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Horrible customer service stories from 2018

Here are the top 10 BAD Customer Service stories from 2018!

In December, we released our Ten Best Customer Service Experiences of 2018. Today we look at the world of bad customer service – and the top ten bad customer service experiences of 2018.

A Year of Extremes

2018 was a year of unpleasant extremes in customer interactions. Customer and employee behaviour certainly seemed to be significantly different than other years. Many of the stories we saw involved violence on the part of both customers and employees. We hope it`s not a trend.

For this Top 10 list, we chose to exclude these extreme cases and focus instead on stories that are more representative of the kinds of customer service failures still all too common in today’s world. As a customer experience consulting and customer service training company, we find these examples invaluable in examining and illustrating the types of things that significantly compromise customer loyalty.

We settled on these ten as the best examples of really bad customer service in 2018. They are in order from least-really-bad to most-really-bad:

10. Frontier Airlines Fails At Communication & Compassion

Two children, aged 7 and 9, were returning to Orlando after a visit to their grandparents in Des Moines, when poor weather conditions caused the flight to be diverted to Atlanta. From a safety perspective, Frontier did okay. From a customer service perspective, however, they failed miserably.

The parents, who were waiting for their children, received no updates. And the Frontier people in Orlando were no help. In fact, had one of their children not asked to borrow another child’s cell phone to text their parents after landing, the parents wouldn’t have had any information at all. Yikes.

Understandably, the parents were frightened and upset. When asked later about the incident, Frontier Airlines was unapologetic, stating that they had just followed “standard protocol.” Double Yikes.

The core of customer service is caring about customers. Big parts of this are communication and compassion – two areas where Frontier gets a big fail.

Here’s the story

9.  An Unforgettable Cruise – In a Bad Way

Outstanding Customer service is the hallmark of cruising. A fifteen-day vacation on a cruise ship is supposed to be a wonderful thing. Norwegian Cruise Lines, however, appears to have forgotten this. No sooner did they leave the port in Miami, passengers began noticing that things weren’t quite right. Instead of a tranquil trip, passengers were treated with the sounds of… maintenance. The sounds of hammers and grinders were omnipresent. Dust filled the air as decks were sanded down – so much that several passengers had to visit the infirmary with respiratory problems.

It was so bad that close to 500 angry passengers organized a meeting. They confront the captain, whose response was to walk out. Norwegian’s response after the event was not much better. One has to wonder how many of the passengers will actually ever cruise on Norwegian again.

Here’s the story

8. Amazon Customer Service In the Toilet

Imagine that you’ve ordered three cartons of toilet paper from Amazon. The cost: $88.77. Then imagine that you are charged $7,455 for the shipping costs. Eek. That’s exactly what happened to Barbara Carroll last May.

It Gets Worse

At first, Ms. Carroll wasn’t too concerned. Amazon, after all, has a reputation for looking after its customers. Not this time. She complained to Amazon six times. She wrote a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos. After every complaint, she received a form letter explaining that there would be no refund because the delivery was made on-time and undamaged. Double-yikes – again.

It wasn’t until she took the matter to a local television station and the story went viral for Amazon to take action. Two-and-a-half months later, she was finally reimbursed.

Mistakes happen. We all get that. But the unwillingness of Amazon to take ownership over the issue was completely unacceptable..

Here’s the story

7. Poor Performance From a Performance Shop

When Vince Hanson went to pick up his Audi A4 from Titan Motorsports in Orlando last November, the technician took it for one last, every expensive test-drive. He made an illegal u-turn, crashing into another car. No worries – they’ll fix it, right? Wrong.

Rather than accept responsibility and offering to fix the damage, the shop told him that the contract he had signed absolved them of any responsibility. They said he would have to go through his own insurance – except the body shop has refused to cooperate with the insurance company. Needless to say, this has led to an ongoing legal battle.

It’s a great example of a company being more interested in a customer’s wallet than the customer himself.

Here’s the story

6. Would You Like A McScolding With That?

McDonalds has two stories in this year’s list. This first one comes to us from Wisconsin. Tom and Tina Olszewski went through a McDonald’s drive-thru with their 9-year-old son. After waiting 15 minutes for their order, Tom finally gave up and asked for a refund. The worker refused, then the manager stepped in.

Caught on video is the manager yelling “Make your own cheeseburger! Teach your son how to cook a f… hamburger,” to the family. One would think that this type of behaviour might be close to the top of the “things not to do list” in the McDonald’s customer service training handbook.

Here’s the story

5.  Bad Customer Service Rating For MoviePass

MoviePass, the new company that lets you see a movie a day for $10 a month, has been under siege with customer service complaints. This is just one example.

Dorothy Wickenhiser of San Francisco found her account suddenly closed – with no refunds and no process to fix it. As with many organizations these days, MoviePass makes great efforts to prevent customers from being able to contact someone about customer service. After many hours of hunting, however, Ms. Wickenhiser managed to reach someone, who informed her that whe had violated the terms of the agreement by going to see a “premium movie.” She hadn’t, and pointed out to the person that she always goes with her husband who has his own card – yet there didn’t seem to be a problem with his.

When San Francisco’s ABC News 7 investigated, they found over 1,500 complaints on the Better Business Bureau website, and that the BBB had given MoviePass an “F” – the lowest possible grade.

MoviePass’s response to all of the complaints was, basically, to deny that there was a problem, and if customers wanted to dispute such things, all they had to do was contact their customer service department. They did not, of course, mention the bit about their customer service department being virtually impossible to reach.

Here’s the story

4. Southwest Airlines Kicks Father & Toddler Off A Plane

A young toddler was sitting on her fathers lap prior to takeoff on a Southwest Flight from Chicago to Atlanta. She was crying. Flight attendants had come over to warn the father that she needed to be properly seated, and he was able to settle the young girl – but apparently it wasn’t good enough. They were both sitting their seats quietly when the attendants returned to ask them to leave the plane.

It seemed like an extreme measure, but clearly not to the flight attendants who got defensive when other passengers spoke up in the father’s defense. One passenger who had observed the initial interaction explained to them that the man had simply asked for a few moments to settle his daughter down, which he did. The attendant’s response to this was, “This is not helpful. Do you want to go to Atlanta?” Seriously. She said that.

Working in an airplane cabin is a tremendously challenging position, requiring above average customer service skills and legendary patience. It also requires problem-solving skills and the ability to quickly and accurately assess situations – something that wasn’t apparent in this situation.

There’s a reason that the video of the incident went viral – garnering over 1.5 million hits. It shouldn’t have happened. To be fair to Southwest Airlines, they also made our Top 10 WOW Customer Service Stories of 2018. Maybe the two experiences cancel each other out?

Here’s the story

3.  It’s Our Policy… Maybe Not… Maybe it is…

When Cellist Jingjing Hu boarded her American Airlines flight from Miami to Chicago, she bought two seats – one for herself, and one for her $30,000 Cello. It is something many musicians do, and is in accordance to American’s policy. When she got in the plane, she buckled herself and her cello in.

Everything seemed fine until a flight attendant told her that she would have to leave the plane because the cello was too big. She was told that she could take the next plane which was leaving in an hour – only they didn’t allow her on the second flight either. She then found herself surrounded by police because the airline staff found her “not understandable.”

It wasn’t until few hours had passed, and a post her husband made began to go viral, that American actually looked into it. Oh, look – the instrument is allowable after all. They booked her on a flight the next day, covering the cost of a hotel room. (The cost, it would appear, was worthwhile for the airline. A passenger on the first plane reported that, after she ushered off, her seats were immediately taken by two new passengers on what was presumably an overbooked flight.)

American Airline’s official response was tepid, referring to it as a little “misunderstanding.” They really need to be more embarrassed – they had an eerily similar “misunderstanding” with another cellist just a year earlier. Here’s a good rule to live by: If you are going to require your employees to make life unpleasant for customers by enforcing policies, you should make sure everyone understands what those policies are.

Here’s the story


2. A Big McOops

The second McDonalds story hit number two on our list. A drive-thru employee in Cross City, Florida forgot to turn her headset off as a customer sat waiting to give his order. He listened to her ranting to another employee for about 45 seconds, then began to record her. The result was more ranting, complaining about the customer showing up, and describing a failed drug deal. You can see the video here .

The mistake, of course, was not really that she forgot about the microphone. It was that she didn’t care enough about her workplace and her customers to remain professional when on the job. Customer service is, above all, an attitude. And a customer-focused attitude is not something that can be turned on and off like a microphone switch.

Here’s the story

1. This Bad Customer Service Story Takes The Cake

Everyone might not agree with Harry Gordon Selfridge’s oft quoted “The customer is always right,” but it is certainly never a good practice to simply assume that a customer is wrong. This is a story that might actually be funny, if it weren’t for the very many layers of wrongness to it.

Cara Koscinski was justifiably proud of her son Jacob for graduating with a 4.89 grade average. To celebrate, she ordered a cake from a North Carolina Publix for his graduation day with the inscription, “Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude Class of 2018.” The phrase, Summa Cum Laude, is a common designation for graduates, Latin for “With the highest distinction.” Just in case Publix had any questions, Ms. Koscinski included a definition of the term in the order form, along with a web link explaining the phrase.

Her explanation was apparently not good enough for Publix. When the cake arrived on graduation day, the inscription had been modified to read, “Congrats Jacob! Summa — Laude Class of 2018.” Publix’s ordering algorithm had deemed the deleted word as “profane,” and the bakers clearly agreed. Obviously, neither the algorithm nor the baker had ever graduated with this distinction. Ms. Koscinski was understandably furious.

It’s a toss-up as to which part of this experience was the worst. The disrespect for the customer’s wishes? That the minds of both Publix and their computer seem to be in the gutter? The unwillingness to accept (or confirm) the customer’s written explanation? Just sending the censored cake, instead of a phone call first to discuss the issue? Ruining a young man’s graduation celebration? Take your pick. it was a customer service failure in so many ways.

Here’s the story

We are already collecting our stories for 2019. If there is one that you think should be on the list, please let us know!

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