There’s no arguing that stories about bad customer service experiences are entertaining. They’re fun to laugh at and share, but we should also be learning from these customer service horror stories. After all, horrible service can come with a steep cost for your business, hurt your bottom line, and even kill your brand.
Why should we care about awful customer service?
According to a 2018 report, businesses lose $75 billion dollars a year because of awful customer service1. Another study found that one bad Yelp review can cost a business up to 30 customers, and negative reviews on Google can drive away 70% of potential customers2.
More than ever before, businesses need to be accountable to their customers and the general public. Thanks to the internet and social media, customer service horror stories can spread like wildfire (just ask British Airways, who learned this the hard way—more on that below) and attract all the wrong attention.
Now, let’s get into some of the worst customer service stories—and what we can learn from these big blunders:
- Customer went to new heights to get the attention of British Airways
- A $500 fine for… bad reviews?
- Amazon’s customer service got lost in translation
- Things got ugly at Sephora
- When trying to take advantage of a customer backfires
- Frontier Airlines drops the ball
- When customer service makes you GASP… but not in the good way
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1. Customer went to new heights to get the attention of British Airways
Airlines seem to be a magnet for some of the worst customer service stories (although there are some great customer service stories about airlines too). This one, however, stands out in the litany of horrible customer service on airlines.
Back in 2013, Hassan Syed took to Twitter to voice his displeasure when his father’s luggage was lost on a flight. He didn’t just tweet, however. He bought a promoted tweet, meaning he paid at least $1,000 to have his message broadcast to 50,000 other Twitter users. That’s one angry customer.
The tweet was sent to British Airways’ followers on Twitter, as well as the followers of news organizations, including Mashable and Advertising Age. The promoted tweet did its job, and the story went viral, ultimately reaching over 76,000 users.
But what was British Airways doing while this was unfolding?
Apparently, British Airways did not have anyone watching their social media accounts. They didn’t respond to the tweet for eight hours, and Syed dragged them for not having someone on-call to watch their social media accounts.
Syed’s father was eventually reunited with his luggage, but the incident was probably pretty embarrassing for British Airlines.
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The moral of the story is…
Social media has changed the game when it comes to pretty much every aspect of business and customer support. Even a common incident like lost luggage can easily blow up. It’s probably a good idea to have a team dedicated to monitoring social media channels and address customer service complaints before they go viral.
If you want to make sure no customer complaint goes unnoticed, RingCentral Engage Digital™ allows you to connect with customers wherever they may be, such as on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more) and messaging platforms (Messenger and WhatsApp):
And if a customer messages you from multiple sources, such as email, phone, and Twitter, Engage Digital allows you to merge all of these profiles so you have a complete view of the customer’s problem.
2. A $500 fine for bad reviews
Customer reviews can make or break a business. Although the dreaded bad review can be a very useful piece of customer feedback and a chance to improve a product or service, no one wants a public negative review.
The Union Street Guesthouse in New York, however, made the mistake of trying to scare their customers away from leaving bad reviews. They threatened to fine wedding parties $500 if anyone posted a negative review online. And that fine would apply for every negative review.
Yeah, that didn’t work out so well for USG. The backlash was swift and merciless—within a day of the story breaking there were over 700 eviscerating reviews on their Yelp page, although USG deleted most of those (deleting negative reviews is also a bad move, but that’s a story for another day).
The moral of the story is…
Yes, negative reviews are scary and can do real damage to a business. The way to prevent and redress negative reviews, however, is to not threaten hefty fines. Businesses should see bad reviews as a way to improve themselves
3. Amazon’s customer service got lost in translation
Customer service live chats are a way of keeping up with customer service issues and resolving issues quickly. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t go so well.
An Amazon customer suspected that someone was trying to phish his account and reached out to a customer service representative over live chat. Unfortunately, the customer service representative that he got matched with wasn’t well-suited for resolving the issue. The representative, “Farah,” got the customer’s name wrong, addressed him as “ma’am”, took 5–15 minutes to respond to each message, and the whole interaction was confusing and frustrating.
The customer, who had run out of patience, eventually begged Farah to transfer him to someone else. Farah was unable to do this and took the customer’s phone number instead. The customer never received the phone call, but he called Amazon and eventually managed to get the issue sorted out.
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In order to figure out what exactly happened, Business Insider started a customer service chat with Amazon. They figured out there was a significant language barrier between Farah and the frustrated customer and that Amazon outsources customer service representatives to India. Those representatives respond to customers with pre-written scripts.
The moral of the story is…
Carefully hire and train your customer service reps! They’re the face of a business and a terrible customer experience can sour someone’s entire view of your business. In this specific instance, the customer was worried about the security of his account, which is a pretty significant issue that should have been dealt with promptly and competently.
While pre-written customer service scripts can be a good idea for dealing with some common customer complaints, a customer service rep should be able to resolve issues on their own (or get someone else involved).
Consider using contact center software to make your customer service team’s jobs easier. For example, RingCentral Contact Center™allows customer service agents to transfer their customer to an agent with the right customer service skills—or for a manager to join or take over a conversation if the agent is struggling.
4. Things got ugly at Sephora
In October 2018, Revelist took to Reddit and uncovered some of the worst customer service stories experienced at the beauty giant Sephora, which are all pretty horrifying and downright insulting and cruel:
It doesn’t stop there. In April 2019, the beauty giant came under fire when singer SZA tweeted about her experience of being racially profiled at their Calabasas location.
Sephora gave a vague response that wasn’t quite an apology, which was met with hundreds of tweets from other Sephora customers sharing stories of racism, ageism, and demanding the company to do better. Sephora eventually closed all of their US stores for diversity training.
The moral of the story is…
Please be nice to your customers. No one wants to be insulted, dismissed, or racially profiled while shopping. Rude service will only drive customers away and—thanks to the wide-reaching and incendiary effects of social media—it’s very easy to lose the trust of your customer base.
5. When trying to take advantage of a customer backfires
This story was shared on a Reddit thread about terrible customer service and has a pretty satisfying twist. An AT&T technician came to deal with an internet issue and attempted to take advantage of the homeowner, and even lied about the issue in order to upsell her.
The story ends with the triumphant customers leaving AT&T forever. Not only did they get a new internet service provider, they spread the word to all of their friends, family, and roommates.
Learn about 9 key customer service principles.
The moral of the story is…
Don’t try to take advantage of customers. Don’t try to misrepresent the situation and push other products and services that they don’t need and aren’t interested in. Also, don’t assume what your customer does or does not know about your business.
6. Frontier Airlines drops the ball
Oh look, another airline story. (Seriously, why do airlines have so many bad customer service stories?)
This time, bad weather forced an Orlando-bound airplane to reroute and land in a different airport. Frustrating, but it happens. On that flight, however, were two children aged 9 and 7 returning from visiting their grandparents. Luckily, Frontier took care of the kids, kept them safe, and made sure they were always accompanied by an attendant. They eventually took all of the unaccompanied children (6 in total) to a hotel for the night.
What Frontier didn’t do, however, was take care of the parents.
The parents were waiting at the Orlando airport and had no idea where their kids were. They knew that the flight had been rerouted but had no information about the whereabouts or safety of their children. The Frontier Airlines staff at Orlando were unhelpful, and the parents didn’t get any updates from anyone. They didn’t know their kids were being taken to a hotel for the night, and they didn’t know which hotel or who was with their kids.
Luckily, one of the kids borrowed a phone and texted their parents.
But it gets worse.
The parents, who probably went through a very frustrating and frightening experience, complained to the airline and to the news. Instead of apologizing or taking accountability for the mishap, Frontier issued a non-apology: “We understand how an unexpected delay caused by weather can be stressful for a parent and our goal is to help passengers get to their destinations as quickly and safely as possible.”
If you do get caught in a bind, here’s how to write an apology letter.
The moral of the story is…
Don’t forget that the customer is a human with emotions. Imagine being those panicked parents looking for their children and getting zero help. If someone from Frontier had simply called the parents with updates as soon as possible—and followed-up—imagine how much calmer and reassured the parents would have felt.
7. When customer service makes you GASP… but not in the good way
GASP is an Australian fashion company that found itself at the center of a scandal for their awful customer service. A small bridal party went into the store to try on some dresses, and the salesperson assisting them was rude, pushy, and generally unpleasant to be around.
The experience escalated to the salesperson actually insulting the customers. When a customer declined to try something else on, he exploded: “Look at what you’re wearing. Let me find you something to wear so that you can dress good for once in your life!”
The customer emailed the store’s management, who responded thoughtfully and sincerely with apologies and offered a generous discount to make amends. Looks like GASP did the right thing, right?
Until similarly atrocious customer service happened again, at another location, but at the hands of the same salesperson. The salesperson was pushy, impatient, and insulting. When it was clear he had lost the sale, he told the once-potential customers: “I knew you girls were a joke the minute you walked in!”
The customer complained to management, but it was a different story this time. Here’s the whole response, with some of the most egregious parts highlighted:
Having now had the privilege of having both versions of events, I am now in a position to respond to your complaint. From the very outset, one thing that you should be mindful of is; Our product offerings are very, very carefully selected, so as to ensure that we do not appeal to a broad customer base. This is something which is always at the forefront of our minds when undertaking buying duties.
The reason for this is to ensure that we only carry products which appeal to a very fashion forward consumer. This by default means that the customer whom is acclimatized to buying from “clothing for the masses” type retailers, is almost frightened by our range, sometimes we have found that this type of customer, almost finds our dresses funny, and on occasion noted comments such as ‘it looks like a dead flamingo’. When we receive comments like this, we like to give ourselves and our buyers, a big pat on the back, because we know we are doing our job right, and modus operandi is being upheld.
Our range is worn by A list celebrities to the likes of Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry to name only a few. Now, as one might appreciate, the style counsel for these types of celebrities are not ones to pick “run of the mill” type clothing, and they do so on the basis to ensure that the styles are cutting edge, and only worn by a select few. Similarly these items are priced such that they remain inaccessible to the undesirable.
Insofar as our employee goes; Similar to our product offerings, our employees are selected with a similar approach. Chris whom served you is a qualified stylist whom has a sixth sense for fashion, and Chris’s only problem is that he is too good at what he does, and as I am sure you are aware, people whom are talented, generally do not tolerate having their time wasted, which is the reason you were provoked to leave the store.
Whilst I concede that you work for a chain retailer, unfortunately that does not make us like for like. It is probably fair to assume, a lot of what I have said in this email, either doesn’t make sense to you, or you totally disagree with it all, which is what I would expect (unless of course I have you totally wrong – which I doubt)… Chris is a retail superstar, who possesses unparalleled ability, and I am sorry you feel upset by him, but he knew you were not going to buy anything before you even left your house.
So if you would like to do us any favours, please do not waste our retail staff’s time, because as you have already seen, they will not tolerate it. I am sure there are plenty of shops that appease your taste, so I respectfully ask that you side step our store during future window shopping expeditions.
Instead of being apologetic, understanding, and offering to make amends, this customer was insulted yet again and actually encouraged to stay away from the business in the future.
But it doesn’t end there! In an email exchange between the manager and the salesperson, the salesperson referred to the customer in even more insulting terms: “f—– immature little fat b—-”, “an absolute pig and would probably go into stores acting like this stuck up f– b—-.”
Needless to say, the story blew up. In response to all the publicity, the manager doubled down on how he handled the situation and issued this bizarre statement to the complainant:
“GASP’s official statement to the young lady who started this tremendous publicity stunt for our company is that, we would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for putting our business on the national and international stage.”“Notwithstanding your ill intentions, our business has experienced unprecedented sales volume, and we would like to thank you for all your assistance in helping to achieve this… she is still banned from attending any of our stores until she formally apologised for her rude behaviour and promised to behave in a civilized manner.”
“To all the rude and obnoxious clowns, we respectfully ask that you get out and stay out, we don’t want you or your business. We ask that you share your misconceived and unfounded remarks amongst yourselves. Have a nice day and good luck.”
The moral of the story is…
It appears GASP hasn’t suffered much since all of this blew up—and they are not at all interested in improving their customer service experience. This story is a pretty obvious way of how not to treat customers or how not to manage negative publicity. Don’t insult customers to their face, over emails, or in the news.
It’s a pretty awful way to treat people, but at least it looks like their behavior has backfired. On the Australian review website ProductReview, they’re sitting on a one-star rating with 16 reviews decrying their poor customer service. And although they claimed to have enjoyed “unprecedented” sales, they had some financial troubles in 2013, their website is down, and their Facebook and Twitter accounts haven’t posted since 2017.
What can we learn from examples of bad customer service?
Customer service is an essential aspect of any business or company. In fact, customer service can make or break a company, especially in the age of social media when stories of horrible customer service can spread in the blink of an eye.
In these stories, it’s pretty obvious where things went wrong and disaster ensued. While working in customer service can be trying, it’s important for representatives to remember just how important their job is.
And if you’re killing the customer service game? Go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back and laugh (or cringe) at these wild and ridiculous stories.
Originally published Mar 16, 2020, updated Mar 19, 2021