Horror Complaints by Customers: When Good Requests Go Bad

Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper · 5 min read

Read what your customers write, and take the time to get to know their history.

Lousy customer service is scary. Not only is it frightening to be in the position of a customer service team member dealing with a customer complaint, but it’s terrifying to think about the fiscal impact of a bad experience. Companies in the US lose more than $62 billion annually due to the effects of poor customer experience. That’s something to scream about.

Both customers and agents have had experiences dealing with complaints. On the support side of things, dealing with issues is most team members’ bread and butter. That said, some scary situations are scarier than others. We’ve broken down five of the most alarming reasons for customer complaints and the best ways to solve them. We’ve even included our equivalent of ghost stories: examples of the scream-worthy ways some companies have handled them. Buckle in, and turn off the lights; things are about to get scary.

Sticking too much to policy

Policies exist for a reason: they remove ambiguity for your team members, they standardize the customer experience, and they serve to protect the company. That said, when stuck to too stringently, they make for a bad experience. We’ve all heard the recording of the Comcast employee consistently trying to upsell, and then denying service to a customer asking to cancel, right?

What about the Wal-Mart employee that refused to respect their own online discounted rates in-store? “I had to buy it on Walmart.com and do the free pickup option in the store to get the lower price,” reported the customer. “My son and I stood there and watched as another employee came by a few minutes later. They picked the item up off the shelf, and brought it back to the holding spot for pickup.” They ended up having to come back the next day to actually retrieve the product—terrible!

But worse than having poor policies is having policies that your team doesn’t understand or that they misrepresent. For instance, American Airlines delayed an internationally-known cellist flying with her instrument in the seat next to her due to a policy on size restriction. After three missed flights, it turned out that the policy flight attendants had been referencing didn’t exist. Yikes!

How to do it right

Policies are there for a reason and can be valuable both for the customer and your team. That said, empower your team members with opportunities to work around the policies, especially if it will be better for the customer. As long as it isn’t an issue of national public safety, you should be able to find a little bit of wiggle room every once in a while.

support team monsterDoing chat poorly

A recent study found that 79% of businesses believed implementing live chat resulted in increased customer loyalty, sales, and revenue. But that’s only if the chat is structured well. We’ve all been there when chat goes awry:

There are so many things wrong here. Beyond waiting about 30 minutes via chat to realize that there’s no help coming, the customer also received multiple canned responses. The chat provider never even introduced themselves with a human name. Here’s another horror show example, this time from Amazon:customer complaints

Truly the stuff of nightmares.

How to do it right

Take the time to make it personal. Introduce yourself to the customer—even if the response is automated, give your bot a human name to make the experience friendlier. Make sure that you respond to the customer quickly and carefully. If you cannot respond within a few minutes of them reaching out, direct them to another channel and reset their expectations.

Dig for as much context around the customer as possible. Make information like their account data, cross-channel support inquiries, and any contextual comments they left in the contact form available to agents, and be sure to read and review it before starting (or continuing) the conversation.

Keeping people on hold

Hold music is the worst music, isn’t it? When it comes to support, almost no one wants to have to wait for a response, especially if they’re on the phone and trying to fix their issue quickly. Most companies try to make customers’ wait times as quick as possible, except for one airline that kept a customer on hold for fifteen hours. At the end of the hold, they told the customer that they couldn’t resolve the issue. Then, he called back and got the issue resolved on the second try within just a few minutes

Most dissatisfied customers tell nine to 15 other people about their experience; some tell 20 or more. Living in the age of Twitter means that one tweet about a situation gone awry could potentially tank your company. Take the time to make sure that your phone experience doesn’t make your customers take time out of their day.

How to do it right

Create options for your customers to receive a callback rather than staying on the phone the whole time they are on hold. Prioritize customers with issues like account access or billing, and encourage other customers to reach out via channels that may be more conducive to fixing their trouble. Beyond that, pick good music.

customer service interviewsRefund requests

According to the Customer Rage Study, when complaining to a company, 87% of people want to be treated with dignity, but only 54% want their money back. The money is not the issue as much as the customers’ feeling of being respected. If it’s outside of your control to give a refund, find another way to explain the situation to your customers respectfully. If you take the time to explain your reasoning in a compassionate way to your customers, they’ll feel respected and you’ll continue to have a good relationship. If you lean on the explanation of “policy,” it makes your customers feel like they are just a number to you, despite their time using your product.

How to do it right

When you can, give a refund. If your hands are tied, explain to the customer why you can’t offer a refund in language that they can understand. Cut out all of the mysteriousness and be honest. It’s their money—they deserve to know and be respected.

Not taking your time

When you’re at the end of the day, and you’ve only got a few conversations left to go through, it can be tempting to rush. However, one of the easiest ways to make mistakes on a customer inquiry is not to read it thoroughly or take some time to dive in. Here’s an example:

A customer started by having a poor experience on a British Airways flight, and then tweeting about it:

customer complaints

The response to the tweet made it immediately evident that the team member assumed this was like other complaints, and used a canned response:customer complaints

Not only did the canned response fail to address the user’s problem, but the responder didn’t check that what they were saying was factually accurate. There is no better way to lose customer trust. The fact that this was on social media for millions to see makes the situation beyond horrifying.

How to do it right

Take the time to read what your customers are saying. If you have the option to double-check that something is working as expected, or trying to reproduce the customer’s issue before you respond, do it. Never assume—there’s a whole saying about that, you know!

It doesn’t have to be so scary

We know! After reading these stories, you’re going to have nightmares for weeks. Us too! That said, it doesn’t all need to be so horrific. Your customers are also humans, and deserve treatment as such. Take your time and understand where they are coming from and what their issues are. Read what your customers write, and take the time to get to know their history.

No one deserves to be left on hold for 15 hours (!!) or denied something they genuinely deserve just because your policy dictates it. With common human decency and a little bit of time to slow down, you can bring these conversations from horrifying to human in no time flat.

How did you like this blog?


Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper

Mercer is the Head of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter at @mercenator.

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