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

November 21, 2022
Smiling and sad faces

Customer experience is fast becoming the leading factor that determines a business’ success.

In fact, 86% now report that they value quality customer experiences over price. 

On top of that, a study by Forbes found that 96% of consumers will switch brands as a result of poor customer service.

Seeing as customer service can quite literally make or break a business, it’s vital to know the dos and don’ts of customer support.

Fortunately, we've provided this guide to help you identify poor service and put measures in place to avoid it. We'll cover:

  • What is poor customer service
  • What causes poor customer service?
  • The importance of customer service
  • Example of poor service and how to avoid them
A call center agent with a headset

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 customer conversations, 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 advisors often run the risk of neglecting the human element of the discussion at hand. 

As the customer and the advisor cannot communicate as effectively online, 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. 

A call center agent with a headset on

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, the main thing to remember 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.

A customer talking on a smartphone and laptop

Why is customer service so important?

Before we dive 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

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.

This means that for every poor customer service incident, you could lose 15 potential customers.

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

A customer on a smartphone and call center agent

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.  

Think of it this way, every time you provide poor customer service, you are potentially 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. 

A funnel turning customer calls into sales

Poor customer service examples & how to avoid them

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

Let's 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 customer callbacks.

Callbacks 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 live chat, 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.

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

Customers and agents surrounded by icons of clocks and timers

2. Slow response times 

No matter the contact channel, a slow average response time is another bad example of poor customer service.

In fact, 75% of consumers consider a fast response time to be the most important element of the digital customer experience.

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

That's why 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

Best practices to avoid it:

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

For example, a customer might expect a live chat request to be answered in minutes, but appreciate that 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 lives up to its expected response time.

For instances when fast responses are called for, a chat solution is your best option. 

Web chat allows you to provide customers with one-to-one, real-time support. It's one of the fastest contact channels and has the highest customer satisfaction rating.

Magnet attracting customer conversations

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. 

AI-powered chatbots, for example, are great for quickly dealing with simple issues and 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 incredibly frustrating for customers.

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 programmed to hand customers over to a human agent when a query proves too complex for them.

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.

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

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

A cartoon chatbot

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 consider needing to repeat themselves as poor customer service.

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

Being transferred between touchpoints 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 technology.

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

Systems that grant 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. 

Channels 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 person.

For example, if a customer can’t see a certain button to click to submit their shopping cart, a chat interaction can be escalated 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.

A conversation between contact agent and customer

5. Poor training

When poor customer service is involved, customer support teams 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 teams 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 advisor 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 you provide adequate training that teaches 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 employees, which can be tested by asking situational based questions.

Empathy can also be encouraged by ensuring your advisors 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 staff to always maintain a polite manner.

Providing 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. 

Specific training 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 the proper training and know the best practices. 

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

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

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

When chatbots deal with easy requests, it’s the support team's job to deal with complex issues.

That means no more easy ‘I’ve forgotten my password’ problems. Instead, it likely means more technical issues.

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

A smartphone video call between customer and shop assistant

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 probably 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 a range of channels.

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

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.

A tshirt ecommerce purchase

Key customer service metrics to track

In order to avoid poor customer service, 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 metrics and KPIs 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 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 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 teams, but remember that short resolutions times aren’t always the priority and it’s important you 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.
Customer journey on a laptop

The takeaway

It’s an undeniable fact that quality customer service is crucial for business success.

By making efforts to avoid poor service and provide positive experiences, you’ll witness an increase in customer delight and conversions.

But remember that optimizing your customer service is not one-and-done activity – it’s an ongoing process that you need to continually monitor and improve upon.

One aspect of this is consistently listening to your customers’ needs and adapting accordingly.

The other part is embracing the best forward-thinking technology that’ll allow you to take your performance and customer support to the next level.

And that's where Talkative comes in.

Our platform was specifically designed to provide superior customer service and personalized digital experiences.

We provide a complete suite of engagement channels that'll empower your customer advisors to connect instantly, and effortlessly, with all your digital customer.

As a result, they’ll be fully equipped to support, engage, and convert more customers than ever before – all within a single platform.

Want to see for yourself? Book a demo with Talkative today.

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