The Most Tragic Customer Service Call of the Year

by Diane Berenbaum

Most organizations today recognize that customer service has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and the bottom line. But, poor service still happens.  One of my associates had a contact that was so dreadful that we pronounced it the “most tragic customer service contact of the year” and believe me, we have heard a few doozies! This one should certainly be in the customer service hall of shame.

Read on and see how many customer service rules were broken in this one interaction!


Incomplete Order

My associate called to check on the status of an order that she placed four weeks earlier. Her account had been debited the day she placed the order online. She received an email stating that there would be a few days delay because they were moving their warehouse. Weeks later, half of her order arrives with no packing slip or notice of a back order.

No Options

She calls the Customer Service number and hears the following recording:  “We are experiencing very high call volume.  We can't take your call.”  That's it—“We can't take your call”—they don't give any other options. You can't leave a message, or have the option to just wait!

No Help Online

My associate attempted to check the status of her order online. She thought she was getting somewhere. But to her dismay, the only information she could get was what she ordered and that it was delivered. No tracking information, no back order status, no additional information.

When she clicked their Contact Us link, she got a message saying that this form was removed due to very high volume. I guess they didn't want any more contacts with customers!

The Nightmare Call:

She kept calling Customer Service, but it took about five tries and a lot of waiting before someone finally picked up. Here is the actual conversation:
Customer Service Rep (CSR):   Hi
 My Associate (Assoc.):  Whom am I speaking to?
 CSR:  Casey.
 Assoc.:  Hi Casey. I placed an order a month ago and my account was debited immediately. But yesterday only half the order arrived and no order status was enclosed.
CSR:   Yep, backordered.
Assoc.:   How do you know what I even ordered to be able to say that?
CSR:   That's what they told us to say.
Assoc.:   Can you look up my order?
CSR:   Order number?
Assoc.   8675493
CSR:   What part didn't you get of the order?
Assoc.:   What part? Doesn't it show you what shipped and what didn't?
CSR:   Nope.
Assoc.:   I didn't receive item numbers G7=389 and G7-733.
CSR:   Yep, backordered.
Assoc.:   Can you tell me when they will ship?
CSR:   Nope.
Assoc.:   Will they notify me when they do ship?
CSR:   Nope.
Assoc.:   Do you know how long they will be backordered?
CSR:   Nope.
Assoc.:   Can't you look it up?
CSR:   Nope.
Assoc.:   What happens if the rest of the order doesn't show up in about a week?
CSR:   Well, I guess we can do a reorder or give you your money back.
Assoc.:   This is mind blowing; you haven't been able to help me at all.
CSR:   We're just a call center. They told us the truck didn't arrive till Friday. And if anyone called with partial orders, we're suppoed to say it's backordered. Stuff should go out this week, I suppose.

How tragic was this call?  Here are just a few things that would cause a customer to shudder and think twice about ever ordering from this company again.

  • The recorded messages and email responses gave the impression that they did not want to help or care at all. And, they did not give the customer any options other than calling back.
  • No welcoming or professional telephone greeting from the start.  In fact, a customer could easily think they reached a wrong number since “Hi” was the only word said.
  • Casey offered his name, but did not offer much of anything else (no help, no explanation and no suggestions or alternatives).
  • No empathy—the customer was concerned and disappointed that she received just half of her order.  The rep did not acknowledge the customer's feelings. Instead of empathy, all the customer got was indifference.
  • Lots of “tragic” phrases, such as “that's what they told us to say,” “Nope,” “well, I guess we…,” “we're just a call center,” “stuff should go out this week, I suppose.”
How many customers who speak with Casey will order from this company again?  How many of those customers went on to tell others of this dismal service experience?  And how many of you are reading this now, and considering emailing it to others since it is so incredibly bad?

Perhaps this call made you cringe, wince or laugh...but above all, I hope it made you realize how critical one call can be. Let's make every contact MAGIC!
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.