How To Frustrate Your Customers: Adventures in Poor Customer Service

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Now that the holiday shopping season is in the rearview mirror, it’s a great time to examine an area where too many businesses fall flat:

Customer Service.

For most consumers, the customer service experience is inherently frustrating. The average person isn’t contacting a business to tell them how satisfied they are with their new computer. You’re returning to the store or calling a hotline because the battery is not working or you cannot connect to the internet.

Nobody looks forward to phone trees, long waits, and useless customer service reps (although if you understand what moves big companies, you can improve the odds of getting what you want).

Good customer service can be boiled down to “The Golden Rule”; if you do right by consumers, much of it takes care of itself. If you’re great at it, people will flock to your business and you can charge higher prices, sending your profit margins through the roof.

When there’s a dispute, smart companies let the little issues slide, focusing on long-term public relations instead of jostling for pennies. Most unsatisfied customers are just calling in to vent—there’s still an opportunity to sway their opinion.

You’d be surprised how often an issue can be resolved by customer service reps who just listen and display some semblance of empathy. A simple “Sorry you are unhappy. I understand what you are saying.” can go a long way. Nominal refunds of a few dollars can pacify even the most disgruntled individual, demonstrating your concern about their experience and appreciation of their business.

If an unscrupulous customer is trying to cheat you, stand up to them, but don’t go out of your way to do so. Resist the urge to frame customer service experiences as zero-sum games, where their gain is your loss. Don’t be a “right fighter”, ever focused on defending your position at all costs. The game is not about making your customers feel like idiots. Even when they don’t bother to read the instruction manual or make unreasonable requests, there is just not enough value in commercial pugnacity. Reason forward. Is slaying an unruly customer worth the loss of future revenue and near-certain negative word-of-mouth?

Customer feedback in the online marketplace carries more weight than ever. Online reviews are posted by the most ardent supporters—and detractors— of a product or service.

Successful business-to-consumer transactions are marked by silence, so when people take the time to leave a review, it’s almost always to bash someone. Most people purchase something, and, if it meets their expectations, enjoy it without taking the time to leave a review on the internet.

Think about all the stuff you’ve bought on the internet. How many times have you left a review? If you’re like most people, almost never, and, the rare instances when you do, it’s to voice displeasure.

Most legitimate online reviews document negative experiences, users who are disappointed and want everyone to know it. The type of feedback that wreaks havoc on even the most carefully-managed reputations.

Occasionally, a person is so ticked off they seek retribution. It may be as simple as telling friends to avoid the offending product/service or it could be as extreme as spawning a new business or website to shame the offending company or product.

Hope that $9,000 was worth it.

“Revenge” is one of the twelve motivations that guide our behavior and decisions. Experiences rule the day, so anyone responsible for bad ones places himself squarely in the line of fire. Add internet anonymity and the resulting deindividuation of users, and you’ve got a recipe for a public relations disaster.

Angry customers exact revenge:

All the more reason to learn how to manage customer experience from start to finish.

I’ve had my own brushes with big companies who had no qualms about jilting customers or looking the other way when something was amiss. I know how to deal with them.

Best Buy, a frequent transgressor, is creeping towards obsolescence. The growth of online retailers will continue to eat away at its brick-and-mortar sales. Poor—and downright predatory—customer service will only hasten their fall to extinction.

You don’t have to look hard to find other offenders. Check out this perverse employee incentive system, allegedly in place at “Staples”, the office supply store:

This is another instance where ill-conceived procedures produce an undesired result. Perhaps the double-whammy of a sullied reputation and loss of sales is buoyed by a rise in stock price or profitability(doubtful).

A short-sighted policy that ticks off customers AND costs us money? That was easy.

Americans have been retaliating against bad customer service for centuries. Technology has afforded consumers new ways to shame bad actors, but you don’t need anything fancy to get the job done—a willingness to act and some foresight is enough to get the ball rolling:

How we retaliated against bad customer service before the internet.

You never know what’ll happen when you do wrong by others, especially in an increasingly-competitive marketplace.

Customer service is all about experience management. A productive business and healthy social life are products of the same parents: reasoned strategy and an appreciation for the power of human capital. Stop violating expectations by putting pennies before people. Learn to create the *right* incentives for others to support you and you’ll go far.

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