers

One of the gravest customer service mistakes a company can make is giving complicated or unhelpful solutions when customers seek support. That’s evident when support reps fail to empathize with customers and instead offer templatized responses to any complaints.

This is what happened to a woman when she received a mobile bill of £10 trillion — 6000 times the total GDP of France! Instead of acknowledging this as a mistake, the company’s support staff just told her that they couldn’t do anything about it and she had to pay the amount in three days.

This viral incident became a case study of unempathetic and callous customer service, where customers have to jump through so many hoops to find a simple resolution.

terrible customer service

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The Fix: Regularly audit your support setup and prevent such errors.

At its core, this case was simply a typing mistake. However, the company’s poor customer service management turned it into a moment of crisis.

You can prevent a negative event like this by properly auditing your support team’s work and encouraging them to deliver their best effort. When your employees are happy, they’ll project that happiness into their work and try to maintain a positive brand reputation.

10. Not Acknowledging Customers’ Problems

Another common instance of bad customer service is when companies fail to listen and understand a customer’s grievance. In many cases, brands repeat their mistakes because they don’t pay attention to their customers’ complaints.

A Reddit post highlighted how a major food delivery brand made this mistake. The company didn’t pay proper attention to the customer’s complaint the first time, and he had to submit the same complaint three times, reeling in frustration.

frustrating customer support

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The Fix: Set up workflows to log and analyze every customer complaint.

Such cases often come down to human error — maybe the support rep helping the customer the first time didn’t note this issue and implement a proper solution. You need an integrated solution like HubSpot’s Customer Service Hub to avoid these errors.

This unified platform will help your team track all grievances and stay on top of open cases. They can also log in all complaints efficiently without missing out on tickets.

11. Having to Repeat the Same Information Multiple Times

Another bad customer service example is when people have to talk to multiple support reps and repeat their concerns every time. This tells your customers that you don’t respect their time enough to note down their complaints and avoid the struggle of repeating the problem every time.

This can be even more annoying when customers haven’t received help in a while, and they have to repeat the issue again. Besides, it shows that your team is disorganized at the backend and doesn’t track complaints properly.

The Fix: Maintain an active record of all complaints.

One of the best things you can do to streamline customer service is to keep a database of all customer complaints. Use an integrated CRM to record all customer calls. This way, your support reps will have complete information about a customer any time they call.

You can also use this data to create and update your self-serve support resources, like the knowledge base.

12. Delayed Support With Multiple Levels of Escalations

Time is the most critical parameter for customers to assess the quality of your customer service. If you take too long to solve an issue, you’re hurting your image.

But if you keep redirecting customers to talk to different members of your support team, you’re delaying the resolution and making them go through so much hassle.

This customer posted about a similar experience with an online marketplace. They had to struggle for two months to raise an escalation after a lot of effort. Even after that, the support team didn’t resolve the issue and continued stalling the customer for six months without any solution.

delayed customer service

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The Fix: Review active cases regularly and offer timely resolution.

The only way to prevent such cases of poor customer service is by regularly checking all open cases and tickets. You can also set up a process to prioritize active cases based on the timelines. So, if a customer hasn’t found a resolution in two months, their case will be addressed on priority.

13. Not Giving Enough Autonomy to Find a Resolution

Not everyone wants to get on a call with a support agent or write long emails explaining their concern. In fact, 69% of customers want to resolve issues on their own whenever possible.

So, if you don’t offer relevant and updated resources for self-serve support, you’re creating friction in your customer service. You’re essentially giving customers no option to find resolutions independently. Instead, they have to inevitably delay their use case to contact your team for help.

The Fix: Make self-service resources for troubleshooting issues independently.

Self-serve support saves customers the time and effort required to get in touch with your support team. They also get the convenience of answering their questions or solving any issues whenever they want. Think knowledge bases, FAQs, and troubleshooting info.

If your self-service resources are good enough, you can also reduce the pressure on support teams to answer customer queries. They’ll have more time to answer complex issues.

14. Lack of Easily Accessible Support

Your customer service efforts become counter-productive if customers find it difficult to contact support. Imagine setting up a whole system to resolve customer queries and not giving your customers easy access to this system!

This was a common complaint about an online payment brand where customers couldn’t reach the customer service team. They had to seek help on public forums because the company didn’t offer any help, and it made it extremely challenging to even have a conversation.

bad customer support

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The Fix: Get customer feedback and make your service accessible.

A surefire way to prevent such a situation is to regularly survey your customers to collect feedback on your customer service. If they’re unable to contact support easily, they’ll flag the issue, and you can change your setup.

However, make sure you’re collecting this feedback as early as possible. This will save many customers the hassle of reaching support.

15. Making It Hard to Talk to a Person

Research states that customers prefer human interaction over chatbots. You’re leading them to disappointment by forcing them to talk to a robot, especially when they specifically request to talk to a human.

In this example, the customer wrote multiple times that they’d like to speak to a human. However, the chatbot kept sending them irrelevant messages and angered the customer.

poor chatbot support

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The Fix: Train chatbots properly to redirect to your support reps.

While using chatbots can be a great advantage for support teams, you have to train them properly to prevent such cases. Give customers a quick and easy option to talk to a support rep or inform them when the team is unavailable. You can also train the chatbot to let customers submit a ticket instead.

To learn more about improving the customer experience, read about the customer experience strategy next.

Editor's note: This article was originally published February 2019 and has since been updated for comprehensiveness.

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