Brand Reputation

Customer Service Failures to Learn From

In the world of customer service, customer service failures serve different purposes. For the brands who suffer a failure, they are of course a crisis to solve. For other brands – and especially their management – they are a cautionary tale to learn from. After all, those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it – and with that in mind, we decided it would be prudent to present several examples of customer service gone wrong.

Norwegian Cruise Lines

In March 2018, a cruise liner operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines left from Miami for a 15-day cruise through the Panama canal. Shortly after departure, however, passengers noticed that something was wrong. Large areas of the ship were closed off for construction, inexplicably being done while the ship was at sea.

We’re not talking about routine maintenance, either. Large areas of several decks were being sanded down, filling the air with sawdust and construction debris. While the construction workers were wearing protective equipment, such as masks, passengers were afforded no such luxury – leading to a 500-person protest in the ship’s observation bar.

The customer service failure here is that there was no customer service. Passengers were given a nominal 25% discount on their next cruise with Norwegian, but given that the company remained unapologetic about the whole affair, few are likely to take them up on this offer.

The case of the $7,455 toilet paper

When asked by his companion about the finest things in life, Terry Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian (not to be confused with his younger cousin, Conan), replied “hot water, good dentishtry, and soft lavatory paper”. It’s hard to argue with old Cohen – but paying $7,455 for the latter seems excessive.

In early 2018, a woman in Berkeley Lake, Georgia ordered three boxes of toilet paper off of Amazon for the two office buildings she managed. Shortly following the delivery she was shocked to discover the four-figure deduction from her account, ostensibly for the purchase. She immediately contacted Amazon, hoping to quickly resolve what she assumed to be a simple clerical mistake. What she didn’t expect was the two frustrating months of back-and-forth emails and phone calls that would follow.

The problem was that the toilet paper wasn’t actually bought from Amazon, but a third party seller that uses Amazon as a retail platform. This is actually how most transactions on Amazon are conducted – as such, the woman was directed to contact the seller directly. The problem was, nobody was picking up the phone. The company went silent.

Distraught, she went back to Amazon, who found their hands tied by an automated system that didn’t account for this scenario happening. After all, the product was delivered on time, undamaged – Amazon could not provide a refund. The woman resorted to writing emails to Jeff Bezos, which went unanswered.

It wasn’t until she contacted the local media, which then turned into a nationwide news story, that Amazon finally decided to step up.

What caused the incredible price was a combination of confusing purchase procedures, unclear shipping terms and a clerical error. The key takeaway, however, is to never defer to automated procedures that cannot be bypassed – if Amazon didn’t decide to stick to its system come hell or high water, the matter could have been resolved without nationwide media attention.

Charter Cable extorts tornado victims

This story just takes the cake when it comes to sheer malice. In 2011, a tornado went through Jefferson county in Alabama, causing massive damage and destroying multiple homes.

Although the local community quickly banded together to provide shelter and support for those affected, one business operating in the area decided to take a distinctly different approach – the cable service provider, Charter.

Immediately following the tornado, Charter began demanding payment for lost or destroyed set-top boxes. Customers whose entire households have been torn apart now also had to worry about a soulless cable company who wished to profit off of their misery.

Predatory practices like this are nothing new, especially in the United States. Customer advocacy groups deal with overreaching cable companies on a daily basis.

Fortunately for its customers, Charter decided to give up any of its claims and not pursue any further action with regards to the situation. This, however, came several days after the initial demands for compensation were sent out, thoroughly discrediting the company. While walking back the initial statement was the right move, the company should not have issued any demands in the first place – as it stands, all Charter is known for these days is its outrageous behaviour.

Closing words

These are just some of the many examples of customer service going poorly. All of us would do well to pay attention not just to these, but to the many examples popping up every week.

Once you find yourself embroiled in a scandal caused by a poor customer service experience, good advice is golden – and as it happens, we know a thing or two about handling crises. In fact, we wrote an easy-to-follow five-step guide to managing social media crises. Why not keep it in your back pocket for a rainy day?