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Lessons to Learn: How Bad Customer Service Can Best Serve Us All


Horrible customer service; at one point (or two, three, four…) we’ve all experienced it. From the disinterested employee and their despondent supervisor to the corporate-level manager who seemingly is never in the office when you attempt to speak with them, when acts such as these occur, they are far from comparable – yet alone compelled – to a shred of decency.

Unfortunately, when it comes to resolution matters, I justly feel that I have had more than my fair share of terrible experiences. Ever had someone to hang up on you when they couldn’t figure out what to do? It is not a pleasant feeling. For those of you old enough to remember, sometimes finding someone who is capable of and willing to help is like playing a game of “Press Your Luck;” you’re anxiously and silently declaring “No Whammies, no Whammies,” only to be met instead with a devilishly, smarmy little monster of a creature and in return receiving nothing. The overwhelming sense of your basic expectations of assistance not being met has an astounding ability to completely ruin your day.

As someone who has worked in customer service-laden jobs before, I’ve been on both sides of the coin. I know what’s like to experience rude employees and even ruder customers (personally, “the customer is always right” mantra needs to be thrown out with the bath water). Moreover, the jobs that I held where the majority of the responsibilities were mostly customer related, I will be the first to admit – I hated every one. Well, maybe I shouldn’t use such an exaggerated word as “hate” perhaps, “strongly was displeased with.” Frankly, I was not always the best representative of customer service, but, this goes without saying that when called for (as cliché as it sounds), I went above and beyond the requirement of duty. Why would I when I didn’t like the job? Easily put, because I would want the same service in return. In fact, if it were not for many of the customers that I came across, with one job in particular, the work itself would have been unbearable. It is important for me to separate here the difference between the type of job and the type of interaction you will have with a customer. For example: answering phones. If you are the kind of person that doesn’t like to talk on the phone very often, make sure to avoid a position that includes a talking device to be attached to your head. But, take it from me, some advice is easier said than done.

The top 10 U.S. firms with the worst customer service, according to Ranker.com, a real-time listing voted on by consumers; represent 7 industries in telecommunications, retail, cable television media, banking, air transportation, petroleum, and entertainment. This comes on the heels of the latest report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) indicating a first-quarter 2014 satisfaction index of 76.2 (on a 100-point scale), down -0.8. The decline marks one of the largest in the 20-year history of the Index. In addition to surveys and statistics is horror stories. Examples of customer experiences gone array are taken from Gaebler.com, an online resource magazine for entrepreneurs shown below.

Case Study #1: Mice are Normal
The Story: A group of friends gathered at a local restaurant franchise for dinner. Midway through their meal, they noticed a mouse dart out between two booths and called the furry patron to the attention of their waiter. The waiter said, “That’s cool,” and asked what they would like done about it. Eventually, the manager entered the picture and told the diners, “All restaurants have mice whether you see them or not. I can take care of your bill, but there’s nothing else I can do about it.” Not surprisingly, the patrons left the restaurant in a hurry, never to return again.
The Lesson: Customers take health and safety issues very seriously. The diners wanted more than a refund. They want to know that the business was taking every possible precaution to prevent infestations and unsanitary conditions. The employees’ ambivalent attitude toward a possible rodent problem communicated that hygiene was not high the restaurant’s list of priorities.
Case Study #2: Leaky Planes
The Story: A passenger on a flight with a major airline was getting dripped on by moisture leaking from overhead vents. He reported the incident to the stewardess who pointed out that the last ten rows of the aircraft had paper towels stuffed into the side vents of the last two rows. The passenger asked the stewardess if she would report the incident, and she refused to do so, saying there was a condensation problem with the entire fleet and her report wouldn’t make any difference. Aside from being annoyed, the passenger began to question the mechanical quality and safety of every plane in the airline.
The Lesson: The stewardess’ response was problematic for a lot of reasons. Worst of all, her response implied that the airline ignored the needs of their customers and refused to confront problems, even when they were reported by their own staff. A better response would have been to acknowledge there was a problem and agree to file a report with the airline’s main office as soon as possible.
Case Study #3: Cell Phone Runaround
The Story: A customer purchased a new mobile phone from a reputable cell phone provider. Several months later, the phone started to malfunction and the customer sent the phone back to the company for service. The company stated that they would not replace the phone because it showed signs of corrosion on the battery. The phone had not been exposed to water, and subsequent calls to customer service were met with the ridiculous excuse that the corrosion was the result of normal exposure to air – but that the company still would not replace it or fix the problem free of charge.
The Lesson: The lesson here is obvious. Customer satisfaction requires a willingness to stop making excuses and get to the root of the problem, if it means the company has to assume responsibility for the cost of the fix.

Looking back on my experiences as a customer service employee, I realize the lesson to learn from them is not whether I enjoyed them or not but, more importantly, what is the level of service that I am willing to provide, and, if I take an even deeper look at another question to ask myself: what level of server am I? When you think about it, what we do is all for the sake of another person. We labor to help one another. So in the end, understand your level of service and work accordingly, it will make you and the rest of us happier.

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