SOCAP International

The 13 Worst Customer Service Mistakes Ever

Here’s my list of 13 cringeworthy customer service mistakes I see companies make again and again and again. All fixable (which keeps me in business), but all tragic in their little, or more than little, way.

  1. Refusing to say you’re sorry.
  2. Saying you’re sorry in a way that makes it obvious that you aren’t, really.
  3. Being late, being misleading about timetables, being insensitive to the timing issues and pacing preferences and expectations of your customers. Remember: a perfect product, delivered late, is a defect.
  4. Treating your employees like dirt and expecting them to treat their customers like gold. You get a lot better results (not to mention karma) by emulating institutions like the Ritz-Carlton with its central operating philosophy of putting employees and customers first: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”
  5. Burning your customers (and therefore yourself) because something bad happened once, or even never.
  6. Forgetting it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it, specifically, it’s the language you use. Language needs to be gentle, kind, and brand appropriate—without sounding stilted. And language includes getting the “words without words” right at your company as well: yielding the right of way to customers, never having your back to a guest, and so on.
  7. Failing the “cues to quality” test: customers in every setting pick up cues to quality from the darnedest places. Typos in your signs, dirty shoelaces on your nurses—this stuff matters.
  8. Getting everything right except the beginning and the ending—the two most important moments as far as a customer’s memory is concerned.
  9. Not realizing the beginning starts before the beginning—that customers are picking up info and implications about you before they ever arrive at your official website or the front door of your establishment.
  10. Hiring the wrong people and expecting that you’ll be able to provide good customer service anyway.
  11. Hiring the right people but then failing to give them power: power to help customers in ways you haven’t thought of, power to design their tasks differently, power to do their best for you.
  12. Trying to be all Dale Carnegie by inserting your customer’s name into every other line of a conversation – but using the wrong pronunciation. Or, personalizing your correspondence with a customer – but misspelling her name.
  13. Getting excited about your newly-installed self-service channel, and then forcing every customer to use it, whether it suits them or not.

What did I leave out? Do any of these not deserve to be on the list? Any great examples (tragic examples) of anything on the list? Let me know what you think!

Micah Solomon

Micah Solomon is a customer experience consultant, customer service speaker, and bestselling author.