As a customer, you know that you will get better customer service at Nordstrom than you will at Walmart. As business owners on the other side of the counter, we know what it takes to keep customers happy. Whether they were expecting the luxury or basic retail experience, however, there are some industries more prone to angry customers than others. If you work in these seven businesses, beware of customers losing their temper when things don’t go their way.
Wait times, special orders, and regular face-to-face check-ins with wait staff make restaurants the perfect breeding ground for angry customers to blow up when something does not go as planned.
We have all seen a customer give an earful to a server or business manager in a restaurant. I have seen irate customers complain about inaccurate wait time estimates, long waits to get food, and incorrect meals. When a customer has a special order, they shouldn’t be surprised that it doesn’t come exactly right. But that doesn’t always stop them from making sure everyone in the restaurant knows how mad they are about their experience.
I mentioned Nordstrom in the introduction of this article as a company known for great customer service. There is a famous, though likely untrue, story that a Nordstrom once gave a refund for snow tires purchased from the location’s former tenant. Regardless of its origin, this story shows the lengths a company may be willing to go to in order to keep a customer happy. But not all companies operate to the same level of service.
Many department stores and other retailers have increasingly strict and unfriendly return policies. I have a few personal stories from retail stores that are so maddening I almost lost it.
- I was once accused of theft at a Best Buy that was completely unsubstantiated. When they threatened to take me to the back room and call the police, I threatened them with unlawful imprisonment and demanded they review their own security footage before pointing fingers at paying customers.
- A few months ago, I found a deal on a laptop for my wife at the website for Fry’s electronics stores. They didn’t have it in stock near me, so I drove over an hour to buy the laptop where it was in stock. In the hour I was in the car, Fry’s raised the price by hundreds of dollars while I was on the way over and would not honor the price on the web.
- I went to the Apple Store with my dead laptop just last week, which based on my research and speaking to a tech support representative on the phone indicated a dead logic board that needed to be replaced. There was no available appointment at the closest Apple Store to me (about an hour away in Santa Barbara) for four days, so I drove over for a walk-in. They quoted 4 and a half hour hours with no option to drop off the laptop for service. I would have to wait it out or take an appointment in four days. I ended up calling AppleCare support again standing in front of the store because I clearly couldn’t get help inside. I honestly considered buying a new Windows laptop that very afternoon.
It’s a little amusing to me that two of these three companies are struggling to stay in business with increased competition from Amazon, who has a rule to “obsess about the customer” to ensure they come back again and again.
Growing up, I always used the same dry cleaners as my parents. But when I got my first grown up job as a bank manager, I had to figure out my own dry cleaning for the suit and tie uniform I wore every day.
I dropped off two shirts at one of the closest cleaners to work, and went back to pick them up on the day the ticket quoted. The shirts were not there, they were lost. I got a call a couple of days later that my shirts were found, but they came back with burn marks on the collar where they were clearly mishandled.
I almost lost it, but kept my cool as the shirts were not all that expensive. They offered me coupons for free dry cleaning in the future, but they should have just paid for the shirts. Had I been a little less level headed, however, I could have seen a customer yelling at the staff over how the situation was handled.
Utility and phone companies are the worst! They know we don’t have any other option, so they treat us customers like dirt much of the time. From four-hour service windows where the technician always seems to show up at the very end of the quoted time to poor service and incorrect bills, there are many reasons to be angry at your phone, internet, or utility company.
But when you call for help, you are lucky to get anything that resembles good customer service. While some restaurants, retailers, and dry cleaners offer incredible service, you are hard pressed to find it from a utility or telecom company. It’s no wonder these providers got four of the five spots in a Lifehacker poll asking about the works companies for customer service.
On a recent United flight, my plane landed at Houston’s sprawling airport a few minutes after boarding started for my connection a terminal away. Due to a disabled customer having a difficult experience, the flight attendants asked us all to stay in our seat until that customer was removed from the plane by local police.
This was less than a week after Dr. David Dao had his face smashed as he was dragged from a United flight, so I reluctantly waited in my seat for the problem to clear before pushing my way off the plane and sprinting across the airport to my connection. If customers literally are in fear of physical assault, you know there is a major customer service problem.
While United has been in the news again and again for similar customer service transgressions, it has been far from limited to United. If you work in an airline, you can expect unpleasant customer interactions when their experience goes haywire.
The customer is usually right
There’s a saying in customer service: “the customer is always right.” But after working in retail, food service, telecom, banking, and other positions where I saw customer service interactions take place first hand, I learned that the customer is not always right.
In my own businesses, I find that the customer is usually right, but not always. If you are prepared to make your customers happy, you can hope to avoid customer blowups before they start. But whatever your industry, always be prepared for an unhappy customer and be ready to let them leave with a smile. Happy customers become repeat customers, and that is the best path to true business success.