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Define Bad Customer Service

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Almost everyone can define bad customer service, because they've experienced it. It's defined by long hold times, rude treatment, false promises, failure to fix problems, as well as other examples of poor customer service. Bad customer service is one of the fastest ways to send customers to the competition. Defining bad customer service is not as important as improving customer service.

Defining Customer Service

Customer service is the art and science of managing customers and meeting or exceeding their wants and needs. It covers everything from asking about a menu item at McDonald's to negotiating next-day delivery for a $100,000 computer purchase order for a small business.

While the definition of customer service is the same as it was one hundred years ago, customer service itself has become much more complex. A retail company in the early 20th century dealt with customers in its store, or customers took orders from its catalog. In the 21st century, the interaction may take place on the website, through the company's Twitter feed, by email or on a Facebook page. The company has to meet the customer's needs, no matter how contact is made.

A definition of "poor customer service" would indicate service that doesn't meet the customer's needs or wants. That's bad news for the company, because dealing with repeat customers is easier and more cost-effective than finding new customers. Bad customer service drives customers away. If former customers vent about their experience in Yelp reviews or on blog posts, then one customer's experience of bad service person may drive away her friends, too.

Poor Customer Service Examples

Dissatisfied customers can tell you exactly how to define bad customer service, usually by concrete examples from personal experience, such as:

  • Sales staff that doesn't offer help or doesn't know the product.
  • Sales staff that pushes too hard to close the sale.
  • Automatic telephone systems that don't give callers a clear path to the department or individuals they need to speak with.
  • Robocalls that pitch services.
  • Customer service reps who can't figure how to fix your problem.
  • Having to give the same information to multiple people, over and over.
  • Wait staff who bring out the food late, or worse, late and cold.
  • Failing to honor the company's return policy.

E-commerce makes it easier to connect with customers, but it also opens up new ways for a business to have a customer service fail. A business website can have problems that don't exist in the brick-and-mortar world:

  • Websites that talk about the company a lot, but they don't offer the customer anything worthwhile.
  • Difficulty navigating the web site.
  • The customer has difficulty contacting the business via the website.
  • The website isn't mobile-friendly.

Apologizing to Customers

Some customers who experience bad service will walk away without stating a reason. Others may complain to the company about their bad customer experience, which is good news: It gives the company a chance to fix the problem, such as the following:

  • Figure out why the customer is dissatisfied.
  • Apologize.
  • Explain what went wrong.
  • Fix the problem.
  • Offer compensation. Ask if they want anything else to feel satisfied.
  • See that the problem doesn't happen again.

Unfortunately, there's no shortage of poor customer service examples from the customer's experience. The definition of bad service includes such problems as:

  • Cussing out the customer for complaining or telling customers they're stupid.
  • Refusing to connect the customer with someone in authority.
  • Saying you can't help the customer because, "It's company policy. "
  • Making personal comments about the customer's appearance or behavior.
  • Telling customers that the problem is their fault.
  • Telling a phone customer that she must log in on the website deal to resolve the problem.
  • Going by a written script, even when it's clearly not helping the customer.

The best way to deal with these errors is prevention. Train employees so that they aren't providing bad customer service.


Over the course of his career, Fraser Sherman has reported on local governments, written about how to start a business and profiled professionals in a variety of career fields.. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is

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