Bad customer service is like an insect, the kind that burrows beneath your skin, laying eggs of resentment, and feeding until you’re left with a festering pus pocket. It may not actually hurt, but the experience stays with you, itchy, just enough to annoy you.
On the receiving end of bad customer service it’s fair to ask yourself, “Was I the asshole?” Working in the service industry is tough, and I make a point of being pleasant to service staff. So let’s be clear—it’s not my fault and I don’t ask for it. We’ll drop the blame-the-victim mentality.
Consumers have a lot of choice when it comes to buying things, eating out, and hiring service providers. With such fierce competition between grocery stores, banks, telecommunications suppliers, and gas stations, you’d think that the owners of these businesses would make sure that every customer was treated well. They want them back, right? Turns out, sometimes, not so much.
The other day I walked into a bank. One teller’s window wasn’t occupied so I approached and said, “Hi,” then told her what I needed to do. She didn’t acknowledge me and continued working on her screen for several moments. In the absence of a “This window closed” sign I had assumed—perhaps incorrectly—that the window was open for service. Yet there I stood, in polite British form, and waited. When she finally looked up (still no greeting), I passed her the paperwork, and throughout the transaction her movements communicated one thing: I was a nuisance. Her actions, slow as molasses, were punctuated by audible sighs and what may be characterized as “slammy” behaviour with the pen, stapler, and photocopier lid. She reminded me of my niece, Madeline, doing what she was told—all shuffling feet and limp body. Madeline is three and a half years old. When I questioned part of the transaction, the teller graduated to downright surly. Not only was I an inconvenience, I was impossibly stupid.
Here’s the rub: I was in too much of a rush to ask to see the manager. This is where the toxic customer service agent wins—they count on their victims being too overwhelmed or busy to complain. That bug burrows in.
Sometimes a formal complaint can bring a happy ending. A friend recently emailed a large grocery chain about his experience with a cashier. The store manager went the extra mile, pulled the security video footage, and watched, in horror, as the entire transaction unfolded. Apologies were given, plus a modest gift card as a gesture of good faith, and my friend returned to shop there another day.
But back to the bank; the clock is ticking on my email of complaint. Without an acceptable, timely reply, it’s likely I will close my accounts and never deal with them again. I’m a consumer that holds a grudge. Hell, I still avoid a particular gas station because the oil company supported Apartheid, in the ‘80s. I don’t forget this stuff.
Are businesses so overrun with customers that they can afford to lose them to bad service? Are there so many jobs out there that workers can act badly and if they happen to get fired, employers are lining up to hire them?
The economic climate is pretty tough right now. Businesses work hard and spend a lot of money to attract customers. Why would they risk losing them? There’s no excuse not to demand a culture of excellence in customer service. As my friend said, “This ain’t the Wild West. There’s more than one bank out there.”