When Customer Service Becomes Creepy

bad customer service examples

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Have you ever been at the mercy of a horrifically executed customer service call? Received vastly inappropriate targeted promotions? If you own a phone, use email and/or have claims at being sentient, chances are that’s an affirmative.

As the twin henchmen of sales and marketing escort us along the path to customer satisfaction, we are treated to both good and downright abysmal experiences; many bordering on the unsavoury. Here are a few newsworthy examples that got us giggling.

Insensitively Targeted Offers

Expectant mothers are manna from heaven for brands seeking to establish long term customer loyalty, and permanently shackle wallets. In a market saturated with pricy children’s paraphernalia to address every problem you never knew you had, you can hardly blame the US retailer, Target, for wanting to be first past the post.

In 2002, using standard data mining techniques based on shoppers’ purchase history, the retail behemoth developed a system to assign a “pregnancy prediction score”. They were able to estimate the customer’s due date to a pretty specific window, based on the point they bought products such as supplements and lotions. So far, so creepy – but not significantly outside the realms of targeted marketing (pardon the pun). But when an indignant father visited Target demanding to know why his teenage daughter was receiving coupons for cots and baby clothes… well, let’s just say dad subsequently discovered that cot would be coming in handy later on that very summer – and the daughter had a wee bit of explaining to do!

Lessons learnt – Target’s data mining was entirely compliant with the law, but their insensitive execution left a lot to be desired. They continued to send baby-related coupons to the suspected expectants but interspersed them with other random coupons – and it worked. Customers used the coupons and were comfortable in their perception that everyone else on the street had received the same offers.
Creepy Count: 8/10

Comcast’s Customer Service Disconnect

Earlier this year, AOL Product Manager Ryan Block called cable provider, Comcast, to cancel his service and was treated to a litany of obstructions from a member of their customer service team. The phone call lasted 18 minutes – Ryan was not going to be let off the Comcast hook easily. Despite reiterating his disconnection request seemingly dozens of times, the rep insists on repeating his own agonised appeal for feedback about Ryan’s decision to leave – which Ryan was not happy to provide.

The rep is clearly following orders to gather as much information as possible for marketing purposes or to build a case for winning the customer back. But what is truly unsettling here is the arrogant, disrespectful manner in which the rep’s requests are made. The customer has the right to disconnect the service and is not obliged to divulge a reason. It is highly unlikely that repeated demands for this would achieve a favourable result. Unsurprisingly, Ryan subsequently cites such customer service standards as a factor in his cancellation request.

We’ve listened to it, so you don’t have to – but if you are feeling brave, here it is.

Lessons learnt – you aren’t going to win back a customer by coercing them into supplying you with marketing data or help you find a reason to cajole them into staying. If a customer wants to terminate a service and does not respond to a feedback request, let them bow out with good grace.
NB: Comcast should also note that sleeping in customer’s homes is considered inappropriate in most countries.
Creepy Count: 7/10

Verizon – Under the Influence

US Telecommunications provider, Verizon, demonstrated its commitment to customer service back in July this year with this ill-fated tweet.

It would appear to have been intended as an internal communication to the company’s support line but went out to their 78k followers – and promptly disappeared. But not before some had time to offer their own customer service advice.

Lessons learnt: social media influencers are gold dust to brands, and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable. However, there shouldn’t be a class system for customer treatment – each is as valuable as the next. And if your brand does not concur, make sure you have robust internal communication processes to ensure your attitudes are kept in-house!
Creepy Count:6.5/10

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