Top 10 ways to infuriate your customers

When, and if ever, is customer service going to catch up with customer expectations? With the multitude of tools and technology available in the market today to help businesses understand their customers better, one would wonder why there doesn't seem to be any improvement in service.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

When, and if ever, is customer service going to catch up with customer expectations? With the multitude of tools and technology available in the market today to help businesses understand their customers better, one would wonder why there doesn't seem to be any improvement in service.

I consider myself a reasonably easy customer to manage. I don't expect top-notch service everywhere I go, and I'm willing to overlook minor shortcomings in the services rendered. I also generally remain calm when dealing with helpdesk officers whom are paid--no doubt with the proceeds I forked out to purchase the service--to help me troubleshoot.

And yet, too often, businesses are fronted by a customer service setup that is incapable of managing customers. I recently encountered two examples of inadequate service management, with my mobile operator and the security vendor that produced my antivirus tool.

My experience with both companies inspired this Top 10 list of ways to piss off your customers. So, here goes...

1. Tell new customers that because they signed up for your service later than others, they will experience delayed service delivery.

Last month, I signed up for a new service to receive results of the latest lottery draw--yes, I have dreams of retiring early--via SMS (short messaging service). Somehow, I kept receiving the results 35 minutes later than my friends--who were customers of the same mobile operator--had received theirs.

So I called up the customer service desk, and was told that the results were delivered by batches, based on a queue system. As a result, customers who signed up for the service earlier would receive the results sooner than those who signed up later.

I then highlighted the fact that I pay the same service fee as those 'early-bird' customers, and a 35-minute delay was unacceptable.

2. When they don't buy that explanation, tell them it actually isn't a delay and that it's only a perceived delay.

To which, the customer service operator replied in a stern voice that it wasn't a delay, but the way the backend system works.

Wow, and I thought companies these days sold their services based on "transparency", where they stress the fact that their customers do not need to know how the back-end works. Rather, what matters most is that the customer's direct contact with the product or service is first-rate.

3. Make no apologies for deploying a back-end system that can't support the delivery of basic services.

So I promptly pointed out that as a customer, I shouldn't have to understand the back-end issues because at the end of the day, my experience with my mobile operator is that I'm encountering a 35-minute delay in receiving a service that depends on a timely delivery.

Rather than offer an apology for inefficiencies of the company's back-end system, the customer service officer repeated again that it wasn't a delay.

Seriously, just how many customers does it take to clog up a batch delivery system to create a 35-minute delivery gap? It's obviously time for my mobile operator to upgrade its back-end infrastructure.

4. Say you can't get your tech guys to help because you're only a customer support staff.

When I asked if her colleagues in the tech department could offer any assistance to fix the problem, the customer service staff said she couldn't ask them for much help.


5. Make no attempt to retain customers who complain about your service. Instead, repeatedly tell them they can always choose to cancel the service. Throughout the conversation, the service officer never once uttered "sorry" or even a "we regret the inconvenience".

Instead, the one phrase she kept asking was whether I wanted to cancel the service, which I eventually did, of course.

So now, I get my friends to forward the results to me--it's free and it's faster, no more 35-minute delay.

6. Be inept in using modern communication tools.

Then, three nights ago, I decided to log into an online chat session with a tech support staff who worked for the security vendor that manufactured my antivirus software. I was having problems receiving e-mail messages, and suspected it was caused by the e-mail scanning security tool.

For every five lines of text I typed out to explain the problem I was experiencing, the helpdesk staff responded with a single line and after a long two- to three-minute wait.

Wouldn't he--I'm assuming the username belongs to a male--be so used to handling chat sessions in his job that he would be able to be type more than 15 words a minute?

7. Get your helpdesk to keep telling your customers to troubleshoot by uninstalling and reinstalling the software they bought from you.

Failing to resolve my problem after a short series of tests, he then suggested I uninstalled and reinstalled the antivirus software. But, that's what I was hoping to avoid doing by contacting the helpdesk!

8. Tell your customers to wait two to three minutes while their problem is escalated to "a senior analyst", but return only after 10 minutes in a hope that the customer would have by then left in a huff.

Still, I decided to heed his advice in a desperate bid to at least achieve some results after the long consult. By that time, it was past 3 in the morning because it had taken two hours for him to relate his instructions via text.

Surprise surprise, the reinstallation did not help. He then said he needed to "escalate" my case to a senior tech analyst and asked if I could wait "2-3 minutes". After two hours, a couple of minutes didn't seem that bad.

I waited...and waited...and waited. It wasn't until more than 10 minutes later that the "senior tech analyst" finally entered the chat session.

9. When all else fails, have the helpdesk tell your customers the problem doesn't lie with your product. Point the finger instead at other companies such as the ISP, the hardware maker or the OS maker.

He repeated the same instructions that his "junior" colleague had given me earlier, and when that failed again to resolve the issue, he finally suggested that his company's product wasn't the problem.

Instead, he suggested that I approach either my ISP or the software maker from which I bought my e-mail client for help.

By then, at 4.30am, I was too exhausted to argue and promptly ended the chat session.

10. Give economy class customers, economy class service.

Over lunch with some industry folks the other day, one of them related a story about a friend who was on a flight to the United States. The airline's woolen blanket was shedding and had left specks of lint on his shirt. So he called a stewardess over and showed her what the airline's low-grade amenities had done.

The stewardess walked over, pointed to a sign on the aircraft and retorted: "It says Economy Class."

Oh boy, and I thought airlines were already charging too much for those darn narrow coach seats.

I fully understand why companies need to differentiate their service levels by the value of their clients. They are, after all, still a profit-based business and must ensure the top-value customers--who likely contribute to the bulk of the company's revenues--remain satisfied and well looked after.

But that in no way means their basic-tier customers, who make up the majority of their clientele, should receive shoddy service.

When you piss off 1,000 customers who pay $50 a month for your services, and they leave in exasperation to join your competitors' terrain, you just lost $50,000 of your market share to the competition.

Think about that before you next tell your helpdesk to flippantly suggest customers cancel your service if they're unhappy.

Have a horror customer service story to share?

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