How to fix bad customer service: 13 actionable strategies

Customer Experience

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Customer service is integral to your company because it’s the direct connection between your customers and your business. Given that it’s the face of your company, your business’ reputation and continued success depend on it.

Although most people would agree that customer service plays a key role in an organization’s growth and development, how a company approaches its customer service can vary across industries. It’s true that there isn’t a blueprint for building an effective customer service team and mistakes do occasionally happen, but honing your team’s customer service skills is a great start.

Short on time? Skip to the sections most relevant to you below.

  • Poorly trained customer service agents
  • Using negative language
  • Poor product
  • Ignoring customer feedback and reviews
  • Not taking accountability
  • Lack of active listening
  • Taking existing customers for granted
  • Rigidity of policy
  • Unhelpful chatbots
  • Making it difficult to find help
  • Poor response time
  • Creating barriers to modify or cancel the service
  • Inability to de-escalate conflicts

What does bad customer service look like?

Correcting customer service blunders in a timely way improves customer satisfaction, which will ultimately improve customer retention and increase revenue. To prevent these issues before they appear, however, you need to know what bad customer service looks like. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of bad customer service examples with strategies to fix them, that all companies should be mindful of: 

1. Poorly trained customer service agents

The first place to look when you’re receiving customer complaints is how well you’ve trained your own staff. Sometimes, issues will originate from a lack of understanding—whether that means understanding customer requests or understanding the product. Sometimes, it could be as simple as a lack of customer service skills.

In cases like these, it’s important to figure out if this is merely a misunderstanding with one agent, or if it’s a larger issue that requires retraining your staff. The important thing is to avoid rushing to conclusions and pointing fingers. You may find that your training is thin or ambiguous in some areas, and strengthening those areas will prevent the same issue from recurring. 

2. Using negative language

Your customers rely on your solutions to help their business and can expect the agent they are dealing with to have all of the answers. As experienced as your agents may be, they will come across questions that stump them. This isn’t inherently problematic. It’s how your agents deal with complicated or stressful situations, however, that’ll be the difference between a positive customer experience and a negative one. 

Sometimes, it’s not a lack of training but a bad attitude that results in a negative customer experience. Using the appropriate tone and language is one aspect of having a great customer service attitude. Remaining calm, respectful, and positive inspires confidence in your customers.

For these reasons, being resourceful and knowing how to ask for help in an efficient way are some of the most important skills in customer service. You need agents that are problem solvers and solution-oriented. They need to be able to approach problems with a can-do attitude. 

3. Poor product 

Even before the customer service agents are called into question, you may need to consider the efficacy of your product. It may be that the product itself is lacking in some essential way and, therefore, your agents are at a loss to provide solutions that lead to customer satisfaction. 

Before you jump into repair mode, you have to know what’s broken. Idiomatic delivers highly specific analyses of customer feedback data to help companies make data-driven decisions to eliminate pain points. Your issue may not be poor customer service, but rather a lack of insight regarding specifics of what your customers need. 

4. Ignoring customer feedback and reviews

The abundance of online opinions, whether on social media or review sites, can be difficult to navigate. Entering these platforms can feel as though you’re walking into a shouting match and you’re not sure who’s arguing about what. 

In this arena, it can be challenging to drown out the noise and hone in on real feedback. This is a muscle that you’ll need to develop. Customers are aware that you have access to their feedback on these online forums. And when customers are unhappy, ignoring them is almost always, if not always, worse than addressing their concerns.

So, you’ve decided to pay attention to your customers’ reviews—how do you convert that feedback into actionable change? This is the issue that Upwork faced. With over 300 support agents handling over 1 million cases every year, their CX team needed a new way to pull automatic insights from all of their customer feedback. 

By leveraging Idiomatic’s customized AI, Upwork uncovered and quantified specific customer pain points across support, surveys, and other customer feedback channels. Idiomatic’s real-time insights dashboard empowered Upwork to align cross-functionally and make changes to improve the customer experience. As a result, Upwork saved $1.25 million in annual customer support costs, received 10 times more customer feedback analysis, and reduced the most recurring customer issues by 40%.

Remember that today, customers can post a story about an interaction they’ve had with your company and instantly influence the opinion of thousands of would-be buyers. Bad customer reviews will not only affect your ability to retain your customers but will also prevent you from acquiring new business.

Just like Upwork, your CX team might need some help generating insight from customer feedback. Idiomatic can help your business discover all the ways you can improve the customer experience with their real-time insights dashboard.

5. Not taking accountability

On the topic of customer feedback, it’s important to not only look at what your customers are saying about their interaction with your business but to act on it. Many poor customer service experiences come from companies who are more than happy to collect money from a transaction but reluctant to accept responsibility when things go awry.

When businesses are customer-centric, it doesn’t just mean that they’re focused on finding the best solutions for their customers. It also means that they take the customer’s perspective into account. Your customers should not have to be concerned about how you operate behind the scenes. The agreement with them is that if things don’t go as outlined, you are responsible for their experience.

This isn’t always a monetary responsibility. Sometimes, it can be as simple as teaching your customer service team to apologize. Recognizing and admitting when you’re at fault is often the most important step in conflict resolution. Shifting the blame won’t fix the problem, nor will it serve your business or customers. Being straightforward and honest when you’re wrong can be the difference between a good customer service experience and an awful one. 

6. Lack of active listening

Active listening requires participation on the part of the listener. It means asking follow-up questions and showing interest in what you’re being told using verbal and visual cues. It’s a vital component of good customer service. Passive listening means listening to a customer’s request at face value and performing the exact actions required without taking into account the context, intention, desired outcomes, and nuances of their particular situation. 

The former may lead you to provide solutions that your customers may not have specifically known to ask for, but the solutions they need. The latter will lead to a situation where you’re “technically correct” because you presented a formulaic answer to a problem. It’s the difference between a lousy customer service experience and a superior customer service experience. Passive listening neither helps the customer nor does it reduce the perceived effort required of the agent. The customer service representative will likely have to circle back to the issue when the customer realizes that the solution that they were provided doesn’t address their needs.

7. Taking existing customers for granted

Though it might go without being said that you should be grateful for every customer who contributes to your business, the reality is that it doesn’t always happen. One of the most common challenges for businesses is attracting new customers while making sure current customers are satisfied

Choosing how to divvy up your time and resources can be difficult. Many companies fall into the trap of focusing more on customer acquisition and end up paying less attention to their current customers. Developing a customer retention strategy is key to reducing customer churn.

FabFitFun is one example of a company that had to overcome customer churn. Manual tagging of data resulted in inconsistencies, small samples, and wasted time analyzing the information to uncover insights. With 2 million subscribers, FabFitFun needed a scalable, data-driven way to translate the voice of the customer cross-functionally.

FabFitFun partnered with Idiomatic to discover the reason behind customer satisfaction scores. Idiomatic created a plan to drive transformative solutions with their real-time insights. This resulted in a 49% decrease in customer complaints, a 250% increase in product satisfaction, a 28% decrease in contact volume, a 6% increase in 5-star ratings, and a decrease in the manual analysis required to uncover product insight.

Like FabFitFun, you can use Idiomatic’s customized AI technology to create transformative change that will help combat churn. By analyzing and categorizing customer feedback, Idiomatic will allow you to retain and grow your customer base.

8. Rigidity of policy

Many poor customer service experiences come from agents who refuse to be flexible. Stubbornly following policy can be detrimental to your business, especially when the request requires minimal adjustment. Sometimes this rigidity can be a sign of deficiency in product knowledge and business practices, rather than a refusal to be flexible. Other times it’s due to blind acceptance. 

While rules are important because they prevent chaos, they need to resemble guidelines rather than commandments. This will prevent your customer service team from blindly accepting and submitting to rejection or roadblocks and will empower them to come up with creative workarounds. For this to happen, you need to provide your team with the authority to make decisions as needed, and then back them up on those decisions. 

9. Unhelpful chatbots

If your customer can’t get to a human right away and they need a quick answer to a question, chatbots can be great too; however, this is assuming that your chatbot is actually helpful rather than just a frustrating experience. Terrible customer service is no longer a uniquely human problem. Worse than chatbots that are entirely unintelligible are ones that seem comprehensible and helpful at first but don’t deliver on your customers’ requests. 

A way of fixing these customer service issues is to find alternatives to chatbots that will still meet the goals that your customers have. This doesn’t mean you need to eliminate your chatbot entirely. Rather, be clear about what set of questions the chatbot can answer. This way your customers have a realistic portrayal of the level of service they can expect from them. This will immediately increase customer satisfaction. Finally, make sure that your customer can easily be transferred to a live person if your chatbot can’t find a solution. 

10. Making it difficult to find help

If the unhelpful chatbot example above sounds like a familiar complaint, you may need to provide more human support to your customers. Humans can provide the empathy that customers expect, which will lead to customer loyalty. Having issues with a service and being met with a kind and competent person can feel like a godsend.

The reality, however, is that it’s often difficult to reach an actual human to discuss your problem. This issue of inaccessibility is so severe that there are companies dedicated to helping people find human assistance. This type of evasive behavior can come in the form of difficulty locating a contact number or email, being passed around from one person or department to the next, or being told to wait for a call that seemingly never arrives.  

11. Poor response time

Slow response times are a common cause of low customer satisfaction rates. When a customer is spending time waiting for someone to address their concern, their frustration can turn what would have been a minor inconvenience into what ends up being a poor customer service experience.

Sometimes making your customers wait is out of your hands. You may have higher than normal call volumes, but there are lengths of time that are reasonable and longer stretches of time that are unacceptable. We all understand the annoyance of waiting on hold for issues that can be resolved within minutes.

The same goes for email response times. Maybe your team needs to speed up their approach and be a little more efficient, or maybe you’ll discover that you’re a little understaffed. Either way, addressing response times can greatly improve customer experience.

12. Creating barriers to modify or cancel the service

If finding help can be difficult, sometimes it can be even more challenging to cancel or change your service. For the most part, many of these options should be easy to find and navigate. Part of offering excellent service quality is making it easy for your customers to adjust their service. Requiring people to make a call and hold for an hour for something that can be done online with a few clicks is manipulative. 

Respecting your customers’ time means allowing them to make adjustments to their accounts with ease. Most importantly, if your customer has already decided to cancel, making them wait and jump through hoops will only solidify that decision.

13. Inability to de-escalate conflicts 

Most reasonable people understand that mistakes happen. Even if your customer support team is top-notch there are bound to be a few slip-ups here and there. Often, it’s not the mistakes that cause bad customer service experiences, but rather the follow-ups to those mistakes. 

Getting into a power struggle over who is right and who is wrong with a customer will always lead to a flare-up. Train your agents to take a pause if they feel tensions running high. It’s important that they remain calm, especially when the customer is upset. If you’ve done all you can to assist the customer and they remain unhappy, plan ahead for how to handle a bad review. This way, you won’t be caught off guard and the consequences of that review will be less severe.

It’s the small things

The downfall of a company doesn’t happen overnight but is the result of an accumulation of oversights. It doesn’t take massive errors to lose business. That’s why paying attention to how each customer is treated is vital to your company’s health. What would be considered small missteps, but repeated on a large scale, can drive away customers.

Providing excellent customer service is a marathon, rather than a sprint. It means supporting your customers at every stage of the cycle, not just in the beginning when they are signing up. As long as you pay attention to the small signs, you’ll always be ahead of any problem. Request a demo to see how Idiomatic can help your company take charge of your customer service in a meaningful way.