Why Most Customer Service Sucks

Ann All

Many of us have probably suffered through the kind of abysmal customer service experience Chris Curran relates on his CIO Dashboard blog. He and a business partner were shuffled from an airport check-in counter to a ticket office and back again while trying to correct an online booking error made by the partner.


While they could purchase tickets and print itineraries via the Web and at the ticket office, neither function could be performed at the check-in counter (despite the fact that an agent almost certainly had a PC in front of him or her and so, in theory, could access the relevant information). In addition, they could only change a reservation or print a boarding pass at the ticket office for tickets purchased there and not online. As Curran writes:

At a glance, it looks like the Web channel is pretty capable but that the rest of the business needs to catch up.

I vowed to never again voluntarily bump myself from a flight in exchange for a travel voucher after an experience I had with Delta. When I went to use a Delta-issued voucher online, I was informed the voucher could only be used for travel booked offline. After driving to the airport to do so, I learned the fares available offline were all more expensive than those I could get online. Grrrr. And guess what, now that I don't have to fly Delta for business, I don't fly Delta at all.


So what do our experiences prove? For one, companies need to better integrate the customer experience across channels. Don't give us the ability to buy something online and then make it difficult for us to exchange or otherwise revise it in the real world. Make sure we can get the same deals in virtual and physical stores.


IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson wrote about it last month, citing a post from Monkchips blogger James Governor in which he contends too many companies have replaced true customer relationship management with salesforce automation. One of his greatest points: CRM should be about keeping customers, not acquiring them. As Loraine says, that means CRM should encompass not just sales information, but call centers, customer incidents, orders and analytics. Amen, sister.


But here's the thing: Even well-integrated customer channels won't solve a problem that often arises in the "last mile" of customer service, the employee who can't help you anyway. (I suspect this factored into Curran's airport experience at least once, if not multiple times.) As Strativity Group founder Lior Arussy told me when I interviewed him in July, just 39 percent of respondents to a Strativity Group survey said their employees had the tools and authority to solve customer problems. He said:

That is a shocking statement. Basically 61 percent of employees show up to work and the best thing they have to offer customers is their smile.

As Arussy noted, with self-service channels (like the Internet), companies are, in essence, outsourcing Tier 1 support to their customers. So, he said:

... When they seek human interaction, they are looking for somebody who can break the rules or think outside the box for them. They want somebody with the authority to get the job done. If you outsource Tier 1 to the customer, they want you to be ready with Tier 2 when they need help.

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Jan 5, 2010 11:43 AM Loraine Lawson Loraine Lawson  says:

Thanks for the mention. To be honest, though, Governor made the point about CRM needing to include As call centers, customer incidents, orders and analytics. I hope that was clear in my post, but maybe it wasn't.

Aug 10, 2010 10:57 AM iPoulator iPoulator  says:

Am I wrong or is the general public looking for great customer service? Can I even say excellent customer service or is that reaching for the stars? I don't believe it's about cost. So why are most companies out-sourcing?   

I am appalled at the customer service industry in general and how it has deteriorated so over the last twenty years. It is at the point where people working in the industry just don't care anymore;it seems they just show up looking for a pay check. If there is a problem to deal with, a service rep these days will always try to pass the buck or give the, "I don't know" response, or "have you tried calling..." The majority of customer service representatives these days don't wish to take responsibility for trying to resolve customer issues from the get go. 

Not many had heard of tiered level support twenty years ago. I believe it's that pass the buck mentality the industry has made a standard nowadays (to which we customers have really no choice but to embrace) that allows the problem to escalate to such a point at which the customer ends up beyond frustrated and/or irate;would or does use profanity, and threatens to sue or even kill someone. If any of the aforementioned happens and the situation gets worse, the customer service representative still has the upper hand because at the first sign of customer profanity or anger, they have the option of leaving the call and the customer is still left wounded and ALONE.

It appears that when customer service reps encounter a problem, there has to be some kind of computer malfunction, and they have no idea what to do next. Most don't think anymore;they need a screen prompter to tell them what to do next. It's sad but true, most people are not trained to keep customers, they are just trained to acquire. NEXT customer.

Here is my approach to customer service. I call it the "Old School Approach to Customer Service", but if you want to keep and maintain a great customer relationship, it is a sure way to WIN and KEEP your customer for as long as you both need each other.

LISTEN and LOOK for the "BIGGER PICTURE" (there is always an ulterior motive for a customer to do something - find out what it is if you can). There are always NEEDS and WANTS. If you've really listened, your job is half done. Re-iterate to the customer (based on what you've heard) what you believe their problem is and OFFER your solution to the customer right away. Make sure that your solution will be of benefit to the customer (ie.it will resolve the problem because...), and be sure to explain the BENEFIT of the solution to the customer. Check for satisfaction, and other NEEDS or WANTS. If there is need for further help, feel free to start the process all over again. 

If you do not obtain a correct solution don't panic, back-up and start over. You must make sure you UNDERSTAND the customer NEEDS and WANTS. Only at that point will you be able to deliver an appropriate solution to correct the problem. Throughout your contact with the customer, always ask for the customer's approval so that you DO NOT ASSUME anything and charge down the wrong path. Asking for approval may seem repetitive but you will see the customer actually appreciates that you are on the same page with him or her because you are constantly checking in with them.    Reply

Aug 10, 2010 10:57 AM iPoulator iPoulator  says:
A customer needs you to be there for him or her. IT IS WRONG TO LEAVE A CUSTOMER JUST HANGING.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Customer service is a long term COMMITMENT. You MUST be in a position to give a customer exactly what they want, when they want it, and most importantly live up to any promises you made to your client. Remember, UNDER PROMISE &OVER DELIVER goes a long way. You MUST check for satisfaction. If they are SATISFIED, then you will continue to obtain their business. Their satisfaction is the key to developing rapport and loyalty with one's customer. Remember, they will expect nothing less going forward (I call this part spoiling the customer). I tend to think of it as a mother and child relationship however, give and take must go both ways. During the relationship, if you begin to fail to deliver regularly, YOUR customer will begin to feel abandoned and try to find someone else who will "love" them more. An angry (but doesn't show it) customer will have you jumping through hoops just to end up giving their business to someone they feel deserves it more in hopes they've taught you a valuable lesson.LEARN.

Keep in mind, the best business you can hope to gain or lose is generated through word of mouth. A loyal customer is the one that refers you, your business, and/or your services.

I can't figure out why customer service is so difficult. But then, is it not true ...relationships that do not work is because each is on an entirely different page. Now that's fodder for another Blog.

Mar 17, 2011 5:32 AM mike mike  says:

I had a very bad customer service experience and so made a song and video about it that I posted on YouTube.  In today's day and age, people have a wider audience so it's important to always listen to Ann All or look what can happen . . .


May 22, 2011 8:04 AM Brutal Truth Brutal Truth  says: in response to iPoulator

"I can't figure out why customer service is so difficult.  But then, is it not true ... relationships that do not work is because each is on an entirely different page."

Probably because they are underpaid? You generally get what you pay for. If the man on the other end of the phone at a call center isn't that helpful, next time ask yourself "How much do I think he is getting paid?". Next time someone at McDonalds doesn't smile and thank you for your business when you order your Big Mac, ask yourself, "How much does he get paid? And can he afford to make ends meet on his insultingly low wage?"

May 27, 2011 12:45 PM jimmy jam jimmy jam  says: in response to iPoulator

bitch you need to realize that people like me don't give good customer service because people like you are fucking whiny morons. s

Jun 9, 2011 11:03 AM Joshua Joshua  says: in response to jimmy jam

I currently work at BestBuy and for the last 2 years I have been dealing alot with customer service issues, so I do have some experience in the matter.  For the most part customer service is the most abused department in the store, we rarely deal with happy people and are constently being told how stupid we are, getting yelled at, cussed out, and often many of us get death threats.  Basicly we slowly resent customers because for barly above minimum wage we take the abuse for the entire company, and in many times we are made to be the bad guys so that mangement can come in and break the rules and play hero, thus adding insult to injury as abusive customers get what they want and we just get thrown under the bus.  While I do feel that it is sad that many people do not get the support that they deem nessicary, please keep in mind that the next time you go to customer service that they have probily already been yelled and screamed at numerous times before that same day.  For example, yesterday I was on hour 2 of a 7.5 hour shift (No lunch and no breaks for the entire shift) and so far I have been told to go to hell around 7 or 8 times already just because we are sold out of Ipad 2s...

Jun 9, 2011 12:10 PM Ann All Ann All  says: in response to Joshua

Appalled - but not surprised - to hear about your experiences, Joshua. Reinforces the point I was trying to make about companies not giving front-line service agents the appropriate information, policies and processes they need to provide good service.

Jul 1, 2011 11:59 AM George George  says: in response to Ann All

What a lot of people don't realize is that CSRs (customer service representatives) are often times stuck between a rock and a hard place, the company we work for and the customers we serve. I work for AT&T Mobility doing over the phone support. Actually I work for a vendor company that handle's AT&T's customers. That's right folks AT&T Mobility cares about you so much as a customer that they outsource your service calls to other companies to deal with. Whenever a customer calls in I am required by AT&T to follow this specific call flow: warmly greet the customer, verify the account, show empathy for their problem, solve their problem, transition to sales, sale the customer a wireless feature to add revenue to the company, recap what we talked about, close the call and thank them for their business. How often do you think this call flow is followed? How often do you think its possible to follow this call flow when dealing with extremely angry and abusive people? It doesnt matter though how hard it is because AT&T requires it on EVERY call therefore our supervisors could fire us for not adhering to it. Mixed in with this call flow are other things we are required to say such as our name twice, the customer's name twice, we must thank them for their business 3 times, and must give them special thanks if they happen to have a smartphone. There's actually a few more but I think you get the point. And of course these are required to be said on EVERY call. That's the company then there's the customers themselves. AT&T ranks their customers by how much revenue they generate and higher ranked customers are generally the rudest and hardest to deal with because their used to getting their ass kissed by AT&T.  Most of our customers are overwhemingly demanding and it gets tiring trying to appease some moron on the phone who thinks he's entitled to a free iphone because he's been a customer since 2008. Its not that we don't want to help people and try to resolve the issue. We are human too though and how easy is it for anyone to work when they are being yelled at in the ear about how stupid they are and how they are liars? Furthermore why would I go out of my way for you if you are cursing me out and calling me ugly names? Why would I credit your bill or push your upgrade up a few months if you're treating me badly for a situation I didnt cause and that I'm just now learning about? People don't think that way when they call in. Probably because they know they can get away with it. You can't go to your doctor when your sick and curse him out because he'll probably through you out of the office but alas we cannot hang up on abusive customers. Then of course people will say "well that's your job". Like a previous commentator mentioned we really aren't paid that well. I make $10 an hour. Is $10 an hour worth it to you to go through the above mentioned? I am in the process for searching for another job but I found this site and just wanted to post my insights as an employee/victim of the customer service industry and why in my opinion customer service today sucks.

Sep 3, 2011 2:25 AM egg egg  says: in response to Brutal Truth

Its a job and pay has nothing to do with it.  If your not doing your job you're bad at it.  If your not paid what you desire this gives you no right to falsely represent a company by providing lousy service.  You do have choices if your not happy but don't take it out on an innocent person seeking what they paid for!

Sep 3, 2011 2:29 AM egg egg  says: in response to jimmy jam

That is no way to speak to someone jimmyjam!  You need to learn some manners.  Under no circumstance do you reserve the right to insult someone verbally and demean them.  That is a form of mental abuse and you can be held accountable for your actions so think before you speak. 

Sep 3, 2011 2:36 AM egg egg  says:

I think we all fell victim to poor service at some time or another.  If you take the time to further investigate before it happen I think you'll realize it could have been prevented.  Under no circumstance does this make it right but it is preventable.  In the end I think we settle for easy way out & become victims.  It really boils down to time and how much we have.  Consumers really need a website which does a better job providing more facts about corporations.  A tool like this could really prevent much of this heartache. 

Sep 3, 2011 2:50 AM egg egg  says:

I do realize some websites exist which are helpful but I find them to be bloated & difficult to locate facts.  Many designers are under misconceptional belief a website should be large and full of links.  Colleges often press their students to fill a page up and make it look full.  Problem with this is what I mentioned above.  It disorients a person and makes your search more time consuming and becomes easy to get lost.  While I understand why they emphasize this point from a glamour point of view to some this isn't a fashion show but rather a fact finding mission.  Whole purpose why many of us use the web is to locate information and its a little difficult to accomplish that when sites are poorly maintained and designed. 

Another problem is some websites are full of speculation or personal experience.  We need a site which shows us history of a company and its ownership.  Specifics like backdoor phone numbers past and present as well as investors and ownership.  As a consumer who purchases many of their products on a regular basis you're legally entitled to that information.  It also wouldn't kill congress to make it a requirement for them to publicly post it on their websites.  A website which provides all this at one location to me is an ideal one stop shop.

Sep 12, 2011 10:33 AM huh huh  says: in response to egg

Pay has alot to  do with how  well   people are motivated  to   do   their work plus if they even   want  to do the work at all. would  you   walk around a dog  park and pick up  poop for  $7 an hour and lousy benefits? probably not but would you do it for $50 an hour  plus excellent  benefits? I  imagine you would give it a second thought. if people in customer service  are paid lousy (and almost all of them are) and they have  to deal with stupid people (yes a lot  of customers are just stupid been  in the industry) day in and  day out  is in any   surprise they aren't motivated? you cant expect people to try to excel  in their job in every customer interaction if the csr ends up in the  same  place  whether they are outstanding or mediocre. from their perspective it makes sense to work less if it produces the same  benefits  as  working hard does.

Apr 5, 2012 8:25 AM WD WD  says: in response to jimmy jam

And when people like you don't give good customer service, people like iPoulator complain.

The key thing to remember is YOU'RE the one doing a job; YOU'RE the professional and YOU'RE the one people are looking to for help.  You are the one who should be providing excellent service without question - no matter how annoying or dissatisfied customers may become.

Apr 10, 2012 3:39 AM CSR-response to WD CSR-response to WD  says: in response to WD

"The key thing to remember is YOU'RE the one doing a job; YOU'RE the professional and YOU'RE the one people are looking to for help." HA HA HA. Customer service is a crap, low wage job and there is nothing professional about it. If you can read and type your qualified for 90% of call center jobs.  "You are the one who should be providing excellent service without question- no matter how annoying or dissatisfied customers may become." What planet do you live on where someone making $10 an hour is supposed to want to go above and beyond for some asshole complaining about non life threatening trivial issues in your ear all day? I'd love to see how well your customer service skills are after being screamed at for 40 hours a week by complete strangers on top of juggling stupid company goals like sales and handle time. If people want good customer service to become industry standard they need to do two things. 1) Put pressure on companies to pay CSRs a better wage and offer better benefits. Just like everyting else in this world companies pay for what they get. If a company wants to pay just above minimum wage and offer crap benefits it'll reap a crap performance out of its unmotivated workforce. 2) Customers need to behave themselves when dealing with CSRs and treat them like actual human beings. A customer does themself no good by making an ass out of themself in a store or over the phone. If you can calmly explain your problem or issue to me I can work to get it resolved or get you to the person/department that can. If you scream at me and say things like "you all are  stupid" or "does anyone know how to do their job" that makes me angry and I'm less apt to want to help you. My job description is customer SERVICE which doesn't  include taking abuse from an overemotional complete stranger. 

Apr 11, 2012 1:42 AM Harry Harry  says: in response to CSR-response to WD

Its hard for people who have never worked in customer service to understand the difficulty of the job. they don't understand metrics or sales goals or any of the behind the scenes nonsense CSRs go through. While customers can be nasty I really think the root of the bad customer service epidemic is the employers.  Corporate America has destroyed customer service because its only about the bottom line anymore. They pay the employees as little as possible and implement customer unfriendly polices in order to boost the value of their shares. So customers needing help are connected to unmotivated, underpaid, overstressed, employees. Its a bad situation all around.

Apr 22, 2012 4:18 AM Dee Dee  says: in response to Harry

Sadly, those who have never worked in customer service have no idea what we really go through. I work on a selling floor for a large and prestigious cosmetic brand and from experience, you can be as friendly, helpful and sympathetic to a customer as you are required but at the end of the day, we have taught these people that if they jump up and down, curse and scream, they are more likely to get their way. Customers know they can get away with this behavior. There have been moments where I have actually been brought to tears by the cruelty and harsh words of the customers I have tried to assist. I recently had a customer tell me to "f*$% off, and get a real job" after explaining to her we did not stock a certain item. That simple, we did not have an item, and that was the treatment I got. How is that fair? Could I respond? No, I had to smile, apologize again and just take it. This woman had no idea that I am also a full time student, studying my butt off to get a "real job". It is belittling and humiliating and unfortunately we have no rights. I can tell you right now being spoken to in such demeaning ways gets old very quick and perhaps that is why customer service standards are dropping. It cuts both ways people, we are there to help of course that is our job. But a little consideration and courtesy on your behalf helps aswell. I love my job, it can be very fulfilling but it takes only one person at times to bring your mood down. Imagine a stranger coming into your workplace and cussing you out for reasons beyond your control? Think about that the next time you go to yell at a CSR for something that is not directly their fault.

Apr 29, 2012 11:18 AM Dan Yell Dan Yell  says: in response to Dee

Great blog that contains views from several angles.  I work in customer service for a major insurance company.  It was my first call center job.  I have seen the company transition from a telephony architecture that did not have an intricate automated attendendant, to one like AT&T's.  One of the metrics we had was customer satisfaction score.  It was always easy for me to maintain it with the old system, but the new architecture routed the more difficult calls to reps that were trained in multiple skill sets; i.e. home, auto, and new business reps.  I did research on echopass and found an article from my company's VP of operations who stated that "echopass is smart enough to recognize callers who are in the 45 day renewal window and route them to specially trained representatives who have a better chance of retaining that policy".  I went from "excellent " in all my metrics to "not meeting" in customer satisfaction within 30 days.

My call flow became restricted.   If a Customer was not in the renewal window I didn't talk to them.  This created average speed of answer problems for the company who scrambled to offer overtime to employees that didn't want to take it because of the wind of change that blew into a company that was once great to work for.  I remember in the early months after its release I went from taking an average of 70 calls a day to 30 and they were all "WHY DID MY RATES GO UP! I AM LIVING ON A FIXED INCOME!  MY CAR IS A YEAR OLDER!  I HAVE NEVER FILED A CLAIM!  YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO HAVE RATES FOR RETIRED PEOPLE!  I AM WRITING OBAMA!"  And my solutions are limited, I do empathize with the customer but generally they want the same coverage with a cheaper price and are not interested in the benefits that set us apart from other insurance companies. The reps who are not as seasoned take back to back calls all day and look at home and auto reps with the thought of "why aren't you getting any calls?"  "There are calls in queue and you are just sitting there."

Many employees lost their jobs because of customer satisfaction,  until our employee surveys eliminated that metric and replaced it with a company satisfaction score.  Now I have figured the game out.  I am consistently among the top 15% of reps country wide and still take a majority of renewal rate increase calls (90%).  I have turned into a scripted employee only because the architecture has created emotional factory work by design and I have reached these consistent metrics by realizing that in the end the company does not care about the customer, they just want front line scapegoats who do.

Jun 12, 2012 4:52 AM Miss D Miss D  says: in response to egg

Bull Sh$T...a new  type website would serve no better purpose as most people do not READ the information thatis already provided in disclaimers on company websites or stay on the line long enough to get all of the information we as customer service reps are required to spell out to each customer.

People want what they want, and they want it in a hurry. They lack patience, and manners to be kind inturn to a rep who is only trying to help  them. I have been rushed off the phone by customers in such a hurry to go do whatever and cant wait 5 seconds while I informthem of their consumer rights as required. Then they call back and swear the rep never told them this or that. This is why calls get recorded to back up the company (although they claim it is for the consumers protection).

People do not care what your job description is or about how the CSR is often limited in how they can be of help due to having thier hands tied to company rules and will lose their job if they "think outsdie a corporate box" or go above the level of service required. Often times I know of an solution and want to go above the acceptable level of service and wow the customer. I was even yelled at...oh wait "coached" by my supervisor, to  "stop over delivering and being too helful with customers because we have Talk time limits and financial goals to meet".

At Verizon, you have to complete a call in 7 minutes or less. You have to follow a script and 2000 other rules and teach the customer how to use "self service options on the web or throught the automated system".

As mentioned befroe, reps get paid very low wages and are expected to handle high volumes of customers and accept customer abuse with a smile. As you stated, no one should be abused..not even a rep.  Money does matter...you want lick-your-@ss service, then pay good money for it...I am sure there is someone willing to kiss your hiney for a nice fee.

I used to love helping people, now I just want to be a hermit. I play the @ss kiss game at work everyday, and I am a top sales person in our company. I find ways to work under the radar so I can deliver to the customer and still keep my job. I hate feeling like I have to be that way...phony...but hey it pays the bills-barely. People have become spoiled from living super fast-instant access and instant grtification society. The customers are rude and think having money and spending it in your business entitles them to be rude and obnoxious.

Jun 12, 2012 5:26 AM Miss D Miss D  says: in response to Harry

I agree with all of What Harry said. 

Jun 12, 2012 5:39 AM Miss D Miss D  says: in response to egg

Dear Egg,

The information regarding "backdoor phone numbers" and company ceo info can often be found on "backdoor websites" for the companies. If you search for the info as, or call the company as potential investor, you will find out all of the information you are seeking.

The reason you can't find it on the customer website is the same reason why they have us CSR's there in the first place...the big guys don't want to speak to you personally because they don't wan to hear your complaints...that's what I am supposed to do and then make you buy something else while I'm at it.

Oct 9, 2012 1:56 PM Salena Salena  says: in response to iPoulator
iPoulator, I couldn't have said it better myself. Being a person on both sides of the spectrum (customer and customer service rep/manager) I can respect the value of good customer support and great customer relationships. If we all take the time to understand each other, we will eliminate a lot of the issues that arise during the customer service process. While I know that customers get frustrated and want to scream and cuss us out, it is still our responsibility to keep a level head and diffuse the situation. At the same time, the customer needs to try to understand that the rep (if in fact they are) is doing his/her best to resolve the initial problem and cannot effectively do so if they are being yelled at and getting emotional. Reply
Oct 9, 2012 2:05 PM Salena Salena  says: in response to Ann All
I have been saying this for years. Management sets the rules, tells the employees to enforce them, and when the customer gets upset with the employee for doing his/her job, the manager comes in and "fixes everything." Now, the employee is standing there with egg on his face while the customer happily gets his way and the manager gets all the thanks for doing what the "stupid employee should/could have done in the first place." Reply
Oct 21, 2012 9:25 AM phillip phillip  says:
Asking someone who is paid just above minimum wage to keep a level head as someone screams at them about a trivial issue they didn't cause is a bit much. Customers and companies want better customer service, start treating CSRs like human beings. Also customer service means getting a resolution to an inquiry or problem. It doesn't mean the customer gets their way in every single interaction with the company no matter what. People seem to think not getting their way equals bad customer service. Reply
Oct 21, 2012 9:33 AM phillip phillip  says:
Is there a worst job out there than customer service? You're paid barely above miminum wage to indure incompetent managers, ridicolous corporate policy, abusive customers, and extremely high stress. Until companies and customers start paying and treating CSRs better nothing will change about the lack of customer service this thread was started to complain about. Reply
Oct 21, 2012 9:35 AM Phillip Phillip  says:
Customer service involves pay barely above minimum wage, constant changing corporate policy, constantly changing metrics, incompetent management, irate and often abusive customers, monotonous work, and extremely high stress. Until companies and customers start paying and treating CSRs better nothing will change about the abysmal customer service in society the OP started this thread to complain about. Reply
Dec 7, 2012 4:23 AM iPodulator iPodulator  says:
I have been a professional customer service provider for over twenty six years. I never forget that I am also a customer. Reply
Dec 24, 2012 1:40 AM Mikey Mikey  says:
Being someone who's worked a run-down seasonal CS job, I know exactly where you guys are coming from. You're over worked, underpaid and to add insult to injury, you take a lot of BS from people who are ignorant, self centred and downright stupid. Stupidity is a SERIOUS DISEASE, I cannot stress this enough. But do these so-called managers care? Hell no! Their only concern is their bloody sales. Thankfully, I went to College, graduated with flying colours and now working in my field that I studied in. Pay is good, people are awesome and I could never ask for more. I know where I'm going, unlike these "managers" who pretty much bounce around from one run-down job to another. Goodbye, good luck and good riddance to these losers. I couldn't agree more with what people have said on here: better to pay more for high quality service. You get what you pay for. Reply

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