Offering great customer service is tough – and that’s why even the most well-meaning companies sometimes get it wrong. On the flip side, some customers are just plain unreasonable and staff need the patience of a saint to handle them.
These kinds of faux-pas are the reason why social media flares up every once in a while with damning videos and stories, or why review sites can turn into battlegrounds.
Sounds scary? That’s because it is! And, in the spirit of Halloween, we decided to unearth some of the untold customer service horror stories – brought to you by a selection of our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who experienced them first-hand.
So, put up your spooky decorations, dim the lights, and prepare to be stunned, annoyed, and amazed.
The customer’s side: When companies should take the heat
"Since I’ve been working from home due to COVID-19, I needed a faster internet connection. So, I bought a higher speed package from a new internet provider. Everything was fine, that is until one morning around two weeks later when I tried to log into my work laptop, only to find my internet wasn’t working.
"I gave it an hour and then contacted customer support. After calling them multiple times, I finally got through. The agent sounded irritated (probably because they were getting lots of calls from customers like me). He told me that there’s a problem in the area and they’re going to fix it. I asked him whether they had a timeframe for when the repair would be done. He replied in a brusque tone, demanding why I needed to know. I told him I was working from home and I needed to inform my team roughly how long I’d be logged off for. The agent snorted and told me to “take the day off and relax.” Gee, now why hadn’t I thought of that?"
– by Disgruntled and Disconnected
Moral of the story: Be patient, and if you or your team need help handling calls or any crisis management training, that should be addressed before you inadvertently snap at a customer.
The law flies high
"We had booked plane tickets for a trip back in April 2020. Because of the pandemic, the flights were cancelled and airlines were required by law to either give vouchers or pay the money back if the customer so chooses.
"I sent an email to the airline asking for our money back. They replied to say they’d give us vouchers. I told them we didn’t know when we’d be able to travel again, so we’d prefer our money back. They said they’d give us vouchers. I said no, we want our money back. Surprise surprise, they said they’d give us vouchers. I started attaching excerpts from the law, threatening legal action, and contacting the legal authority that had issued the directive on vouchers and refunds due to COVID-19.
"Months later, they sent us our money back. We’re not flying ever again with a company that has such flagrant disregard for the law."
– by Last Time Flier
Moral of the story: Most of us were affected by the pandemic, but no good can come from focusing on short gains and smearing your reputation in the process.
"This story didn’t happen to me, but I was a witness. There was a time when a fellow salesperson and myself were working in the same office, so we inevitably did our calls next to each other. At one point, my colleague had a discovery call with a small startup. I was hearing bits and pieces and it was clear that the startup wasn’t going to be a big account.
"The funny part is that 20 minutes into the call, I heard my colleague say she wasn’t feeling well. I turned my head and she looked like she was getting dizzy, started leaning on one side, yelled 'I’m fainting!' and shut her laptop’s screen, ending the call. She immediately recovered, looked at me and said 'Waste of time, these people don’t have any money.' I didn’t say anything, but I was a bit hesitant to believe her whenever she called in sick after that."
– by Silent Audience
Moral of the story: Every customer is valuable. If you only want to spend time on bigger opportunities, end the call politely and email the customer material so they can go through the sales process on their own.
"I was on a call with an account executive from a company whose software we were considering. My colleague who was on the call with me was French and it was around the time when the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris had burned down. The account executive mentioned how awful the fire was and how great it is that they managed to easily raise the money to repair the building. My colleague said that yes it was great, but if only we could raise money for starving kids as easily. To that, the account executive replied that the starving kids are many, but there’s only one Notre-Dame. Both myself and my colleague were stunned."
– by Oh Mon Dieu
Moral of the story: Each of us has their own priorities, but if a customer clearly has a specific view, there’s no value in antagonizing them – you risk losing their respect.
Service with a throw
"We were out for coffee at a really busy cafeteria. Our waitress was running around trying to serve all the tables, so she was a bit flustered and getting frustrated when talking to customers. When we wanted to leave, we asked for the bill, gave her the money, and waited for the change.
"A long time passed. At first, we didn’t want to bother her because it was clear that she was very busy. But, at some point, we realized she had probably forgotten and wasn’t going to come back. So, we reminded her that we were waiting for our change. She grunted, went to get our money, and then threw it at our table from at least 1-and-half feet away. That was the last they’d see of us."
– by Don't Keep the Change
Moral of the story: If you’re a busy worker, try not to let frustration get the better of you and throw change at customers (or throw anything for that matter). If you’re the owner of an establishment, make sure you’re properly staffed at busy times.
"One day, I received a cold call from an electricity company. The salesperson greeted me enthusiastically and before I could even say anything, she started going on and on about their company, their low prices, etc. I tried to interrupt her but she simply wasn’t listening.
"After a few minutes, she stopped and asked me which provider I was currently using. I was finally able to tell her that I was satisfied with my current provider so I wasn’t interested. There was silence, and after a moment, she spoke – with a completely changed attitude – and said in a sarcastic tone 'Yeah, of course you aren’t, jerk' and hung up."
– by Frozen by the Phone
Moral of the story: Train your team or yourself in the art of cold-calling. Attacking the customer and not letting them speak isn’t a practice that will bring you sales.
The case that got away
"I bought a laptop case from an online store and was looking forward to getting it. The day it was supposed to arrive, I received an email from the store telling me that this particular case wasn’t in stock, and that I could order another one for the same price by replying to their email. I found a laptop case similar to the one I had originally bought and sent them the link.
"Days later, they emailed me to say they didn’t have that one either. The person was nice, so I decided not to make a fuss. I asked them to send me a few available options in the same price range, color, and size.
"Two days later, they sent me three alternatives: the first one was smaller, the second was twice the price, and the third one was yellow! I got angry, so I sent them an email telling them that I changed my mind and asked for a full refund. They said that the refund period had passed. Needless to say, I got on the phone, yelling at them until they gave me my money back. I’m never buying from them again."
– by Case Closed
Moral of the story: If you can’t serve the customer’s needs, tell them. Don’t try to make a sale no matter what.
Car salesperson of the year
"I wanted to buy a new car so I went to a car dealership near my house. I was waiting while the salesperson was talking to the customer in front of me, when another customer came in. Once the salesperson was done with the first customer, they immediately turned to the other one, ignoring me. I complained, so he was forced to tend to me.
"But, his attitude was not pleasant, he was dismissive the entire time and tried to explain to me things about cars that I already knew (I believe there’s a term for that?). I told him I just wanted to buy the car I had my eye on and asked what the price was. He told me and said there were two payment options, either credit card or cash. I told him I could pay cash and asked if there was the possibility of a discount if I did. He said categorically no. I told him that most dealerships have a cash discount. And then he turned to me and said one of the most obnoxious things I’ve heard a salesperson say: 'We don’t care what suits you, we’ll get our money anyway.' Of course I left and bought the car elsewhere – in cash."
– by Driven Away
Moral of the story: We're at a loss for words...
The company's side: The customer isn’t always right
The final countdown
"One time, we were contacted by a customer who was on our software’s free trial. He complained that he wanted to do something but we weren’t letting him. Turns out, he hadn’t submitted some sort of authentication document that we needed to verify his business. I explained that to him and he wasn’t happy. He thought that since he called customer support, we should do what he wanted. I told him we couldn’t until he sent us this document.
"He started saying weird stuff, then: 'So you’re telling me that if I went to Canada, fished a salmon, took it back home, scaled it, and cooked it, I should then pay you for the dish.' I said we only want one thing, a verification document from you, which could even be a utility bill with your company’s address on it. He said why would he have that, he’s not a cleaner. I asked him whether the cleaner paid his company’s bills.
"That’s when he gave me the ultimatum: 'I’m going to count from 5 to 0 and you’re going to do your job. 5...4...3...2...1…0!' I was silent. He asked if I was still there. I said yes and I’m doing my job, which is asking you for the document. He hung up."
– by Validation-Seeker
Moral of the story: Customer support employees aren’t magicians or under the customer’s orders. I mean...it’s not that difficult to send a utility bill, is it?
The world is a village
"I used to work in a travel agency and one day an old man comes in and tells me he and his wife want to go on vacation abroad for the first time. I told him that was great and asked if they had an idea about where they wanted to go. He simply said “abroad” and asked me to book them tickets. I asked to where exactly? He said tell me all the cities and I’ll tell you. All the cities. He insisted, too."
– by Geography Nerd
Moral of the story: You’re never too old to travel, but maybe check a map first.
Give me some sugar
"An old gentleman came into our bakery and started looking at our cakes and desserts. He told me he wanted something sugar-free. I said of course, here are our sugar-free sweets and showed him a specific shelf in a case. He looked at it for a while and then started looking at the other sweets.
"Our dialogue went like this: “Is that sugar-free?” “No, the only sugar-free sweets are on the shelf I showed you” “Does this one have sugar?” “Yes, sugar-free sweets on the right shelf” “This doesn’t have sugar, does it?” “Yes, it does, right shelf.” This went on for a while, until I said I had to serve other customers and left him to decide. Eventually, he bought a red velvet cake – with sugar."
– by Low on Patience
Moral of the story: No moral, although we are craving cake all of a sudden.
"A customer once came in to return some underwear she had bought. It wasn’t in the package, and frankly, they looked used. I told her we couldn’t accept returns of underwear for sanitary reasons. She insisted, I insisted, she threw a tantrum and at some point yelled “Take these panties!” Thankfully, my supervisor was alerted by the voices and took over. I almost died laughing."
– by Strict Return Policy
Moral of the story: Don’t return used underwear.
Same ol’ flyer
"I was doing my shift at the supermarket I worked in, when an angry customer demanded to see the manager. I asked her what the problem was and if I could help her. She said she’d been in our store for hours and couldn’t find any of the items we have in our flyer on discount. I told her I suspected she had our last week’s flyer because I’ve seen this mixup before, and asked to see the flyer.
"I looked at the date on it and said 'Yeah, there it is, it’s for last week.' She was angry, cursed at me and left, leaving the flyer behind. A colleague of mine came to see what was wrong and I showed her the flyer while pointing at the date and smiling smugly. She laughed in my face and told me I was no better than the customer – the flyer was from a different supermarket chain that just had similar colors. Oops."
– by Foot in Mouth
Moral of the story: Hone your observation skills.
Did you enjoy our stories? We’re sure there are so many more out there…if you have one, share it with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. Until next Halloween, stay safe!