This article was originally published on 06/23/2015 and has been updated to include further recommendations for customer service training.

Poor customer service costs businesses more than $75 billion per year, and 42 percent of consumers have left a business because of poor customer service. Nowadays, customers won’t hesitate to vent about their poor customer service experience over social media, which can do huge damage to your company’s reputation.

Smaller businesses, which have relatively less money to spend on quality customer service training and software, are more likely to make mistakes—and that’s without factoring in the fact that almost half of small businesses fail by their fifth year.

We’ll go through 5 examples of common customer service ‘fails’ and recommendations for how to avoid each one, including:


  1. Over-automated customer service
  2. Undertrained live chat customer service agents
  3. Customer service agents lacking in sensitivity
  4. Aggressive customer service agents
  5. Misplaced customer service arrogance

1. Over-automated customer service

Customers want shorter response times, personalized customer support, and you to be available—no matter the time of day.

Many companies think that these customer desires can be fixed by automated customer service options in the form of live chat, chatbots, and automated replies. After all, this frees up agent time spent answering frequently asked questions—chatbots are said to answer queries with an 85 percent accuracy rate, which satisfies all your customer needs.

Chatbots or automated responses can work well for both companies and customers. However, Bank of America learned the lesson of over-automation the hard way.

When customer Mark Hamilton got into a dispute over a protest he was making against Bank of America, he took to Twitter to vent his frustration at being forced by police to vacate the scene.

However, when other Twitter users weighed in to give their opinion on Mark’s plight, Bank of America’s automated responses seemed to go into overdrive. The company’s Twitter account began @messaging respondents with stock phrases such as:

“We’d be happy to review your account with you to discuss any concerns. Please let us know if you need assistance”
“I work for Bank of America. What happened? Anything I can do to help?”

Stock responses from The Bank of America

Stock responses from Bank of America (Source)

Instead of intuitively tailoring their bot responses, Bank of America instead relied on several stock responses. Chat bots exist to assist and not replace customer service agents across social media. However, in this case it seems Bank of America forewent any human agency during a very public protest, leading to an even more public fall-out.

 How to avoid over automation: 

  • Micah Solomon, customer service consultant and speaker said, “Since Bank of America says this wasn’t a bot response but a personal (but NOT personalized) response, the problem (and solution) would seem to be this: Anyone answering a tweet should at least spend a minute reviewing the background behind the tweet.”
  • Use a true mixture of chat bots/automation and human customer service agents, and always make sure that someone is monitoring your social media platforms. If your organization isn’t open 24/7, turn off automated responses when nobody is monitoring.
  • Test your chatbot or automatic replies before launching them to the wider public.

2. Undertrained live chat customer service agents

We all know how frustrating it is when a customer service agent doesn’t seem to understand our problem; it’s a problem with no quick solution. But, you’d think that Amazon would be setting a certain standard for customer service live chat.

When Amazon customer Chris Williams contacted an Amazon customer service agent via live chat, he requested that they delete an email address from his Amazon account because he thought it was a phishing scam. Amazon is generally noted for its great customer service, but in this case, Williams spent nearly an hour on live chat trying to get agent to understand what he meant.

The live chat worker, who insisted on calling Chris “Brittni,” appeared to use a mixture of canned responses and poorly written English, which caused no end of confusion. The transcript demonstrates that the agent had lots of trouble understanding what was a pretty simple request. The entire transcript of the query was published here by Chris Williams, and makes for an infuriating read.

The Amazon agent inexplicably continues to refer to Chris as

The Amazon agent inexplicably continues to refer to Chris as “Maam” and “Brittni” (Source)

Although the support worker never lost their cool in the face of the customer’s frustration-fueled tirades, the agent’s poor understanding of the subject led to negative publicity for Amazon. When the story got out, it highlighted the site’s use of canned responses in their live chat support.

 How to train your agents in live chat: 

  • Engage your customer service agents in mock customer chats. Afterward, review with them their strengths and opportunities for development.
  • Regularly review your knowledge bases, i.e. the manuals your agents use to make sure they’re delivering the right solutions to your customers.

3. Customer service agents lacking in sensitivity

After experiencing any kind of tragedy, the last thing you want to do is subject your customers to even more stress. For example, after your neighborhood has been ravaged by a tornado, you’d expect your cable company to help you and understand that any issues you were having were caused by an act of God.

Enter Charter Cable. After one customer lost her home and possessions to a tornado, including her cable box, instead of treating its customer with compassion, Charter Cable instead insisted that she needed to either find the cable box or pay for its loss.

Disappointingly, it seems that Charter Cable’s customer service agents refused to go off script for this unique claim, instead subjecting the customer to even more distress.

 How to train your customer service agents in sensitivity: 

  • Empathy is difficult to teach, but you can train your customer service agents to be ready for difficult situations—including disasters such as the one above—by inserting disaster/tragedy relief protocols into your scripts.
  • Creating empathy maps through engagement with your customers allows you to provide solutions based on understanding of your customers’ problems.

4. Aggressive customer service agents

Your customer service agents should be trained in adaptive selling techniques. When faced with a customer who wants to cancel their service, a customer service agent who can convince the customer to stay with your company is invaluable.

However, in trying to retain customers, your customer service agents need to remember that their job is first and foremost to solve the customer’s problem—even if they earn a commission on retention or upselling.

In the case of Comcast,its reputation suffered blows when a customer, Ryan Block, attempted to cancel his contract. As the recording of the call (or at least, this eight minute snippet of it) proves, unless customer service agents are trained more in retention techniques than customer courtesy, the result can be an embarrassing public fallout.

In a painstaking call that feels like a political debate rather than a customer service query, Ryan asks multiple times if it’s possible to arrange to cancel the service over the phone. The unrelenting agent continually refuses to supply an answer, instead coming back with questions asking why he wants to disconnect.

 Training tips for your customer service agents: 

Mike Aoki, speaker, trainer, and consultant at Reflective Keynotes says, “The Comcast cancellation story is notorious for the agent’s over aggressiveness,” and offers the following tips that he says would have helped:

1. Always acknowledge the customer’s initial request for cancellation. Many customers expect a fight when they call to cancel, so diffuse that tension by acknowledging the customer’s request. You should still try to retain them. However, don’t start the conversation in an adversarial mode by ignoring or refuting the customer’s initial request. Instead, respond with, “I’m sorry to hear you want to cancel.”

2. Begin asking questions to discover ways to help them retain their service. Always start this part of the conversation prefacing your question with, “In order to complete your request, I’ll need to ask a few questions.” Then, ask whatever questions are appropriate to uncover the customer’s need to cancel.

3. Offer alternatives and solutions. After you’ve discovered why the customer wants to cancel, see if you can help them make better use of their service.

4. Remember, your company’s reputation is more important than saving any individual customer. Do not be overly aggressive in your “save” attempt. Try once, or at most, twice, to retain the customer. If someone has turned down two “save” attempts, asking a third time probably won’t work. But it may provoke the customer to lash out on social media or complain to the press. As we saw in this Comcast “save” attempt, the caller was so irate, they lashed out on social media and used their press connections to make the story front page news. The damage from this one phone call was far worse than just losing a single customer.

5. Misplaced customer service arrogance

You want your sales and customer service staff to be genuinely proud of your product offering—but there’s a thin line between pride and arrogance that your staff need to be fully aware of.

This thin line was highlighted in the case of Keara O’Neil, who ended up on the receiving end of some extremely poor customer service etiquette. While shopping for her wedding dress, O’Neil’s fashion sense was ridiculed by the customer service team of retail outlet Gasp after she became uncomfortable at the pushy nature of one of the sales assistants. She claimed that he told her: “I knew you were a joke the minute you walked in.”

If that wasn’t enough, O’Neil then emailed the company after her experience, only to receive an equally rude response (which you can read in full here). Instead of apologizing to O’Neil for her treatment, she was told that the sales assistant was a “retail superstar” whose “only problem is that he is too good at what he does.” The email response finishes with the following excerpt:

“So if you would like to do us any favors, please do not waste our retail staff’s time, because as you have already seen, they will not tolerate it. I am sure there are plenty of shops that appease your taste, so I respectfully ask that you side step our store during future window shopping expeditions.”

Not only did Gasp lose Keara as a customer (in fact, they outright told her they didn’t want her business), but after her tale reached the internet, the company was faced with a firestorm. The company’s Facebook page was bombarded with derogatory comments, and anti-Gasp pages began springing up across the internet.

 How to train your sales staff: 

Shep Hyken, customer service and experience expert, offered some insight into the treatment of customers:

“Not all customers are created equal, but they are all people and should be treated as such. Some customers spend more, some spend less. Others don’t spend at all. But alienating a customer based on any type of disconnect—be it looks, communication, or any other factor—is a mistake.”