Good customer service experiences have the key characteristics in common: they communicate effectively, clearly offer choices, and follow up to ensure that needs and concerns are addressed.

customer experience way of thinkingWe all want to deliver a positive customer experience that keeps customers loyal and coming back to work with us time and time again. So why do we fall short so often? Why does staying consistent in our customer experience desires seem so difficult to do?

Nick Croft recently shared his views on life lessons learned from customer service failure. This guest post summarizes his experience in customer service.

For a couple weeks I’ve been thinking about what makes good customer service. This is largely based on the absolute worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had. I expect that this will be entertaining at the very least and hopefully educational.

I’ve been doing customer service type things for ages. In one way or another, nearly every job I’ve ever had requires me to work directly with the customer. There are a lot of people that hate working directly with the customer. These people do not belong in customer service. That is fine. Not everyone is cut out for it. I actually really like working with most customers most of the time.

Despite what people say about me, I’m not a robot. This means I’m not always on my game and I might actually make someone mad, but with a good service team, we can even provide great customer service on days where I’m not feeling it.

So, about those bad customer service experiences. I’m going to break down two experiences that stand out to be in the “worst customer service I’ve ever received” and see if I can learn something from them.

Good customer service is simple, just avoid doing everything that customer’s don’t like.

The restaurant industry is one of the hardest places to work with the public. Despite that, 99% of the time I have a great experience with my wait staff. There have been times that I’ve had less than perfect (or even less than good) service, but I pretty much leave a 15% tip even in the worst of service because I know that the wait staff tends to get virtually nothing for their work and rely on the tips, which they often have to split with the rest of the staff. Most of the time I try to leave at least 20% because I have 4 kids and that means even more work. I believe this is the right thing to do and to be honest, one of the reasons I get good service is because I don’t do jerkish things to the people who are serving me. I treat them with respect and I like to use “please and thank you” because manners are appreciated and reciprocated.

That said, when I was in college I remember going to a restaurant near one of the other colleges in town. This was a small chain restaurant and we usually went to a different location, but for some reason we decided to give this particular location a try on this particular day.

The place was moderately busy. We were seated in about 5 minutes, so it wasn’t overwhelming but 90% of the tables were full. We sat down and began talking. Time moved on and we eventually grabbed the manager as he went by to ask if we could get someone to wait on us. Apparently the waitress who was watching the table had just checked out and the one who was suppose to cover didn’t realize it so we were completely overlooked. That is why we had been sitting there for 30 minutes and no one even took our drink order.

The waitress came and took our drink order but ran off before we could give her the meal order. After all, it had been 30 minutes so we knew what we wanted.

This time we only waited 10 minutes before finding the manager and letting him know we had not received our drinks and we would like to order our food. The waitress showed up with the wrong drinks and took our food order. We asked for the right drinks and they showed up after the food arrived, which was almost 40 minutes later.

Each part of the meal process took an absurd amount of time. Each time we didn’t get things resolved till we grabbed the manager. Some things never did get resolved. It took almost an hour and a half before the correct drinks found their way to the table. By the time we finished our meal, got our check, and paid it was nearly a 3 hour dining experience. Over the hour and a half after getting the correct drink, I didn’t get a single refill. I did ask multiple times and I even asked the manager about it. The refill never came.

In the end I left 4 pennies for the tip along with a note. I explained that I had never in my life given less than 15% on the tip but I have never been treated so poorly by wait staff and that we would never bother her or the rest of the staff again.

Customer service communication sometimes is a waste of time

I order a lot of things online. It is so convenient. Amazon is amazing. I’m not convinced they don’t have a partnership with Aperture Science. I have ordered items around 3 or 4pm local time and received the item by 10am the following day. Ive only had to deal with a replacement from them once. The process was great. I contacted them and they gave me a prepaid return label. They also shipped the replacement immediately. I literally had the replacement 32 hours after I requested it. I didn’t even ship the bad item back to them yet. I hadn’t had time. I’ve had to return items to a few other sellers and they have made me ship back (sometimes at my own expense) before they would replace the item. This experience was pretty amazing and really cemented them as the best people to buy form online. I also love buying from Newegg and ThinkGeek because of the few times I’ve had to deal with their customer service department, but compared to Amazon they are very much second place.

Other online sales have been less than ideal though. Recently I had a horrible experience with an Amazon Market Place seller. Since they sell through Amazon I immediately give them some of my perceived confidence. They were also very well ranked by the buying community in Amazon so I trusted them. Spoiler alert, I do not any longer.

We needed a couple small items for a church even we were doing. We placed the order a week ahead. This might have been a bit late, but the order delivery estimate was suppose to be before the event. The items didn’t arrive within 2 days like they would have with an Amazon fulfilled order, but I believed the shipping estimate to be accurate. The day the order should have shipped came and went so I sent the seller a message. I explained the situation and asked if there was a problem with the order so we could cancel and purchase elsewhere in time for the event.

The seller wrote back 24 hours later (still time for me to order with expedited shipping from another seller).

I do apologize for the delay. Your order will ship soon.

That was the entire reply. I waited 2 more days before getting a confirmation that the order had shipped. This was the day before the event so at this point we wouldn’t receive the order and it was impossible to get an alternate in even with expedited shipping.

The items arrived nearly a full work week after the original delivery estimate. We didn’t get a chance to use these items for the event, but we have other events so I went to file the items so we would have them next time. Something prompted me to check and only one of two items were shipped. Additionally there was no invoice so I had to go check the order to see if they shipped in two parts and if I even ordered both items. Turns out there was no notation of two shipments and I had ordered both items.

Again I wrote the customer service and explained that I wanted the other item mailed off and gave them express details on my expectations. They replied:

There must have been an error with our inventory because we searched our warehouse for this item and can’t find it.
I apologize for the inconvenience.
We are canceling the order and processing a refund if applicable, it may take a few days to process.

At no point had I asked for a refund. I asked for the item I ordered. They didn’t offer me to wait for them to order replenishment. They just made an assumption on what I wanted.

Moreover, I actually fee like they shipped late because the items were not there, did not include the invoice because the items were not there, and never once communicated this issue because they hoped I wouldn’t notice.

What’s the customer service lesson?

In both of these examples there was a series of problems. Someone that is writing a how to in customer service might actually call them a series of opportunities, but that sounds kind of silly … still, there might be something to that.

The fact is, sometimes customers have a bad experience and they might contact you about that bad experience. This really is an opportunity to turn that bad experience into a great experience. Like I said, I’ve only had to work with Amazon customer service once. They turned the bad experience of a broken product into something that really made me loyal. I have to wonder if there is a way the people I interacted with could have done things differently.