Bad Customer Service: Examples + How It Affects Your Business

Bad customer service is everything that fails to meet customers’ needs or expectations. And it can really hurt your business by reducing your client base and decreasing overall profits.

Bad Customer Service: Examples + How It Affects Your Business

See what 1400+ marketers had to say about the top marketing trends for 2024.

Any experienced business owner knows that excellent customer service is crucial to long-term success. 

After all, no matter how incredible your product or service is, the chances are that your customers won’t be willing to endure subpar treatment to receive it.

With this in mind, there’s no doubt that outstanding customer care should be a foundational pillar of your business, regardless of industry or size. 

However, how can you be sure that you’re not engaging in bad customer service that could severely damage your business?

This article provides an in-depth look at bad customer service, its repercussions for your business and, most importantly, how to correct poor practices.

    Download this post by entering your email below

    Do not worry, we do not spam.

    What is Bad Customer Service?

    Bad customer service can be defined as actions or behaviors that fail to meet customers’ needs or expectations. 

    It can manifest as poor communication, unnecessary delays, limiting human interaction, and rude behavior, to name a few examples.

    As a business leader, it’s crucial to be able to identify unsatisfactory customer service early on so that it doesn’t damage your company long-term.

    Consider the following scenarios that can lead to poor customer service. 

    By keeping your eye out for these situations, you can ensure a superior experience for current and future customers alike.

    Poor communication channels

    A surefire way to deliver poor customer service is to maintain poor channels of communication. 

    This could be over the phone, on your website or even at an in-person office location. 

    If your customers can’t contact you, you are limiting them — and yourself — in a number of ways.

    Without open lines of communication, clients aren’t able to resolve issues, ask questions or speak with an employee before purchasing your product or service.

    For these reasons, mediocre communication channels worsen your customers’ overall experience and hurt your business in the long run.


    It goes without saying that no one likes to wait. 

    Forcing customers to endure long wait times on the phone, online or in-store is another bad customer service practice that can tank your business.

    Not only do delays put your customers behind schedule, but they also imply that you don’t care about their needs. 

    Transferring customers to multiple customer service agents can make these delays even worse.

    Even if you have a good reason for the wait (like limited staff or extenuating circumstances), your customers have the right to prompt assistance.

    Lack of human connection

    Particularly over the phone, a lack of human connection can frustrate customers. 

    More often than not, clients that call your business want to speak with a real person, not just a robot.

    In today’s increasingly digital world, customers want to interact with businesses that deliver products and services with a personal touch. 

    By swapping employees for recordings and machines, your customers may get the impression that you’re not a hands-on type of business.

    This disconnect could lead to irritation among customers and an overarching trend of poor customer service.

    Impolite interactions

    In a perfect world, all customer service representatives would maintain a calm, respectful demeanor at all times. 

    However, dealing with difficult customers and fielding excessive criticism can cause some agents to lose their resolve.

    For this reason, upon hearing the phrase “bad customer service”, many people may think of rude or impolite customer service agents. 

    There’s no doubt that an abrupt, unsympathetic interaction with a customer service representative can be detrimental to your business’s reputation.

    This is especially true today, given the major role that reviews play in customers’ buying decisions.

    If your customer service team fails to maintain a friendly, empathetic tone, your customers are more likely to associate your company with bad customer service.

    7 Specific Bad Customer Service Examples (and How to Fix Them)

    There are several real-life examples of poor customer service that clearly illustrate just how harmful such practices can be.

    By examining these situations, businesses across every industry can learn more about the value of outstanding customer service.

    The following examples detail how different companies have failed to deliver satisfactory customer service and what you can do to avoid these situations.

    1. Failure to apologize

    Mistakes, poor judgments and bad decisions happen in business. 

    But when these events do occur, it’s essential for the business to issue a sincere apology to those affected.

    A prime example of appalling customer service is United Airlines’ failure to sufficiently apologize for dragging a customer out of his seat using brute force in 2017. 

    When United overbooked this particular flight, they asked passengers to give up their seats to accommodate flight attendants.

    When no one came forward, United randomly selected a few passengers to leave the flight. One of the selected passengers was a doctor who had patients to treat the next day.

    When he refused to leave his seat, police boarded the aircraft and physically dragged the passenger off the plane, resulting in several physical injuries and general chaos.

    In his initial statement, United CEO Oscar Munoz said: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers”. 

    This type of surface apology doesn’t address the customer’s injuries or the staff’s abysmal actions, which resulted in even worse customer service.

    When mistakes and bad judgment calls happen, companies should deliver a swift yet thorough apology for their poor behavior.

    While it doesn’t change what happened in the first place, it does show that the company recognizes the problem and is committed to correcting it.

    2. Keeping customers waiting

    Whether it’s for 20 minutes or 2 hours, being put on hold to speak to a customer service representative can be an extremely frustrating experience.

    Wait times can seem to stretch on forever, sometimes with no end in sight. 

    Spectrum customer Tom Cheredar can attest to this frustration — the Washington Post reports that he recently spent 3 hours on hold with the cable company.

    In his many attempts to speak to an agent, he was disconnected and repeatedly told by a robot to be patient.

    Cheredar is not the only customer to experience unfathomably long wait times, both on the phone and in person. 

    Delays of this nature automatically make the customer feel deeply undervalued by the company in question.

    No doubt about it, call waiting messages and automated responses can be helpful to relay basic information such as hours, location and contact information. 

    However, it’s crucial that customers know when they can expect to speak with an agent.

    To optimize customer experience, ensure that you have enough agents to accommodate the calls that your company receives each day. 

    You should also include a feature that tells customers their estimated wait time so they can decide whether they have the time to wait or not.

    3. Escalating the conversation

    Customer service representatives are meant to listen to the customer and respond to their concerns in a calm and understanding manner. 

    Failure to do this is a telltale sign of poor customer service.

    A drawn-out phone conversation between a Comcast representative and a customer trying to cancel his service exemplifies why agents should be trained to use a calm, even tone. 

    The conversation went viral after former Comcast customer Ryan Block shared a recording online.

    Despite the fact that Block politely asked to cancel his service, Comcast’s customer service representative escalated the conversation, using an increasingly desperate and agitated tone.

    The call goes on for more than 20 minutes, with the agent refusing to cancel Block’s service. 

    He asked questions like “You don’t want something that works?” and “You’re not interested in the fastest internet in the country?”.

    Refusing to fulfill customers’ requests and using an irritated tone makes for bad customer service.

    This conversation shows the importance of thorough employee training to ensure that customer service representatives speak to customers in a calm and productive way. 

    Utilize role-playing scenarios to teach agents how to respond to a variety of customer scenarios.

    4. Ignoring context

    Another example is putting company policy before customer care.

    Even if your company has a series of hard-and-fast rules to follow, context still matters.

    By blindly sticking to company rules and disregarding a customer’s specific situation, businesses can engage in poor customer service.

    When Clark Howard went to his local Atlanta Walmart to buy a Lego set, he noticed that the in-store price was 35% higher than online. 

    He was told that the store does not match online prices, so he purchased the set online and opted for in-store pick-up to avoid the upcharge.

    Even though Howard watched as an employee took the Lego to the pick-up area, he didn’t get to take it home that day. 

    Instead, he and his son had to wait until the following day, when he finally received his pick-up confirmation.

    These types of contradictory policies tend to lead to bad customer service. 

    Instead, companies should maintain a level of flexibility so that customers’ needs are being met at all times.

    Companies will attract more customers and increase customer loyalty by considering context before enforcing strict policies.

    5. Ignoring customer feedback

    When you ignore what your customers have to say, they’ll know that you don’t care.

    Customers who leave you feedback are often the ones who had bad interactions with your company, so you’ll want to go over what they had a problem with and see how you can prevent those issues from happening again in the future. 

    Doing that could improve your services and build a stronger customer base.

    6. Transferring calls a thousand times

    Transferring calls over and over again, or making your customers muddle through a phone maze, is not a good way to endear yourself to them. 

    Transferring calls might be necessary sometimes, but avoid making too many transfers a requirement.

    It’s best if you have calls go directly to a human or, at the very least, to the right customer service department. Otherwise, you could get complaints about a bad customer experience.

    7. Making customers wait too long for a response

    Another major issue your customers may find with your company is too long of a delay when they have questions or concerns. 

    If you make your customers wait too long, they will find competitors who can serve them better and faster.

    Today’s world is pretty fast. If you can’t deliver 24-hour response times or faster, you may want to set up chatbots or other self-service options. 

    Doing so can minimize the risk of customers getting angry about the wait time, since they know that they can handle many of their day-to-day issues on their own.

    It’s even better if you can have live chat agents available, or, in lieu of that, phone agents they can call during normal business hours.

    You may also be interested in these articles:

    How Can Bad Customer Service Harm Your Business?

    With all of these scenarios in mind, it’s easy to see that poor customer service can be extremely harmful to your business.

    The ramifications of poor customer service may damage your professional reputation, cause employees to leave your company, decrease customer loyalty or tank sales.

    Of course, subpar customer care can create different issues, but these are a few of the most common consequences. 

    Bad reputation

    Developing a bad reputation is one of the most obvious consequences of poor customer service. 

    In today’s interconnected reality, word gets around quickly.

    While a good reputation can be used to attract new customers and keep existing clients happy, a bad reputation can damage your business for years. 

    It’s not unusual for dissatisfied customers to share their negative experiences with other people, whether it’s online or in person.

    Unfortunately, the saying “a bad reputation is better than no reputation” doesn’t apply to businesses.

    Instead, a bad reputation will only limit your company’s growth and profits for years to come.

    Higher employee turnover

    It turns out that poor customer service is just as detrimental to your company’s employees as it is to customers.

    While some employees may not be invested enough in their job to provide excellent customer service, others most likely are. 

    Such an imbalance means that certain employees are stuck picking up the slack, which can lead to a general feeling of bitterness and discontent.

    Particularly if these employees feel underappreciated, your company’s disregard for customer service can lead to a spike in employee turnover.

    Customer loyalty plummets

    Unsurprisingly, poor customer service generally causes a decline in customer loyalty

    Even long-time customers who have been with your company for years will start to reconsider if they receive bad customer service.

    After all, one of the main incentives to stay with a company for such a long time is that they treat their customers better than competitors.

    You may have the best products or the best prices, but even your most loyal customers will have no reason to stick around if you stop providing excellent customer service.

    Reduced conversions and sales

    Last but not least, bad customer service is notorious for its negative impact on sales and conversions

    If your company leaves potential clients with a bad impression from the first interaction, there is little to no chance of turning them into paying customers.

    From the potential client’s perspective, if you’re already treating them poorly as a prospect, how will you treat them once they’re a bonafide customer?

    With this in mind, it’s no surprise that bad customer service is a surefire way to reduce conversions, sales and overall profits.

    Wrap Up

    All things considered, bad customer service practices are highly detrimental to businesses big and small across all industries. 

    Not only can it damage your professional reputation, but it can also reduce customer conversions, decrease customer loyalty and increase employee turnover.

    The key to avoiding it is learning to identify it before it negatively impacts your business. 

    Keep in mind that it can manifest as poor communication, delays, rude behavior and disregarding situational circumstances — to name a few.

    By implementing thorough employee training programs, prioritizing customers’ needs and apologizing for errors, your business can develop awesome customer service.

    No one company is perfect, but customer service can go a long way in showing your audience that you’re committed to excellence.

    To review your company’s content strategy and ensure that it leads to top-notch customer service, check this quick assessment we prepared!


    2024 State of Marketing Report

    Your golden ticket to crush your goals with data-driven insights!

    2024 State of Marketing Report

    Your golden ticket to crush your goals with data-driven insights!

    Subscribe to our blog

    Sign up to receive Rock Content blog posts

    Rock Content WriterAccess - Start a Free Trial

    Order badass content with WriterAccess. Just as we do.

    Find +15,000 skilled freelance writers, editors, content strategists, translators, designers and more for hire.

    Want to receive more brilliant content like this for free?

    Sign up to receive our content by email and be a member of the Rock Content Community!

    Talk to an expert and enhance your company’s marketing results.

    Rock Content offers solutions for producing high-quality content, increasing organic traffic, building interactive experiences, and improving conversions that will transform the outcomes of your company or agency. Let’s talk.