It all comes down to this: We want to save time and money. We’ve made online shopping experiences more convenient, more relevant and tailored to the customer. We keep using technologies that are disrupting traditional customer service as we know it.

In spite of all this, we also tend to expect great service wherever we go. It doesn’t matter whether we’re waiting in line at a movie theater, watching TV, or waiting for a friend. Mobile devices keep every single contact channel within our reach. Whether we’re on Facebook, browsing around a company’s web portal or sending a quick email over a coffee break, we expect great service.

Unfortunately, many companies find it difficult to field off these pressures and offer the same impeccable quality of support they’re used to giving at their physical locations.

Whether you’re online or in real life, you can’t afford to make these all too common customer service mistakes:

1. Thinking the customer won’t remember

People tend to remember things that stand out throughout the day. This means we remember either spectacular or terrible customer service. You may wonder how come customers have such a vivid memory of company interactions, but the answer is quite obvious. More often than not, customers are trying to solve a problem. They want their question answered by another human being. And, since problem-solving requires our full attention and cooperation, we tend to notice when we don’t get it in return.

For example, consider the difference between using a customer’s name a few times during a sentence and not using it at all. Remembering that using a customer’s name has been proven to make companies seem smarter, more competent and trustworthy.


2. Disassociating service from brand

Many enterprise brands believe they are a great asset to their market and in turn provide great support to their customers. However, when someone shares a sour experience with us, we tend to assume the brand’s products aren’t much good either. This isn’t a coincidence. If service is bad, there must be a reason: poor shipping, cumbersome return process, unreliable communication channels, etc.

That’s why certain airline brands get such a bad rep: customers are forced to endure unresponsive support agents, inaccurate information and delays when it comes to getting that information.

When Dave Carroll made a video called United Breaks Guitars, it caused everything from United losing 10% in stock price, to passengers spontaneously singing the song between United terminals. All because of one customer service mistake.

3. Not training staff to think outside the box

When most organizations train employees for support, they tend to stress the importance of empathy and looking at things from the customer’s point of view. However, theory doesn’t always match practice. It’s easy to get sidetracked by a company’s code of “It’s not company policy”, or “I’m sorry, we don’t do that”.

Take the following example: Tesco could have easily thanked the customer for pointing out the mistake and left it at that. Instead, they went a step further and asked for the customer’s contact details and for more details to prevent such an issue from ever happening again.

4. Making it difficult for customers to contact you

When you make it difficult to contact you, it means you’d prefer to avoid customer interactions if possible. Worse yet, it means that helping them isn’t high up on your agenda. And when your customers get that impression, they take it personally and assume the worst. Most customers (over 81%, in fact) believe that it’s “frustrating” or “extremely frustrating” to deal with a company that doesn’t make it easy to do business with them. This means convoluted forms, hard-to find contact buttons and the like.

Take a look at the clean contact page of KLM Airlines, well-regarded for customer service among their competitors:

5. Taking your customer relationships for granted

What do you think of when you hear the word “relationship”? Perhaps feelings of connectedness, love or mutual understanding come to mind. We have relationships with those we care about including our parents, children, siblings and friends. Don’t you want to give the best advice and go above and beyond to help your loved ones?

You must treat your customers in the same way. Instead of talking to customers in your spare time, make time to speak to your customers. If you’re offering an online service, occasionally meet in person if needed. Come early or stay late when you must accommodate customers in different time zones.

6. Too much automation in your support

As we get crunched for time, it may be tempting to let automation speed things up. Recently, Taco Bell teamed up with Slack to release TacoBot, an artificial intelligence bot allowing customers to place orders via the app. That’s not all. It also recommends food items, answers customer questions and facilitates transactions with witty small talk and humor you’d expect from… Siri.

Is it a hit or miss for Taco Bell? It’s difficult to say. The latest Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Survey explored the growing disparity between technological innovation and customer expectations. 77% of customers prefer to deal with humans when seeking support. At the same time, 68% of customers who receive poor service switch providers and don’t go back to the company. So no matter what technology has in store for us, it’s imperative to keep customer service human and personal.


7. Not being “omnichannel” enough

When companies offer omnichannel support, agents are able to offer customer service through multiple channels at once. Having access to customer data across all of them, businesses can keep track of customer experiences throughout their journey.

It’s only when companies realize Bob who just contacted support is the same Bob liking them on Facebook, voting up their knowledge base articles — will they be able to offer truly personal service.

8. Failing to use language to your advantage

We often forget about how much power is in a word. It’s a good idea to review the implementation of plural personal pronouns (such as “we” and “us”) throughout your support and company literature. Aside from overusing the infamous “we”, many companies add in less-than-assertive phrases that end up undermining the credibility of support itself.

For example, instead of:

“We’re sorry you’re experiencing a problem. It seems that your version is outdated.”

Why not say:

“I see that your version is outdated. Unfortunately our newest update won’t work with it, but I’d be happy to guide you through the upgrade process.”

9. Keeping a “customer service department”

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make is limiting support to a single department that’s responsible for all customer service processes.

When companies are aggressively focused on support, their perceived value tends to increase. That’s because when customer service is part of the company’s DNA, they’re more in touch with what existing customers want and how to attract new ones.

It’s becoming popular among organizations to engage every employee in the customer service process. That’s because great customer service drives positive word of mouth, sales and ultimately growth. And as we know, growth is something that’s relentlessly pursued by every business out there.

Leading CEOs like Jeff Bezos and founders of 37signals are known to offer support alongside their customer team.

10. Forgetting that the customer is always right!

Customers argue for many reasons, both in private and public. But when they disagree about the way you do business, saying “Sorry, tough luck” isn’t going to cut it. No matter how trivial or unimportant you think the issue is, it may mean something else entirely to the customer. In the example below, the company could have easily left the issue alone at the first reply, but continued to offer workarounds so that the customer could reach a desired objective.

Most importantly…

Today, customer service is the new sales. Customers are in control and offering poor service is no longer accepted. In order to reach out to your customers, you need to communicate the right way and in the method they prefer — online, offline, in private or in public.

For many businesses, trying to adapt to this new reality is a double-edged sword. On one hand, support is a highly valuable business activity with tangible benefits linked to higher engagement. Then again, it’s not without its pitfalls, heavy resource allocation and questionable ROI.

Nowadays, customers have no qualms about jumping on to your competitors simply because customer service is better there. In fact, the majority of customers rate poor service as the reason they switch companies. As a result, a customer service platform and process is imperative to keep existing customers and attract new ones.