6 Poor Customer Service Traits You Need To Avoid (& How)

Patsy Nearkhou
January 25, 2022
Read time:
Customer Service
Patsy Nearkhou

What’s the biggest factor in determining the success of your organisation?

Is it the product offered?

The price?


Turns out customer experience is fast becoming the leading factor in a business’ success.

In fact, 72% of customers now report they value good customer experience over price. 

Seeing as customer service can quite literally make or break your business, it’s vital to know the dos and don’ts of customer support. Read on to discover the trademarks of poor customer service and what measures you can put in place to ensure you get it right. 

What is poor customer service? 

It might sound like an obvious question, but defining poor customer service isn’t quite as easy as you might think - especially during online interactions. 

During face to face interactions, it’s a lot easier to spot. In these circumstances, rude or ignorant staff are a common example of poor customer service.

Another example is disrespecting the customer by keeping them waiting unnecessarily. 

With online interactions, the capacity for poor customer service is arguably greater.

This is because contact centre agents often run the risk of neglecting the human element of the discussion at hand. 

As the customer and the business’s support staff cannot communicate as effectively, this disconnect leads to customer tension.

It means that even a long wait for an email reply can be deemed as poor customer service by the customer. 

What causes poor customer service?

There are countless reasons as to why a business might develop a reputation for poor customer service.

Perhaps staff are rude and customers are often kept waiting. This might be due to a poor training or hiring policy, as well as lacklustre managers.

Whatever the reason a business offers poor customer service, the main thing to remember when it comes to this subject is that the customer is always right - even when they are wrong.

If a customer feels like they’ve received poor service, they most likely have. Either way, it’s your job to fix it.

Why is customer service so important?

You might be surprised to hear that customer service plays such a vital role in the success of a business, so before diving into practical examples of poor customer service, let’s address why avoiding these pitfalls is so important. 

Ultimately, bad customer service can seriously damage your business in two main ways:

1. Reputation

Reputation is everything and unfortunately, if you’re guilty of any poor customer service sins, it’s quicker and easier to gain a bad reputation than a good one.

Customers are more likely to leave a negative review online, or tell friends and family about a poor experience with a brand, than they are to talk about a good experience.

As unfair as this sounds, it means that one customer that has a bad interaction with your business can be more significant to your reputation than ten positive customer exchanges.  

In fact, people share bad experiences with 15 other people on average, meaning for every poor customer service experience, you could lose 15 potential customers.

Providing good customer service to build a good reputation should therefore be a priority for any business.

2. Customer loyalty

It’s no secret that it’s cheaper to retain customers than to constantly acquire new ones, which is why creating brand loyalty is a key factor in business success. 

Poor customer service is a sure-fire way to destroy customer loyalty. A study by Zendesk found that just one bad experience is enough to stop 51% of customers returning to a business.

As soon as that one bad experience turns into more than one, 80% of customers will switch to a competitor. 

Think of it this way, every time you provide poor customer service, you are handing a customer over to your competitors!

No business can afford to lose customers in this way, which is why ensuring customers have good interactions and positive experiences with your business is so important. 

Affects of poor customer service

Poor customer service examples & how to avoid them

Now to the nitty-gritty: what is poor customer service, and what measures can your business put in place to avoid it?

Here we examine some of the top customer service don’ts. 

1. Long wait times

In a recent survey involving 3,000 people worldwide, being made to wait on hold when calling a company was top of the list for what constitutes poor customer service.

You might be thinking, ‘oh that’s fine, I never make my customers wait more than five minutes on hold’.

Well, five minutes is too long for the majority of customers. In fact, 60% of customers don’t even want to wait on hold for one minute! 

In other words, unless your agents are answering the phone nearly immediately, you’re offering very poor customer service.

Best practices to avoid it:

Answering the phone immediately in a busy contact centre is impossible.

Putting pressure on your agents to do this will likely lead to bad quality calls as the agent rushes to get the current customer off the line to move onto the next one, which in itself can lead to poor customer service. 

Luckily, the key to avoiding long wait times is not to always pick up the phone immediately, but to get rid of the dreaded on-hold queue.

Customers accept they might not be able to reach you on the phone straight away, the aspect they don’t like is the actual waiting. 

The most effective way to tackle this poor customer service issue is through call backs.

Call backs allow customers to request a call at a time that suits them, or to receive a call as soon as an agent is free.

Either way, they can get on with their day while they ‘wait’ for the call, rather than wasting time sitting around on hold.

Introducing other contact channels, such as chat solutions, is also an effective way to reduce phone demand, which will help to reduce and/or eliminate wait times. 

With Talkative, you can also display your average wait times within your website or apps chat widget.

It means you can better manage expectations and allow customers to choose other contact methods if their query isn't an urgent one.

2. Slow response times 

No matter the contact channel, slow responses to queries are another bad example of poor customer service.

In fact, 90% of customers actually rate an immediate response as a very important aspect of customer service.

Time is precious, and appreciating that customers shouldn’t be kept waiting can go a long way.

In fact, a huge 77% of customers report that valuing their time is one of the key ways companies can provide good online customer service. 

The need for speedy replies is particularly important for Millennials and Gen Z, which is why they often pick the typically faster communication channels, such as live chat. 

Best practices to avoid it:

The speed of response is heavily related to the contact channel a customer chooses.

For example, a customer might expect a live chat request to be answered in real-time, but appreciate an email might be responded to the next day. 

So, when it comes to responding to customers, the key to avoiding a poor customer service reputation is ensuring each channel matches its expected response time.

For instances when immediate responses are called for, chat solutions are your best option. 

Live chat allows agents to talk to customers in real-time during a company’s operating hours, while AI chatbots are great for offering immediate 24/7 support, but bear in mind that they are limited in the complexity of queries they can handle. 

Expected response times per contact channel

3. Getting stuck in an automated customer service system

Automated systems can ensure fast responses and efficient support, but the lack of personal contact can also lead to poor customer service experiences. 

Chatbots, for example, are great for quickly dealing with FAQs, but they are limited.

They can’t provide satisfactory answers to uncommon or complex questions, and something as simple as a customer misspelling a word can throw them off. 

For complex or particularly urgent issues, nothing can beat a human agent, and not being able to reach one in these situations can feel like an incredibly frustrating example of poor customer service.

Moreover, while most customers are open to automated systems, they aren’t for everybody.

Older customers in particular can be turned off by heavily automated customer support and struggle to get through all the steps to reach a human. 

Best practices to avoid it:

Balance is key. Automated systems are great, as long as they are backed up by a human touch. This means having a hybrid contact centre that utilises the best of both. 

For example, chatbots can be used to deal with FAQs and field customer requests, but if the issue is complex or the customer is not satisfied with an answer, there is a human agent available for the bot to hand over to, either via live chat or over the phone. 

The same goes for automated phone systems. Automation is useful for getting customers to the right part of the contact centre, but don’t make the process too long or complicated.

Furthermore, make sure the customer is put through to a human agent if they are having difficulty with the automated steps.

Do this quickly and efficiently, and any accusations of poor customer service can be avoided.

4. Being passed to multiple agents & touchpoints

Customers don’t like being transferred from one agent to the next as it often means they have to repeat their problem again and again.

72% of customers actually label needing to repeat themselves as poor customer service.

This goes against two key customer service aspects we have already mentioned: fast response/resolution and valuing a customer’s time.

Being transferred between agents both increases the length of the interaction and makes the customer feel like their time is being wasted, creating one very unsatisfied customer.

The process of transferring customers also increases the chance of them abandoning an interaction as they grow impatient or run out of time.

This negatively impacts a key customer service metric - First Contact Resolution.

Resolving issues the first time a customer gets in touch is great for contact centre efficiency and significantly contributes to avoiding poor customer service.

Best practices to avoid it:

Avoiding this poor customer service trait comes down to having the right tools in your contact centre.

Real-time engagement tools and a robust customer data system will allow a single agent to deal with requests from start to finish.

Systems that give agents access to a customer’s website journey are great for helping them contextualise a customer’s problem.

They can see how a customer entered a site, what pages they have visited, and what page they have requested support from, all of which can give them more information to help the customer. 

Connecting your contact centre channels to your CRM is also a great way to give agents access to all needed customer data in one place.

They can see the customer’s personal information, as well as past interactions, all on one screen, which makes it easier for them to access the data they need to help the customer. 

Cobrowse is a good visual tool to aid customer service

Real-time engagement tools, such as cobrowsing and video chat, are great tools for agents to ‘escalate’ an interaction if the customer requires a little bit of extra assistance, without having to  transfer the customer to a different agent.

For example, if a customer can’t see a certain button to click to submit their shopping cart, an agent can escalate live chat to cobrowse.

This gives them access to the customer’s screen, where they can use visual aids and annotate the screen to show the customer where to click. 

Giving agents the tools to switch to a visual contact channel can help a single agent resolve the issue.

What’s more, while this method helps you prevent any potential comments about poor customer service, it also increases the chance of the problem being solved during the first interaction.

5. Poorly trained agents

When poor customer service is involved, agents can make or break a customer’s experience with a business.

After all, they are the ones who speak to the customer and deal with their questions and problems.

68% of customers believe the key to good customer service is as simple as talking to a polite support agent.

In this sense, your contact centre agents are one of your most crucial brand representatives and factors of customer service success. 

There are a few ways agents can provide poor customer service:

  1. Not showing empathy towards customers
  2. Not respecting customers
  3. Not using contact channels correctly
  4. Not knowing enough about the product/service

A lack of empathy and respect towards customers makes them feel like you don’t care about them, which is an easy way to send them running to your competitors. 

Customers also find it frustrating if an agent knows less than them.

63% of customers will try to find a solution to their problem before they contact customer services, which means they have already scoured your website for answers. 

When they connect with an agent, they want them to know the answer, which means your agents need to be highly knowledgeable about your product/service and business processes.

If they don’t, you’re wasting more of your customers' time - and what could be a worse example of poor customer service?

Best practices to avoid it:

The solution to this all comes down to making sure your agents have adequate training and possess key customer service skills. 

Showing empathy is about caring for customers and putting them first.

This is a skill you should look out for when hiring agents, which can be tested by asking situational based questions. Empathy can also be encouraged by ensuring your agents know that quality over quantity is what matters; the focus is on interactions that help customers, not on the speed of interactions. 

Respect can simply be shown through politeness. Use role play exercises to encourage your agents to always maintain a polite manner.

Giving your agents customer service scripts for reference is also a good way to ensure they always answer in a respectful manner, especially when they are just starting out. 

To further prevent any instances of poor customer service, training agents on individual contact channels is also important, as different skills are required for different channels.

Responding to a customer on live chat, for example, is not the same as a phone call. Before placing an agent on a contact channel, make sure they’ve received specific training and know the best practices. 

Finally, as well as good customer service etiquette, training needs to involve giving your agents in-depth knowledge of the products/service you sell or provide.

An element of this will come with experience and time with the company, but even new agents need to know more than a customer can find out for themselves on your website. 

Having highly knowledgeable agents will become more and more important as AI technology is increasingly used in contact centres.

When chatbots deal with easy requests, it’s your agents’ job to deal with complex issues.

That means no more easy ‘I’ve forgotten my password’ problems. On the other hand, it likely means more technical issues!

Addressing this means testing different skills when hiring agents, such as the ability to be analytical and think outside the box. 

Contact Channel Best practices:
  1. Live Chat Best Practices
  2. Video Chat Best Practices

6. Not being active on the channels your customers want

To best serve your audience and avoid poor customer service, you need to be available on the channels your customers use the most.

Let’s imagine an example. You run an ecommerce website that sells designer sunglasses. A customer is browsing products on your mobile app and wants to know if a pair of sunglasses comes in a certain colour.

They want to contact you through the app, but unfortunately there is no contact option. Instead, the customer needs to go onto your website and start a live chat. 

This is poor customer service as your customer can’t get hold of you via the channel they want to use. Having to leave the app to go to your website will likely lead to the customer abandoning the idea of contacting you and the purchase altogether.

Plus, they will likely turn to a competitor’s app that offers in-app contact in the future.

Best practices to avoid it:

The answer sounds simple: to avoid this digital customer service mistake, be where your customers are by utilising different contact channels.

For instance, if your customers want to reach you through your app, integrate live chat into your app. 

This is partly true - you need to be able to serve your customers on their preferred channels.

However, providing good customer service in this way isn’t just about offering as many contact channels as possible. 

First, you need to make sure you have enough agents to manage the different channels, and ensure they are adequately trained to use them.

Without this, you’ll hit other aspects of poor customer service that we have discussed. This means it takes time to introduce new contact channels and you shouldn’t rush it. 

Secondly, all the different channels you use need to be synced up, providing customers with one seamless customer experience.

In other words, customers and agents should be able to switch from one channel to another when needed.

For example, let’s revisit our previous example about a customer searching for sunglasses on an ecommerce store’s app.

However, this time around, the ecommerce store offers live video chat through their app, as well as live chat.

So, say the customer sends a live chat message asking if the sunglasses come in green. The agent replies yes, and the customer asks what type of green.

Rather than trying to describe the colour, the agent could ask the customer if they want to switch to a video call so they can show them the green sunglasses, as well as the other colours they come in.

Once the customer has agreed, they seamlessly switch to a live video chat within the app. The customer ends up loving the sunglasses in red and goes on to purchase them. 

Not only was the customer served via their preferred channel, but that channel was connected to another channel to offer an exceptional omnichannel customer experience - one that went above and beyond the customer’s needs.

If that isn’t perfect customer service, we don’t know what is! 

Examples of poor customer service

Key customer service metrics to track

How do you know if your customer service is good or bad? It’s fine talking about how to avoid poor customer service, but you also need to know how to track it to ensure you are offering the best support possible. 

Tracking is also a good method to flag up problem areas, so you know where you need to improve. 

To make sure you’re avoiding our list of poor customer service traits, below are the top contact centre performance metrics and networks you need to keep an eye on:

  1. First contact resolution rate (FCR): are most problems solved the first time a customer contacts you? 
  2. Average response time: this typically applies to live chat and refers to how long it takes an agent to initially respond to a chat request. It’s also good practice to measure response times for your other contact channels too, such as emails and social media messages.
  3. Average resolution time: how long on average does it take for a customer issue to be solved? This is good to track to know the efficiency of your agents, but remember that short resolutions times aren’t always the priority and it’s important your agents don’t rush customers. 
  4. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): this is a direct indicator of how happy your customers are with your service. To gather this data, ask customers to complete a short survey immediately after a customer service interaction. Keep it as simple as ‘How would you rate the quality of service you received today?: Excellent, Good, Average, Poor’. 
  5. Customer retention rate: Do you get a lot of repeat business? If not, it suggests your customers aren’t being particularly loyal, which is an indication of poor customer service.
  6. Online reviews: Keep an eye on what people are saying about your brand on review sites and social media. People typically voice frustrations and poor experiences more than good ones, so this is a good area to spot common complaints that you could address and fix for the future. Responding to online complaints can also be beneficial. The customer in question might change their mind about your business if you address and solve their issue, and potential customers can see you take care of your customers.
Download the ‘Inner Circle Guide to Video & Next-Generation Customer Contact’

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