People & Human Resources, Retail

Five of the worst customer service mistakes you can make

Eve Ash /

The notion of a customer dates back centuries. The origin of the expression is ‘habitual practice’, and in The Middle Ages it meant a person or business with whom one has regular dealings. By 1830, it signified ‘made to order’ (hence the notion of ‘customise’). 

Tailoring a customer’s experience both during and after a transaction is important, as there is so much competition (and this is only increasing).

So here are the five worst mistakes made in the context of customer service.

“Yeah, whatever”

Haven’t we all experienced this at one time or another? The disdainful stare, the almost-but-not-quite-visible shrug, the couldn’t-give-a-flying-toss or (just as off-putting) smarmy, insincere manner?

What is this employee actually thinking?

Well, good question — they’re not thinking. 

Their attention, or what little exists of it, is completely diverted to their Instagram account or perhaps because they’ve mentally clocked out for the day. 

I hate the annoyed attitude that accompanies ‘we’ve just closed the till’ treatment. The feeling conveyed is something along the lines of: ‘I’ve got more important things to do here than deal with your menial task.’

It’s okay to close the till, it’s okay the chef is no longer doing mains, and it’s okay the espresso machine is off. it is the bad attitude or indifference that’s upsetting.

It costs nothing to show some empathy. And there is little involved to take the bucks and put a sandwich in a bag, why not?

Not everyone behaves in such an overt way, but you can always sense it.  

“How are you today?”

What’s wrong with this?

To be frank, I don’t always want to share with a stranger how I am today. Especially if I look troubled, or even happy.

It is true that in some cases it is nice to build rapport, but not when it is thrown around as a bland ‘technique’ to precede ‘how can I help you today?’

Sometimes when you’ve just walked into a place with merchandise — and before you’ve even decided you need assistance — someone will leap into your line of vision. It’s too soon, and too much.

The look on a customer’s face will usually indicate whether they need help. It’s more important to make it clear from the layout (online or actual) that a human being is available, knowledgeable and willing to help, and let the customer get on with examining goods and services. They will usually ask if they need information — unless the layout of a place or business is so confusing to the user that they don’t know where to start. Some websites are diabolical to shop on — let alone bricks-and-mortar setups. 

Simple, pleasant and available when needed is how it works best.

Tunnel vision

The person you need is completely caught up with serving another person — and this can be in a restaurant, store, medical centre, travel counter, service station, anywhere.

They know you’ve been waiting, but they won’t even throw you a glance or politely tell you that they won’t be long.

No, they go right on talking to the other person — and they continue to talk beyond the few minutes it takes for most customers’ patience to give out. Even if one’s not in a hurry, vendor tunnel vision can be an annoyance. 

How often do you see two people behind a counter engaging in a lively discussion? You wait, you smile, you mentally scream to try and make them realise you’re there. And if you do ask if someone can help, they will often reply: ‘Ýes, in a moment.’

When this happens I will sometimes put down my item and walk away, never returning. 

Anyone can relate to someone having a problem day, but there’s no excuse for being unhelpful.

It’s not my fault

The service person may be overloaded with trying to do everything at once, and the net result might be they confuse purchases, pack the wrong goods, send the wrong information.

You complain they go straight to justifying ‘it’s not my fault’ when all you want is the fix. It’s hard to work out why they would argue if they are the ones who got it wrong. Is it so important to justify their mistake?

What about the all-over-the-shop (maybe that’s where this expression came from!) salesperson who insists you told them ‘red’ when you distinctly said ‘blue’, or that you told them a ‘latte’ when you, in fact, said ‘soy latte’.

Forget who said what, and focus on results. What does this customer want, and how can I provide it?

The script monkey

All this person does is tell you what’s on their script.

You’re seeking answers to particular questions, but they don’t hear it, and just repeat whatever it is they want to explain to you. They don’t address your problem caused by their poor system, they just want you to pick ‘option A’ or ‘option B’.

If you point out that those options don’t cover your circumstances, they revert to message. 

For example, you speak to a call centre to organise payment for driving on an interstate tollway. They say you’ve got to have an account with them. You say you just want to pay for a single trip during a one-day visit interstate, but rather than address your problem, they insist you have to wait seven days and then call back, or else get an account with them. Instantaneous brand hatred is the result.

Change for the better service

There are more to add to this list — I am sure you have some great ones.

We all shop around between vendors because living in a market economy makes this possible. If you don’t like the customer service in one place, you will almost certainly find somewhere else that’s better. 

Businesses seeking to change this equation can start with one simple premise: heed the question and promptly respond with care, precision and thoughtfulness. Efficient answers and effective solutions are what most people want. Warmth, courtesy and awareness of needs are essential, as are resourcefulness and honesty.

Apply this premise every day and bingo, you have happy customers that want to return and tell others about your great service.

NOW READ: Testing the boundaries of customer loyalty

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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