10 worst customer service experiences of the last year

We have all had bad customer service experiences.   I even wrote about it in the book Rethink that in some cases it’s totally appropriate for an organization to offer less customer service than some customers might expect.  ING DIRECT is the primary example where their #1 brand promise is to deliver really high interest rates on their savings accounts, and if you expect anything else from them they have no problem with telling you to take your business elsewhere.  Knowing who is, and isn’t, your target customer is vital for most (though not all) organizations. 

Which brings me to my top ten list, which is really more of a bottom ten list of what I consider shocking examples of bad customer service.  I will do this in reverse order to work up to the worst.  In this case, it’s a tie for #1.

10. Amazon merchant.  Failure in the partner network.  I don’t go to a lot of costume parties, but last year I was invited to one that I knew would be great.  I decided to order part of the costume through the amazon merchant network.  Since I am a prime customer, I get free two day shipping.  So I ordered this item with plenty of time to spare, and it didn’t show up.  Four days before the party, I realized it hadn’t ever left the merchant, and there was no message to me about the delay.  While I was never charged for the item, I never did get any sort of notice.  Luckily, I was able to get the same item from another merchant, just in time for the party.  When you leverage partners, there have to be service levels defined so that when there is a failure like this, there is plenty of room for an elegant recovery.   I don’t expect much from a random merchant, but I expect more from amazon.  You’d think they would have learned a lesson in partner service levels from their near neighbor Boeing with their own delays in problems due in large part to poor partner service level management and oversight.

 9. Cucina Cucina.  Fail on customer service.   Cucina Cucina is a Seattle area restaurant chain that sells mostly Italian food.  It’s not fancy, but it is nicer than Olive Garden.  One day I went there with more than ten co-workers (this was in my Microsoft days) and we sat down in a spot over in Issaquah that wasn’t even half full.    We all ordered pretty quickly, and we waited.  We weren’t served a single item for over an hour.  Many people had to go back to the office because they didn’t have time to stay longer.    It’s hard for me to believe this sort of thing still goes on in restaurants in this day and age.  Someone should have come out and apologized and offered some explanation, but we got no such thing.  And when the food arrived, they got a lot of the orders wrong.   I realize that running a restaurant is hard work, but basic communication, at a time with the restaurant was pretty empty, is just basic.

 8. Alaska Airlines Visa.  Failure to call about a problem, and failure to issue a new card.  I am a big fan of Alaska Airlines and generally speaking their Visa card.  But last year they really blew a simple customer service opportunity.  Evidently there was some fraudulent activity on my card, so they cancelled it.  The mistake they made was not communicating it to me.  So when I tried to use the card and it was rejected, I was not only a little embarrassed, I was pretty annoyed.  When I talked with the Bank of America person about this I made it clear that I spend a lot of money every month on that card, and he interrupted me, saying that lots of people spend lots of money on cards every month.  My response to him was that that may be the case, but they only speak with a tiny fraction of those people every month, so reaching out to me to let me know there was an issue seems like a no-brainer.  Moreover, they hadn’t yet issued me a new card.  That’s just bad business.  They shut down my card which cuts off a source of revenue for them and they don’t make any effort to resume that revenue stream?  Crazy.

 7. Madison Park Conservatory – charging for butter.  This is an admittedly esoteric case, but in the last year, a new restaurant opened up in the neighborhood where I grew up.  It’s a nice spot.  From the beginning, it became known as “the restaurant that charges for butter” – the kind you use for the bread on the table.  I don’t remember if it was a quarter or fifty cents, or what the amount was, but the general reaction was that if we are going in there for a nice meal, we expect to pay for the meal, but to get nickel-and-dimed for butter just seemed like a huge mistake.  I am told they no longer charge for their butter, but people still call it “the restaurant that charges for butter” – I haven’t been there yet.

 6. US Airways – watch your watch.  I recently travelled to the East coast on a carrier that isn’t my usual carrier.  I usually fly Alaska Airlines and I have always had a good experience with them.  Getting on to the US Airways flight, I figured it wouldn’t be much different.  It was.  The flight attendants were very friendly and relaxed and were talking with passengers and amongst themselves.   That part was nice.  As time went on, on this a rare cloudless day in Seattle, I looked at my watch and noticed that we were already 15 minutes past our departure time.  Yikes.  And I had a connection (which I missed because of our needlessly late departure).  It was a very strange and frustrating experience.  Be on time.  There’s a time to chat and a time to focus on what matters, and on time flight departures matter to customers like me.  At least act like you are making an effort.

 5. Audi Financial Services – call back.  I am the first to admit I am not perfect.  Recently I got distracted by work and Summer and (for the first time ever) I missed a car payment.  Audi Financial Services was not distracted and started calling me every day, asking me when I would pay – I told them I was sorry and that I would pay immediately, and I told them I would mail the check that day, which I did.  It was understandable, but still a drag that they were calling every day, but I figured that they would also call to confirm receipt of payment, but they didn’t.  As it turned out, all of this happened over the 4th of July weekend, so for about four days, I had no idea whether they had received my payment.   I got a very nasty note from them in the mail dated July 2nd (a Saturday).  When I called to find out the status of my account, they said they received the payment on the 5th (the 4th was a holiday) so they sent me a letter on a Saturday and received payment on the next business day.  That’s a fail in my book.  If you will call me every day to tell me I am late, then call me when you get the payment and say all is good. 

4.   Kinko’s – under deliver.  This is an odd one because it’s so easy to fix.  In the past couple of months, I went to Kinko’s several times to print out a very large file.  Every time they asked me when I needed it, which I told them, and they added that they would call me when it was ready.  Every time I went at the time I needed it, having not received a call, and every time it was ready, and clearly had been ready for some time.  If you say you are going to call me when it’s ready, call me when it’s ready and don’t make me sit on pins and needles waiting until the last minute.

3. Qwest – wrong headed security.  I have actually blogged about this before, but it’s so bad, it made my top three.  I have a Qwest phone account where they send me a bill online.  The monthly cost is very low, so I often pay two or three months worth just to save the hassle of monthly billing.  As a result, I sometimes forget my account information.  So when I click “pay my bill” it puts up all sorts of security to make sure I am the right person.  This is a clear case of thinking high security is the right thing for everything on the internet.  Wrong.  If someone wants to go out to their web site and pay my bill – don’t do anything to slow them down.  Take their money.  Or mine, as the case may be, just don’t make it so hard to pay.

1. Lenovo/UPS – no signature.    I recently bought a couple of laptops from Lenovo. I got a great deal and I love the machines.  There’s only one problem.  When you order them – a signature is always required.  I had them delivered to my house and the predictability of the arrival of the UPS truck is very low.  To make matters worse, the laptops were shipped separately.  So because UPS couldn’t deliver them (because I am not at home during the day), I had to drive way out to South Seattle to the UPS customer service desk.   It turns out I am not the only one.  The UPS people shook their heads and said they were sorry – I guess it’s pretty common for grumpy Lenovo customers to have to pick up their packages.  There has got to be a better way Lenovo.

 1. Comcast – mail in cc change.  About once a year I cancel my primary credit card as a very manual protection against fraud and to make sure someone isn’t billing me every month for something I don’t want.  The hassle I create for myself is that I have to call all of the people I do want to bill me every month, from Netflix, to The New York Times, to AT&T wireless.  But in all of those cases, it was as easy as a very short phone call or a simple web site update.  And then there was Comcast (provider of my home internet and cable TV).  Comcast won’t take credit card information over the phone.  You have to know your account number to make the change online (which I don’t because I never see the bill – it just hits my Visa), and even if you do that, they say to expect it to take 30 days for their systems to reflect the change.  Netflix, AT&T, and The New York Times all did it instantly.  30 DAYS?!  And if I hadn’t figured out how to navigate their online system – they suggested that I fill in a paper form and mail it in to them and then wait for the 30 days to kick in.  Wow.  WOW.  Unreal.  That really takes the cake.

There you have it.

Send me your comments.

Clearly lots of rethinking opportunities.



  1. Eben says

    Guud stuff Ric.. (: Aftur all the numburs are crunchud und all the partnurs sourced, sometumes dialung back un a little luve und personaluty cun be the challunge.. (:

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