Why Your Awful Customer Service Sucks For Me

January 31, 2012

Dear Fellow Business Owner / Manager,

Let’s face it — your service sucks. Bad.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit my service sucks on occasion too. But in my defense, my sins are unintentional. I am trying to do the right thing, and I either dropped the ball or hired the wrong ball carrier. You, by contrast, just don’t give a flip.

Awful Customer Service | Jigsaw from Saw

On the one hand, it’s impressive. You’ve taken indifference to an entirely new level. Your service isn’t just bad; it’s awful, insensitive, and downright dehumanizing. Just the simple act of engaging in the customer experience with your business is a soul-crushing odyssey through the circles of customer service hell.

Actually, mythological and literary references don’t even cut it. Doing business with you is nothing short of being a victim in one of the Saw movies.

And that doesn’t look like fun.

Of course, the natural inclination would be for me to thank you. Next to you, my worst customer service looks like a good day at the Ritz Carlton.

I should thank you for setting the bar so low that I barely have to raise my foot to step over it. Most of the social psychology literature says that human opinions are shaped heavily by comparison. You’ve made looking good all too easy.

So, maybe I should thank you. Then again, maybe not.

You see, while you would think that we would be able to shine by virtue of comparison to your JigSaw-esque customer experience, looking for better is not the dominant mindset that your customers walk away with. When your customers come to me, they are usually not thinking anything is better than that last place, when they come to me they are thinking how is this place going to try to screw me.

That’s right, being the next business to get your customer is a lot like…

  • Being the next financial advisor to service the person who was just embezzled from
  • Being the next person to date the person who was just cheated on
  • Being the next surgeon to work on the person who just had a scalpel left in his chest

It’s a pleasure, I tell you, wasting away in Paranoiaville with the shell-shocked victims of your customer experience.

So, should I thank you? You’ve sent me a customer who is jaded, tired, defensive and ready to find conspiracies and malicious intent at the first sign of something going wrong.

Actually, you haven’t sent me a customer; you’ve sent me a victim of Post-Traumatic Shopping Disorder. It will take me months, maybe years, to gain this person’s trust and to turn them into a profitable customer that does not need hand holding and reassurance at every step of the customer experience.

So, again, the question at hand is should I thank you?

Grudgingly, yes — I should. Regardless of their mental state, I have a new customer now and an opportunity to make that person happy and to make the world a little better by restoring that person’s faith in business. And for that, I do thank you.

Just know that I will be sending you the psychiatrist bills — theirs and mine.

With somewhat grudging regards,

Adam Toporek

26 thoughts on “Why Your Awful Customer Service Sucks For Me”

  1. Ugh, I’ve been in Paranoiaville AND I’ve been a victim. Neither inspires much gratitude on my part. Thanks for calling that out. I think businesses do want to be happy to take dissatisfied customers from their competitors, but end up having their own customer service taken to the limits.

  2. G’Day Adam,
    Someone has to ask. “What on earth is this blog about? Is is an attempt at humour? Is it aimed at a particular client? Are you saying that all of us have poor customer service standards?”

    I’d really like to know if I’m just missing something. I hate to miss the fun.

    1. You mean my post didn’t translate into Aussie? 🙂

      First of all, glad to see you’re still lurking around these parts Leon. Always enjoy your commentary. And yes, this was supposed to be a fun way to make what I hope is a somewhat salient point.

      I tend to write most posts in pretty straight up, a-b-c style. I don’t do much in the way of satire or creative takes on customer service, so I thought I would try a bit of a fun way to make my larger point, which is that customers who experience bad service elsewhere don’t always come to us an easy convert. Oftentimes, the comparison between the previous bad service and our hopefully stellar service is not what is most on their mind; oftentimes, it is paranoia that they are going to get bad service again that is the predominant thought. It is an important thing to recognize and to make sure customer facing teams are prepared for.

      So, that was my message — even if lost in my style.

      Take care!

      1. Hi Adam,
        I think your point makes sense both ways. There is the occasional paranoid convert, but then there are also those looking for a better level of service.
        It’s the old “I want the store beside yours, so I can sell to all your underserved customers” which I quite like!

  3. Why do you think I hang around the crowd I do; I mean, how can I look bad among those knuckleheads, huh?

    I have picked up some rebound customers and not tooting our own horn BUT………the experience with us is such a contrast to what they are coming out of, more times than not they will tell their friends as well how much we have done for them.

    I have one example where their prior insurance experiences were so bad she just assumed all insurance brokers were shady and trying to rip her off. That was until we saved them $250k…….yes, $250k by cleaning up some sloppiness and finding them a good home for their workers comp. This was 7 years ago and they still tell everybody they meet we are the only ones came in and did what we said we would do.

    Granted, all successes aren’t that dramatic, but if we can just get in the door the customer will typically see a difference.

    I have seen the type of service you describe, and I’m glad it’s not us……

    1. I figured that’s why you hang around here… Makes you look good!

      That’s a perfect story, because one thing I didn’t add (it didn’t fit the rant) was that when you do get a customer who is shell-shocked by a previous experience, once you get past that phase and earn their trust they are some of the most loyal and most supportive customers you can have.

      I think these situations are great opportunities, but they aren’t always the easy-pickings people think they are going to be going into them.

      Great to see you Bill!

    2. Bad customer service is not only confined to large companies it also applies to medium and small companies. The difference is it is far easier to change the culture in a small company. All it needs if the leader to set the standard and ensure it is complied with. In a large company it takes the whole management structure to buy in.

      1. You’re so right John — hard either way, but much harder at scale. I’ve actually got a post coming up in a few weeks on cultural change.

        Thanks for commenting!

  4. Adam, I’m so glad I read to the end! By the time I got to “and that doesn’t look like fun,” I was wondering, “Who is he talking about?”

    I got the drift at “I should thank you for setting the bar so low that I barely have to raise my foot to step over it. Most of the social psychology literature says that human opinions are shaped heavily by comparison. You’ve made looking good all too easy.”

    Brilliant letter!

    We think of rebound customers as rescue operations. They really do need special care, a lot of encouragement, and a listening ear. By the time they get to us and need help with their websites, they’re often angry, near-broke, and afraid they’re not going to see their project completed.

    On more than one occasion, we’ve also had to break down walls with their previous web designers to get what we need, and that takes a different kind of approach. We have to show the other designer that we’re here to help extricate them as painlessly as possible from a relationship that’s gone bad — and that we’re not the enemy. That conversation is usually a pretty long one, as you can imagine.

    Like you said in your response to Bill, once you earn a customer’s trust, they’re not only loyal, but supportive — just as you’ve been with them. But there are customers whose trust is so damaged, they can’t get past the belief that they’re being ripped off. Those are tricky and require extra care, to protect your own business.

    I love this customer service slant for you, by the way. You’ve definitely found your niche.

    1. Michelle…

      “We think of rebound customers as rescue operations. They really do need special care, a lot of encouragement, and a listening ear.” You nailed it with that one! Rescue operations is such a great way to look at it.

      Like you, when we get a new customer because they had a bad experience elsewhere, we see it as a great opportunity, but they often show up with that distrustful eye, just waiting for that bad experience to be repeated. That’s a really interesting dynamic with web design that you mention, where you actually have to work with the previous company to get the source files and so forth — bet you’re whipping out the Dale Carnegie books for those conversations. 🙂

      Thanks for the great comment Michelle, and for your kind words and support. Both are greatly appreciated!

  5. While I appreciate the humour I find it rather sad that poor customer service is more the rule than the exception these days. This trend has accelerated with the impersonal nature of e-commerce where its no longer necessary to look the customer in the eye, shake their hand, and say please and thank-you. I can’t help but wonder when businesses will begin to realize that customer service provides a growing opportunity to differentiate their business from the competition.

    1. Hey Ian,

      Good point about e-commerce. And you are right, customer service can be the ultimate differentiator if approached correctly. It’s amazing how many businesses still don’t realize that.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

  6. That was the most entertaining article I’ve read in a long time, and a lot like my own writing style (when I had to do papers for school). And not just the method of the message, but the message itself was a good one, so thanks for the laughs from both!

  7. Adam,
    LOL! It’s so true… Customer service has hit an all time low. I thought maybe the “bad economy” would force businesses to treat their customers with success, but I guess not. One benefit however is that when the customer comes to you and finally realize that you are going to treat them right, they think you are awesome… These businesses who give bad customer service don’t seem to realize that if you treat people right they’ll STAY your customer, and become customers for life.

    1. That’s a good point Chad. It’s hard to quantify, but it really seems like the economic downturn had people cutting customer service initiatives, instead of investing in them. I certainly haven’t seen a Renaissance in customer service since 2008!

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  10. OK wait a second! There is such a thing as good customer service? I don’t believe it. If it exist, I haven’t seen it in years. If I do come across good customer service, I’m quickly disappointed by the same company shortly thereafter.

  11. Hey Adam,

    Send all those jaded customers my way. I’ll take them. It might take a few “sessions” to rid them of their past experiences, but I’ll take a few beatings in the process if my patience and persistence turns them into lifelong customers.

    1. Exactly Derek! They might need some TLC for awhile, but those customers are still a great opportunity to make customers for life. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Big companies are most at fault for this. The bad experience starts when you call in and get 30 options to choose from. It then gets worse when you are transfered to 3 different departments only to be told that “it’s not our policy sir”

    Then small compaines like me come along and take the customer and offer them good old fashioned one to one customer service.

    1. Thank you for your comment Any! There are certainly many large businesses that provide real opportunities for small businesses to win through better service. What is amazing to me is how many small businesses don’t provide a level of service that allows them to take advantage of this dynamic. Sound like that’s not the case with your organization — so kudos!

  13. this sounds like every second of doing business with The Financial Times. They even went from their amazingly crappy customer service based out of the United States to offshoring somewhere in Southeast Asia, with all of the “quality increase” you would expect.

    The race to save a buck bankrupts customer service on every level.

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