5 Bad Customer Service Examples (and What We Can Learn from Them)

Straight to the point, here are some typical Customer Service related reactions, from both vendors/providers and users/customers, and an analysis of what was good or bad. And how people should actually reply.

1. When Users Bypass the Customer Service and Complain Online

I recently discovered a “question” on Quora, related to one of my products. Someone was complaining about a bug (without being specific) and was asking on Quora what he can do, instead of using my website infrastructure to either contact me in person, leave a forum message or write a blog comment.

Quora Complaint

What’s odd with such a message, from customer’s part:

  1. He uses directly a public agora, with some obvious complaint and negative comment, without trying first the standard usual channels, available on vendor’s website (contact, email, support forums, blog comments etc).
  2. He is not specific at all. Saying “I had a bug” and nothing else is not a constructive attitude. It’s like you would rather like whining and that’s it, you are not looking for a fix.
  3. English is not my first language either, but I hope I show more restraint when I go public with something negative. From his message it is hard to understand what he is looking for. Not sure what he meant by the free copy and reporting bugs. Or in which way using the product became a “work stoppage” for him.

Now, to keep things short and avoid leaving the impression I took it personal and more than it was… I actually replied immediately in the most open, constructive and helpful way.

I’m far from taking this kind of messages personal, because most people do not actually intend them this way. It’s interesting however to look a bit at what makes us react today in a slightly inappropriate manner:

  1. So many sites where you can leave product reviews. When we’re encouraged so much today to leave critical opinions everywhere, we may jump up immediately on any such occasion.
  2. Preference to rather “speak to the public” than to a single person online. Many of us may develop becoming in time more confortable on voicing a public discontent, rather than talking to a real person, and try to get the issue fixed.
  3. It may be also because of the “echo chamber” effect. With a real person, you have to control more yourself, while on the Internet you may today freely vent your frustrations without wondering about nothing else.
  4. You rather vent a frustration and you’re not looking for a solution. A complaint may look as such (as you are looking for a fix, an answer to your problem), when it is actually just a one-way manifestation of anger.

2. Just Being Nice and Polite Could Be Actually an Insult

This is so “yesterday”, or should become outdated: the time when politically correctness was just a manner to fade away from the problem, and dismiss your customers with a “nice and polite” message. Refusing to provide a legitimate solution or service, no matter how you do it, is something bad and wrong.

Without being specific (about the actual company or issue), let’s just say I tried once to fix the intermittent problem of having some images “disappearing” sporadically from my website. With some of them showing up back after a while. I looked of course at my own possible implementation, but at the end I started to suspect the build-in cache implemented by my managed WP hosting provider.

The reply was extremely “nice” (no, this was not a robot :)), but totally ignored the fact I already mentioned the manifestation was intermittent and I was not able to provide a consistent repetitive repro.

Customer Service Reply

I totally agree, intermittent bugs are the most pesky bugs that are. I myself had to deal for decades with such bugs, and I can say how hard it is when you can not get a repetitive and consistent repro. However, I never tried to wash my hands to a customer, if he was not able to repro it consistently. It is like saying “no repro? no bug (or problem from my part)”.

And I know of no vendor or provider to say that intermittent bugs are not their problems. Or they are not called bugs.

3. Asking for the Impossible with a Simple Fix

I confess, I was for several years mad at doctors, because of the superficial way they looked at allergies. Until I became later aware there are so many possible causes of what someone is allergic to, that is impossible for doctors to come up with a proper procedure. Here is just a small bunch of food industry vendors, with their toxic products:

GMO List

I bring such subject up, because I realize today I’ve been myself in life in the role of the “difficult customer“, convinced I am 100% right and the “bad guys” do not do their job as they should. I felt skeptical and shown distrust when doctors came up with “diet and exercise” as medical solution to diabetes. Or other such “fixes”.

The most common error many specialists and professionals do is they assume their clients (or users, patients) MUST be familiar with any issue, and they fail to inform us properly about it. Or at least point us nicely to a bunch of valuable resources that we can use.

It bothers me in today’s society you have to inform yourself about everything, in any specific domain, to avoid getting ripped-off. This problem has also another particular side-effect: when you go to a doctor, government employee, car repair mechanic, electrician and so on, they kind of expect you to know a lot about what they do. And this is not just silly, but insulting towards you. And damaging to the service they provide, because they forget to properly inform you about the context.

4. Are Free Products and Services Really Free?

I already presented as first case, in this article, a situation where a potential customers behaved a bit like me here above (when expecting for the impossible, with a fix). The difference was my answer was not only polite, constructive and neutral, but I tried to explain to him as well that ANY software product that try to connect to over a dozen of third-party database systems can hardly be bug-free. That’s not an excuse to deliver a crappy product, but not everyone is aware today there is no such software with zero bugs.

The tolerance to the quality (or lack of quality) of a product is in many cases a subjective notion. We all know most products “made in China” are not very reliable, but we still tend to buy them and close our eyes when they break, just because they are cheap. And this is just one possible example when we’re more tolerant to bugs.

It’s interesting however to see so many users online complain often to a totally free product. And yes, there are many situations in which even a free products can make you waste your time, or cause damaging side-effects. But sometimes we just complain about something we got for free the same way we do it about some paid product.

However, the hidden side of so many free virtual products and services today is that they simply exploit our personal information. Or they bombard us with advertising their actual customers pay for.

As long as any free service provider uses us in a way to make money, we should be treated and looked at as paying customers!

If their business model and fortune would not exist without us, they owe us. For Google, Facebook, and most other free online services, we are the bargain used by them to make money. We represent value to their advertisers, except we give them this value for free. Yes, they give us something in return, with their services, but not out of charity, do not forget this.

5. One $10 Course to Make You Rich

So many crappy online service today pretend they quickly teach you how to get rich. People still fall for them. I don’t deny it, I also pay from time to time for something that later proves to be subpar. But I learned over the years to make my due diligence first: I check if the vendor is really legit, I don’t invest much, I don’t expect much. And sometimes I’m positively surprised.

I’ve been surprised like this by a Udemy course on drop-shipping I paid $10 yesterday. Written by a guy in his 20s, using bad grammar and repetitive sentences, I’ve been able to detect however several tricks worth more than what I paid for. It’s like the “made in China” cheap product you still pay for, and use it until it breaks (soon). Because you don’t want to pay way more elsewhere anyway.

What I found dumb is – as long as this course had for sure some value, and it was not all a simple “how to get rich quick” scheme for the vendor – the way he advertised it in several places. It’s dumb because you simply don’t need such exaggerations today, and people may start to take you for a scam artist exactly because of this. When it is not the case.

Look at the passage below. Was it really necessary to pretend you watch his quick-and-dirty videos (for less than an hour or so) and you start making “at least” $3,000 a month? Talk about putting a foot in your mouth…

Udemy Exaggeration