The Ugly Truth of Customer Service….Customer Service Tips that Work!

Customer Service Tips That Work!

When we think about customer “service”, why does it evoke such negative emotions?  Invariably, because we each reflect back to our most recent customer service experience from hell – where the representative refused to listen, where you tried to no avail to outsmart the infuriating automated voice response system and actually speak to a live person, or maybe where you really couldn’t understand the agent taking your call due to dialect.

The good news is that you’re not alone – well actually, I guess that’s bad news too.  Why is HORRIBLE customer service SO pervasive.  In fact, it’s so bad across so many companies and industries, that when we encounter just decent service – someone who listens, is polite, and tries to solve the problem – it’s considered extraordinary!

Particularly intrigued by this ongoing dilemma both personally and as a corporate trainer, I decided to launch my own informal – non-industry-funded, non-scientific, non-company-specific – survey.  Very simply my goal was to develop a simple straightforward survey targeted to real customers (not paid respondents) to find out What Customers Really Want!!!  My theory is that if you’re serving someone, you should at least find out how they define good service.  Therefore, the survey focused around answering a few key questions:

  • What is the typical customer service experience like? Overall, how are companies doing in this area?
  • What do real customers actually want from a customer service experience? What is most important to them? What do they hate?
  • Which companies are doing it best? What are they doing right?
  • Which companies are doing it worst? What are they doing wrong?

The survey was conducted over an approximate one month timeframe (August 2016) and there were 160 responses.  The findings were in a word …. Insightful.  Please find a summary of the full results here.

Overall Assessment…Most Customer Service Sucks!

The findings were in my view shocking but not really surprising (if that’s possible).  After analyzing 160 responses to 16 unique questions, I can summarize the predominant view in one sentence….”Customer service usually sucks!”  Here are just a few stats from the survey that support this overall conclusion:

  • 70% of respondents rated the level of customer service they typically receive as “Very Poor”, “Poor” or “Fair”. Only 30% rated it as “Good” or “Very Good”
  • 61% of respondents indicated that they feel customer service levels have declined over the past 5 years.
  • 82% of respondents indicated they have difficulty understanding representatives due to dialect.
  • Only 35% of respondents indicated that they feel the CSR is truly hearing/understanding their issue “Often” or “Always”. 65% selected “Rarely” or “Sometimes”.
  • Only 42.5% of respondents felt their customer service problem was resolved to their satisfaction either “Often” or “Always”. 5% selected “Rarely” or “Sometimes”.

Admittedly, deducing that most customer service sucks may not be terribly profound; however, what was particularly insightful was quantifying just how bad it is for most of us and finding out specifically what makes it so bad.

Too Often Customers Aren’t Being Served As Much As Frustrated

When asked to share their top frustrations when making a customer service call, there was no shortage of feedback!  Respondents readily shared a wide range of frustrations ranging from glaring process breakdowns to more esoteric idiosyncrasies.

  • As customers we HATE IVRs, phone trees, and phone automation systems! Why are customers forced to use them when they don’t seem to help the process?
  • We hate to wait on the phone. Phone time is like dog years – 3-4 minutes waiting on the phone feels like 10-15 minutes waiting in person!
  • We are infuriated by customer service representatives who are robotic and are clearly reading from a script. Customers take time to make a phone call to receive a higher level of attention to their issue.  If representatives aren’t knowledgeable about the company’s products/services, policies, etc., it feels like a complete waste of time to deal with someone who clearly doesn’t know how to address the problem and is simply reading from a script.
  • Non native speaking CSRs make the experience extremely frustrating – Companies also need to know that asking foreign reps to use an English name and providing some accent reduction training is not enough. Customers don’t want to have to “work” to understand the rep that takes their call.
  • We are so frustrated and disappointed with customer service reps who don’t actually listen and project very little empathy. This concern was repeated often throughout the survey feedback. Indeed, customers can sense whether the person talking to them about their problem actually cares and that makes a difference. When asked how often they felt CSRs truly heard/understood their concern/issue during customer service calls, only 35% responded “Often” or “Always”.
  • Customer service reps who don’t take ownership of the problem are a key frustration. Possibly nothing irritates the customer more than talking to a rep who blames other departments, blames the customer, or worse yet forwards the customer around mindlessly to “someone who can help”.  PLEASE we want to talk to one person who can fix it!  57% of respondents indicated that their issue is typically resolved only “rarely” or “sometimes” during the customer service call.
  • Don’t try to upsell me during my customer service call!!! If customers are calling because there’s an existing problem, they’re probably not in the best mood and certainly not interested in hearing a sales pitch to buy more at that precise moment!
  • Trying to find out how to reach customer service should NOT feel like an episode of CSI. It doesn’t make you seem cool and sophisticated to move all customer service communications to social media, nor are we entertained by excessive wait times on hold (because you’re experiencing “higher than normal call volume”) or having to wade through a difficult website to find the heavily guarded contact number that the company clearly wants no one to have.  We are the customer – the reason why the company is in business – we don’t like feeling like a jilted girlfriend.
  • Not being valued as a current customer is definitely another point of frustration. It feels like a slap in the face when companies clearly put all their marketing/promotions energy into getting NEW customers and seem to leave the existing customers out to dry.  It almost seems to encourage existing customers to become previous customers to get the premium deals, attention, and new customer perks.

As companies prepare for the busy holiday season, they’re invariably focused on ensuring inventory levels are full, marketing is in full swing, and call centers and websites are prepared for the anticipated heavy traffic.  The question is how many of those companies are equally focused on ensuring that their customer service capabilities truly serve the customer (not frustrate them).  Making the sale is important but keeping the customer should truly be the ultimate goal and the key to that is providing true customer service.

Dana Brownlee is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant.  She is President of Professionalism Matters, Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm based in Atlanta, GA.  She can be reached at  Connect with her on Linked In @ and Twitter @DanaBrownlee.