The most painful customer service moments of 2014, and how you can avoid them in 2015

Avoid Painful Customer Service MomentsBecause you are a consummate overachiever and haven’t read enough year-in-review lists yet, I bring good tidings—and one more list—to you and yours on this final day of 2014.

These moments, though painful to relive, are important to remember so we can avoid repeating the same awful mistakes in 2015, or, for the sake of humanity, ever.

Initially I planned to rank a list of the 10 lowest lights, but compiling and comparing these sad moments was too sadistic a task for me. After all, it is the holiday season, and it simply wasn’t worth risking the sweet deliciousness of my grandmother’s homemade peanut brittle on a vomit-inducing session of sadness. As a result you will find, in no particular order, a smattering of suckitude from the past year in customer disservice.

While I won’t rank the individuals events, I will gladly award Comcast the crown they justly earned this year: 2014’s demons of disservice. Congratulations Comcast, your commitment to barely tolerating customers continues to pay off.

Now, let’s bring the pain and focus on how you can avoid similar missteps in 2015.

The Comcast cancellation call from hell

Sneaky earworms. The pop songs you so desperately don’t want to like, but end up burrowing so deeply in your skull you find yourself enamored with and forgetting your work e-mail password. I am looking at you Mr. Bruno Mars and your “Locked out of Heaven,” which has been living in my head for TOO LOH OH OH OH O-NG.



Well, the call tech journalist Ryan Block recorded when he tried to cancel his Comcast service is exactly the opposite of an earworm. It is painful to listen to. I don’t want to ever hear it again. And, tragically, it isn’t utterly unique.

Yet, like an earworm, everyone and their dog heard it, but in this case it didn’t become anyone’s guilty pleasure listen.

As I wrote earlier in the year, the saddest part is the agent on this call is doggedly doing his job.

Lesson: Ensure your training, goals and incentives for customer service agents align with behavior that actually benefits the customer.

The impending doom of two huge mergers

Scarily, the call from hell is only a tiny frozen ice crystal on the tip of the ginormous iceberg of horrible customer service. Because the monopolistic cable behemoths, Comcast and Time Warner Cable who have both built empires of dissatisfaction, announced their proposed merger in 2014. Seriously, if this merger is approved, this moment might end up as the worst moment for customer service in the history of customer service, forget 2014.

We already have seen how well mega-mergers played out in the airline industry: soaring profits for the airlines, growing fees, shrinking seats and the near-complete extinction of good customer service across America’s skies.

In a race to the bottom, at least for consumers, telecommunications giants have decided to follow the airlines playbook and instead of upping their service game and competing for our hard-earned dollars, they will merge together. Leaving fewer (ie none for most Americans) choices for broadband connection, and massive conglomerates who, on their best days barely tolerate customers, much less serve them.

First, there was Comcast and Time Warner announcing their merger on February 13th this year. And what a loving early Valentine’s gift they delivered to us. Instead of jockeying back and forth for the very last position each year on the Customer Satisfaction Index they had the genius strategy to combine forces to ensure they never, ever, ever lose their esteemed spot.

Not to be outdone, AT&T and DirecTV (who rank ever-so-slightly ahead in customer satisfaction scores) decided to snuggle up together and launch an underdog campaign against the reigning rulers of bad service.

If both of these mergers do go through, expect less choice, higher prices and even poorer customer service from your TV and Internet providers—which might not be even scientifically possible. 

Lesson: Embrace a culture that properly values customers as your company’s most important resource. Remember, when serving customers generally do the opposite of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T and DirecTV.

Fees not quite in the Christmas spirit

Speaking of airlines, there is no way we could go a year without some awful customer-punishing decision.

Spirit Airlines, the unprecedented leader in low fares, ridiculous fees, FAA-logged customer complaints and poor customer experience stepped up their game for the holidays this year. In a move I’ll call bag-humbug, the airline increased their bag fees $2 for the holiday season just because they could.

But, instead of owning up to their holiday money grab, the airline insisted they were doing travelers a favor.

“Winter is coming…and that means holidays. Which means more people than ever will be flying with Spirit to visit their loved ones,” the airline wrote on their website. “To make sure we have room for everyone’s bags, we’re encouraging customers to pack a bit ligther…Spend less time packing and more time laughing with family and friends this holiday season.”

Lesson: Be genuine. Customers can see when you are, or are not, looking out for them.

Jetblue caves to Wall Street pressure, becomes a bit more like the big boys

Long a crusader for customers in an industry determined to deliver unexceptional experiences, JetBlue finally succumbed this year to the poor experience the big, bad boys in the airline industry have made de rigueur.

JetBlue, synonymous for their more enjoyable in-cabin experience: no fees for your first checked bag, the most legroom, free TV and wifi, and of course unlimited, delicious snacks (my personal favorite being the caramel PopCorners).

But in an effort to match the screeching profits of other, non-customer friendly airlines, JetBlue announced they’re killing a big part of what made them different, matching the others by introducing bag fees and shrinking legroom.

Saddest of all, JetBlue ceded a part of their unique personality and decided to screw over customers in the process, because, after all, that is what we are most comfortable with.

“As it’s become ubiquitous across the industry, people just sort of expect it,” Marty St. George an executive at JetBlue told the Wall Street Journal.

To further sell why it was easy to sell out customers, he said many JetBlue customers now hand over their credit card out of habit when they are checking a bag. Well, thanks for being creative JetBlue.

Lesson: Even in a sea where poor experiences are the norm, don’t be afraid to remain a paradise of happiness.

Give us a bad review, that will cost you $500

A historic hotel in Hudson New York made history this year, as their policy for fining wedding parties $500 for each negative review guests posted online attracted a firestorm of negative attention and not surprisingly, a glut of horrible online reviews.

"Quite frankly, I'm embarrassed. This indeed was a policy of the Union Street Guest House," Chris Wagoner, the owner of the Union Street Guest House, said in a statement. "It was originally intended as a joke and never something I told employees to enforce. However, since it was listed on our website it did represent an official policy. I now realize this joke was made in poor taste and not at all funny. This is no longer a policy of Union Street Guest House and we have taken it off of our website."

The joke, I guess, ended up being on the hotel as the policy intended to prevent negative reviews online, resulted in over 3000 negative reviews.

Lesson: Anti-customer policies are never a laughing matter.

Live mas dangerously

Things got really real when a would-be patron became upset with how long it was taking a Taco Bell in Springfield, Mass. to take his order at the drive through one morning at 4 a.m.

The hungry man couldn’t even place his order for tacos, so he drove around to the window and banged on it to get the employees attention. Again, no luck. So he parked his car, and approached the locked restaurant and banged on the door in an attempt to get someone’s attention so he could log a complaint about the poor customer service.

Finally an employee, Steven Noska, emerged and an argument with the customer ensued. The complaint was then escalated, when Noska shoved the customer outside and whipped out a handgun from his car.

In the resulting melee, the customer received a few shots from the BB pistol, a pistol whip to the face and only one bite to eat, from Noska’s arm.

Thankfully Taco Bell released a mobile app that allows customers to order online—no waiting, fighting or biting required.

Lesson: Whenever you are open, you have to be ready to serve customers. Deliver great customer service to your customers the first time, every time. When you make mistakes, give customers the opportunity to express their complaint, listen and use it as an opportunity to improve.

Also, tacos are serious business.


1 Replies to The most painful customer service moments of 2014, and how you can avoid them in 2015

  1. During a recent cutomer service call to Comcast, the representative revealed that she was formerly employed by TSA, but was fired from that job because she was too hostile to passengers during the search. So ...too mean for TSA?..don't worry, you can be a star at Comcasr

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