The Causes and Consequences of Bad Customer Service

Angry woman brandishing rolling pin

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The reason for a bad customer service experience could be summed up by Lily Tomlin's character Ernestine, "We're the phone company; we don't have to care."

A good customer experience is an ability to make one shopper feel, for just a few minutes, like they are the most important person in the world. 

Here is one of my good customer service experience stories...

I had a reservation for a massage at the Red Door Spa at the Marriott Mystic, Conn. Now, a pet peeve is an employee not being proactive when I'm the only guy standing in the lobby.

Two employees were at the desk, and one asked how she could help. I told her I was checking in, and she asked my name.

The other woman came over, looked at the screen, and said, "Good afternoon, Bob. We're glad you're here." The massage was so exceptional that as I checked out, I asked if I could book a 50-minute session with Logan the following afternoon.

She checked and said, "No, it is his day off." I replied, "OK, I just thought I'd ask." Five minutes later, as I walked through the lobby, I got a call from the spa. The young woman had told Logan what happened, and he said he'd come in on his day off. She asked me, "What time is best for you?"

I certainly felt special.

How could they provide this excellent customer service? Their skills were honed. The spa had enough employees, and they had trained them very well. But they hit it out of the park when they didn’t inconvenience me; they convenienced me at Logan’s inconvenience.

Here's what a bad customer experience story looks like...

I got up at 3 am to make my 6:30 am flight to Chicago and on to Las Vegas for a weekend speech. Once we boarded, I asked for a hot tea, and the flight attendant told me, "We don't have any hot water."

Hmm...that's odd.

After an hour, the captain announced the water was frozen in the water lines. They turned up the heat and closed the aircraft door, hoping to defrost the lines. Then they would have maintenance check that none of them sprouted a leak... and the wings would have to be de-iced.

They said it was due to the cold... Oh, and the big storm.

Granted, it had dropped a foot of snow the previous day, but it had stopped snowing by 3 pm. Other airlines were taking off just fine.

United, like a friend holding up their index finger asking you to wail while they're on the phone, kept texting me every 30 minutes with updates that the plane would leave late, and time dragged on.

After two hours of this nonsense, I thought of filing a complaint but told the flight attendant that I'm off when the maintenance guy next went through that door. I rebooked on Southwest, the service representative made it easy, and my travel was saved.

3 Keys to a Good Customer Experience

1. Anticipate. If you stop and look at your customer’s journey from when they arrive in your parking lot to when they depart to see where their frustrations are, you can fix them. If parking is a problem for your events, instead of throwing up your hands and saying, “Nothing we can do – no more space,” find the money to hire someone to manage the process and greet people so they start with a positive experience.

2. Full stop. When something goes wrong – a missed order, a surly employee, a delivery delayed - everything has to stop to fix it. That takes training on how you talk to the customer. Think like them. What would I want to hear when such a thing happens? Maybe you can’t fix it, but you can’t avoid it. Get out before whatever it is and tell exactly how you’ll help. In United’s case, they apologized for missed connections by saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll be booked on the next available flight.” That did nothing for the 12 guys planning a golf game that afternoon in Houston. It did even less for me.

3. Pay the money. Stores built to have six front-facing sales reps don’t run well on two. Scheduling apps can only do so much. When the fitting rooms get messy, trash cans overflow, lines to the register and waiting to try on shoes get too long, and customers get testy. When your customers are thinking, How can this happen to me? it means you thought your customers wouldn't notice. I’m telling you you’re wrong.

What keeps that from happening with most customers?

Large and small businesses aren't willing to use their money to develop their team's skills; they want to hold on to all their cash. They live with the consequences of bad customer service. They don't use their money to train employees and give them the customer-first attitude that Logan has.

When your business starts with we did nothing wrong, you end up with frustrated customers due to poor service. Those customer complaints end up on social media, and stories of a bad customer service experience kill your word-of-mouth marketing.

Now let's unpack my Bad Customer Service story

It was winter in Albany. The scheduled departure time was 6:30 a.m. For over a week, very cold nights were forecasted.

How could you leave a big jet so defenseless it became an ice brick for your first flight out? How was it possible that no one thought to come in early to warm it up so that the 150 or so of us would make it to our destinations on time?

Follow the money.

That would have taken someone monitoring the service experience they would provide for their loyal customers.

It would have taken a training protocol that included what to do to avoid the plane brick.

It would take money in the budget for overtime for all of this to happen.

Had they done that, their customers would have been blissfully unaware that anything had gone wrong and made it home, to their vacation destination, or to their next meeting. Instead, their business was affected, and vacations were ruined.

You see, most have deep pockets but short arms no matter your brand. Unless it affects them personally, the money to fix the problem is seen as something that can be avoided; customer complaints are just a regular part of their business.

I'm one of United's best fliers, flying over 100,000 miles a year. What happened to those who just flew coach and sat there for over two and a half hours? Do those passengers willingly return after such a bad experience when there is a choice? Doubtful.

And it's not just airlines...

It's the restaurant next to a grocery store that said they were out of tea.

It's the hotel with the child-sized, underpowered hair dryer that diminishes customer satisfaction.

Often, bad customer service in a retail store results from employees not having enough to do during downtime, so they become passive.


Download 50 Things Associates Can Do During Downtime

In Sum

Good customer service is how you support your customers.

While you can do a Net Promoter score or mystery shops, none of that matters if you are unwilling to pay for the resources that help your customers have an easy and enjoyable interaction.

You end up with high employee turnover and high customer churn.

You have the means to pay for it, but are you willing to stretch yourself and pay to do it? You do if you don't want to read dissatisfied customer stories about your business.

You'd better be if you want to know how to grow retail sales and increase customer retention, or you'll end up on the heap of failed retailers, including The Limited, BCGB, Wet Seal, American Apparel, Bose, Pier One, and Toys R Us.