Customer Service Failures

“Sh*t happens is an unacceptable excuse for poor customer service”. – Bill Quiseng

Customer service failures are an inevitable part of businesses. However, why do these failures occur and why are some companies unable to ‘recover’ from them, whilst others do a better job at providing service to all their customers. It would seem obvious that customer service failures occur either because of some ‘bad and poor behaviour” on the part of a company, and at other times, due to the failure of the company in doing what the customer would expect.

What kinds of customer service failures do customers face, and as a company have you been able to fix them? One of the most frustrating things for customers is having to wait long to have their issues addressed or problems fixed. Most often, if a company messes up or a product is faulty, the duration taken to fix the problem often runs into weeks, by which time customers are at the point of leaving and spreading their negative experiences with others. This is perceived by customers as an attempt to either ignore their problems, or lack of experience and expertise to find the most appropriate solutions. In either case, the reputation of a company is negatively affected, and customers often deflect to the company’s nearest competitor.

Another extremely irritating and annoying of the customer service failures is when a company sends expired, or substandard quality products, or products that would be an older version of a ‘shiny and bright’ new version of a product. Why would customers accept products of inferior quality or those that would be obsolete (or nearly so)? It is the responsibility of a company to ensure that the packaging and transportation of products is the best, ensuring that they reach customers in perfect working condition and as they are meant to be. The fact is that even if a company offers ‘free shipping’, most often, the cost of shipping is already woven into the cost of the product, and customers are aware of this fact. In any case, customers deserve the quality of products that they would be paying for.

Customer love to and need to know. This means that they expect companies to keep in touch and communicate with them, such that they know what is happening on their order or any other matter they may have contacted a company to start with. It is imperative to update proactively the customer, rather than forcing the customer to check back constantly. Failure to communicate and keep customers informed is one of the gravest customer service failures, and too many repeats can turn the customer away for good.

What companies fail to realize is that customer service failures can prove to be extremely ‘costly’ and this is aside from monetary losses. Studies within the US showed that companies lose approximately $83billion per year owing to customer churn and abandoned ‘shopping carts’. Among other ‘costs’, the studies further show that at least 75% of customers believe that companies make them wait far too long before they can access a live service representative. About 78% customers leave a company owing to poor customer service – the service representatives were unable to respond to their queries swiftly and effectively enough or that the overall service provided was extremely dissatisfactory. The reality is that for companies to curb their losses and improve customer experiences, they must act immediately to get at the root causes of the customer service failures and prevent them at any cost.

Let us go back to looking at some of the gravest customer service failures on the part of companies. The one main reason why most interactions and transactions have become online is that people do not have time to waste, and everyone expects these interactions to be fast paced and efficient. Hence, when customers call a company, they do so expecting swift and effective responses, but become extremely irritated and disillusioned when they face long hold times, are transferred from one agent to the next, or the person ‘attending’ to their call proves ineffective in resolving their problem or seem uninterested in making any extra effort to help the customer. Long hold times for one customer has a trickle effect – the other customers who would call in, would also need to wait ‘in queue’, and may just ‘hang up’ after a few minutes. This amounts to poor customer service, and results in a loss of customers and revenue for the company.

Over promising and under delivering seems to be a ‘common ailment’ in several companies. From not keeping simple promises such as a call back, to displaying irresponsibility to replace faulty products, all amount to customer service failures, and are reasons enough to make customers ‘see red’. One of the most irritating things for customers is when they receive a wrong delivery order from a restaurant, and the company does not seem apologetic or take swift action to make the amends. Imagine receiving a non-vegetarian dish, if you were a vegetarian, or receiving a gravy item when you actually ordered pizza. It would seem obvious that these errors should be made right but companies seem to struggle with ‘putting themselves in the customer’s shoes’ and hence would be unable to meet the expectations of customers.

As a customer, would you want to associate with a company with poorly trained, inexperienced, slovenly, and discourteous staff? Yet, this is the common scenario for most companies. These companies fail to train their agents, equip them with updated technology, and do not empower them to make spot decisions to satisfy the needs of customers. When existing customers call, they expect that just providing their name would enable the service agents pull out their previous communication and ‘history’ with the company. However, when the agents seem ill-equipped to provide service and expect the customer to repeat their information, customer ire would be inevitable.

It is the age of multi-channel communication, and customers expect that a company would provide seamless and consistently good service across all the channels that the company makes available. Customers want to be able to get service when they want, and from any of the channels of communication available to them. Companies that are unable to do so, or provide erratic and slovenly service on even one of the channels, would be committing one of the worst customer service failures, and since customers have a wide range of companies and offerings to choose from, they would not hesitate to leave a company that disregards their needs.

To avoid and may be even eliminate customer service failures, a company must have some defined and written ‘definitions’ of service – a service level agreement, for example. Everyone in the company must remain aware of the promises made therein, and must know their role in keeping the promises made to customers. Having a robust service level agreement in place will ensure that each person in the company would understand the dangers of flouting the agreement, and hence would remain focused on the customer. A customer-centric culture and values would ensure that customer service failures are at a minimum, which in turn would prove beneficial to companies. It is possible that your company ‘suffers’ from some or all of the customer service failures mentioned – it would be important to lend immediate attention to the problematic areas, since even small efforts, can turn customer service failures into long-term successes for the company.


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