6 Mind-Blowing Customer Service Mistakes Made by Well-Known Brands

Good customer service is the lifeblood of today’s most popular companies. One need look no further than the legendary stories about Zappos or the “fanatical” support behind Rackspace to see how much of an impact excellent service can have on sales.

But even some of the most well-known brands can slip up royally when it comes to pleasing their customers. Here are some examples that show just how far a few angry consumers can go when a company fails to respond (or responds the wrong way!).

1. Harry & David Charges Multiple Times for One Order and Uses Heavy-Handed Moderation of Social Media

harry-david

Shopping may be a breeze, but voicing concern over your order is more like standing in a hurricane.

A simple birthday gift order for a child ended up leaving a person charged multiple times for one order, a cancellation of the order (by the company), and no refund applied to the customer’s account. Taking the issue live on social media, the customer, along with other customers who faced similar issues, were welcomed, apologized to, and fully credited. They also were given a $50 gift card for their trouble.

Just kidding. Harry & David deleted their questions, buried their concerns, and banned them from ever posting on the page. The company didn’t give them a refund or any indication that the problem was being dealt with.

When the customer escalated the problem to a supervisor, called the company on the phone, and went through the reordering process seven(!) times, the result was absolutely nothing.

And this was not just limited to one person.

Key Lesson: Somewhere along the way, somebody really messed up. Rather than having this issue expand into seven different order attempts, Harry & David should have assigned a single point of contact who would follow through at each step to ensure the product got to its destination. If there was a reason behind the cancelation, they should have taken steps to notify the customer and suggest an alternative.

Better yet, empower employees to break the rules when necessary, instead of chaining them to a system.

The second issue – moderating social outlets by deleting posts – tarnishes a company’s image and reputation more than you might think at first. It paints a pristine picture that’s sure to trigger customers’ B.S. detectors.

And speaking of moderating social posts…

2. A Kitchen Nightmare Turns Into an Epic Meltdown

Amy’s Bakery was featured on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares television show, and Chef Ramsay eventually gave up because the couple failed to listen to him and implement his suggestions to save their struggling shop.

The entire fiasco was chronicled on Facebook, with the owners first vowing to stand strong in the face of adversity, but then abruptly shifting gears to pin the blame on their critics:

amys

To add further insult to injury, they kept responding to posts, stoking the fire of comment trolls:

amys2

They later claimed that their page was hacked (even though the subsequent writing style and all-caps flames hadn’t changed) and that they would be reporting the troublemakers to the FBI.

Key Lesson: Where to start? Customers are the messengers of your brand. They are why you’re in business. Frustrating them, being obstinate about their problems or issues, or even refusing to listen to reason when it comes time to ask for help are all signs of a business about to crash and burn.

How much more empowered would this little bakery be if they had taken steps toward improving their business instead of pinning the blame on everyone else? How much more of a following of devoted fans would they have built if they simply had apologized and set about making the entire experience better for everyone?

3. Whirlpool: Going Straight Down the Drain

Meet Mr. and Mrs. Vintilla, proud owners of a new Whirlpool microwave. Or so they thought. After five visits by repairmen, four parts replaced, then those same parts needing to be replaced again (but unfortunately on backorder for months), it’s no surprise that the couple eventually got fed up and wanted to exchange the microwave for another one.

whirlpool

To simplify returns, we simply ignore them.

But not so fast! Not only did Whirlpool advise them that it wasn’t happening – that they’d have to wait a year before the warranty expired, pay a scrap haulage fee of $75 to have someone pick up the microwave, and then give Whirlpool six months to decide if they would exchange it (but only after a repairman came to check it out one last time) – there also were some ridiculous notes in the contract as well.

For example, if Whirlpool decided to exchange the microwave, the customer had to agree not to disclose the terms of the agreement to anyone else, including the media. Oh, and as for the replacement? That should be looked at as a gesture of kindness on the part of Whirlpool for the sake of customer loyalty, not an admission that their microwave really was as useless as a polished turd.

Did I mention that this treatment was a result of Whirlpool’s Platinum Care service?

Key Lesson: There are so many issues here that it’s hard to know where to begin. The original article has a few pointers, but I’d like to add a couple more. With such big companies, it’s hard for the higher-ups who actually call the shots to know every little customer service issue that’s going on.

But all of the ridiculousness about contracts and non-disclosure agreements and loyalty bribes would not have been necessary if the company had apologized, taken steps to remedy the problem (even if it meant going outside of typical procedures), and made Platinum Care service live up to its name.

4. Too Much FAQ-Checking

twitter

Twitter’s FAQ: It’s Dangerous to Go Alone!

Twitter and Facebook both are equally guilty of this next blunder – FAQ-only support. While their FAQ/Help Centers do contain just about everything you’d need to know, sometimes you have an issue that can’t be found via the typical route.

And while I understand the companies’ desire to cut down on having to answer the same questions over and over again from customers, it shows just how much they don’t want to be bothered when even @support won’t take the time to answer user questions.

Key Lesson: If you’re trying to cut back on customer support inquiries, why not set up a contact form that dynamically shows responses based on what the customer is typing? Failing that, let customers submit a question via a form or actually talk to someone there. It’s too much of a one-way conversation if you keep asking “What are you up to?” or “What’s on your mind?” without giving customers a way to talk back to you.

5. Complicated Support Pages

For over a month now, I’ve been trying to find out why my Google authorship isn’t showing on search results. Google’s product forums, while not staffed by employees themselves, are generally a place for community members to help each other. It’s a great idea in theory, but not so much in real life:

google support

Google product forums are a ghost town of unresolved questions.

Microsoft support isn’t much better:

Microsoft Support Center

If you want free support, ask the community. Oh, and we don’t handle advanced issues. Good luck!

Key Lesson: Don’t force your customers to do your job. While it’s great to have a community of people who can help each other (just look at how WordPress.org does it for a good example), it shouldn’t be the only avenue customers have to get the help they need. A help desk, a live chat, or even a phone number with a simplified call routing tree would do wonders here.

6. Customer Profiling that will Make You Gasp

gasp

Exclusionary Marketing? Or Customer Discrimination?

A few years ago, Gasp Jeans Australia touched a nerve when it told a customer who was shopping for bridesmaid dresses that she should “do Gasp a favor…stop wasting the store’s time and shop elsewhere” because she was not a “fashion forward consumer” who could appreciate a “retail superstar” with “unparalleled ability.”

In another case, Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries stated that “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes] and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” While some brazen marketers would classify this move as “bold and edgy” because it’s trying to position the brand in a way that associates them with a certain clique, others smell discrimination. While no company can be all things to all people, some are just setting themselves up to push away the very people they’re trying to attract.

Key Lesson: Rude employees cost businesses. And there’s a fine line between trying to maintain the “brand appeal” and being obnoxious. In trying to focus on a select group, the brand inherently becomes the very thing that other people despise about that group – its attitude, its snobbery, its absolute derision of things outside its tight-knit circle.

The Most Important Thing to Remember

This article isn’t about kicking businesses while they’re down, or pointing and laughing at their mistakes. It’s about learning from experiences and trying our best not to get caught up in the heat of the argument. It’s about stepping back and taking an objective look at the problem, then taking steps to make things right.

As entrepreneurs, we’re not beholden to the huge hierarchy of rules, regulations and paperwork that major corporations and well-known brands are. We have the advantage of being able to deliver personalized service, one-on-one support and the ability to go the extra mile for our customers. In doing so, we’re helping to take the focus away from major branding and service fiascos like these, and putting it square on the shoulders of companies who strive to embody great customer service in everything they do.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you have a customer service horror story to share? How do you feel about “exclusionary” brands and/or inviting employees to change company policy independently if the need arises? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Further Reading:

http://dannybrown.me/2013/03/20/customer-service-is-not-the-same-as-being-customer-centric/

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/smallbusiness/columnist/strauss/2009-10-11-small-business-bending-the-rules_N.htm

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversions through comprehensive design, compelling copywriting, and superb analytics. Learn more at iElectrify.com or follow @sherice on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+.

  1. @sherice funny write-up.

    Most of these points seem common sense, and I can’t believe big brands are making these mistakes.

    • I agree Mike. It’s not like it’s brain surgery or something and yet good customer service is such a rarity these days. And what’s the old adage that happy customers tell three people about it while unhappy ones tell many more?

      Treating customers well has such a wonderful ROI and makes such obvious business sense. Building long term win-win relationships with customers should be the goal of any business!

  2. Some cases seem to be nothing less than A) bad management and B) bad training. In the Wirlpool-example, it looks as if 5 different people followed standard procedure, without checking the history of the client with the company. As pointed out in this article, giving 1 person the task to follow up on a costumer, always seems the best option.

  3. I could add myself several stories about bad customer service. As Mike DeCosta wrote it is all common sense, but unfortunately not done. I also agree with Mike Hoff good customer service is a rarity today. Companies do not realize that they are ruining their online reputation with such behaviour and bad news travel very fast in the web.

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