10 Shocking Customer Service Blunders That Escalated Quickly

Customer Service Blunders

For as long as there have been customer service blunders. What has changed is the cost of one wrong move in handling a customer’s problem. The impact is no longer limited to one disgruntled customer or his kith and kin; a customer support faux pas could explode online and go viral through online media and social networks to do some serious damage to the reputation and goodwill which brands hold so dear. Some of these are major slip-ups; others are the result of tactless handling of what would have been minor incidents. This list looks at some such cases involving big league corporations where customer service blunders snowballed into major PR situations.

10. Tornado Victims Asked To Scavenge For Cable Boxes By Charter Cable

In April 2011, an estimated 758 tornadoes hit the US, making it the single most active tornado month ever recorded. April 27th alone saw 200 tornadoes ravage south-eastern regions.

A couple of days after the storm, this was Charter Cable’s first statement to a victim: “If your house was destroyed, and you have looked around the neighborhood for our cable box and cannot find it, you owe us $212 and you need to either pay us or make an insurance claim on our behalf.”

Although they came up with a revised policy statement in a few days stating that they would be crediting victims for the damaged/lost boxes, their first statement earned them a whole lot of bad press.

What ruffled feathers was not the fact that they made a claim, but that the insensitive manner and unfortunate timing thereof. Oddly enough, cable companies seemed to have carved out a niche for themselves with tactless first responses by making untimely demands off disaster victims.

9. Pharmacy Mixes Up Drugs Because “They Both Begin With ‘H”

A Walgreens pharmacy in Surprise, Arizona mistakenly gave a customer the wrong medicine. What is truly unsettling is their justification of the error. Heather Sparling, who had been diagnosed with an ear infection, sinus infection, an inflamed liver, and hives, went to Walgreens to fill her four prescriptions. But after two days of taking the medication, she began to notice that her condition was worsening. Ref: http://www.azfamily.com/story/24748524/surprise-woman-takes-wrong-meds-after-pharmacy-mix-up

It was then that Sparling received a call from Walgreens to inform her that she had been given blood pressure medication instead of the pills for her hives treatment. Walgreen’s first line of defense was that they probably couldn’t read the doctor’s handwriting. Upon being reminded that the prescription was printed out, not handwritten, the Walgreens rep said ‘’well, you know, they both begin with H.’” Phil Caruso (Walgreens spokesperson), issued a statement that reads, “We’re sorry-this occurred and we apologized to the patient. We reviewed this incident and will work to prevent it from happening again.” Frighteningly enough, this kind of alphabet-induced negligence is commonplace at the point of sale of pharmaceutical products.
Ref: http://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2014/june2014/mix-ups-between-risperidone-and-ropinirole
Ref: http://www.oregonlive.com/health/index.ssf/2011/11/alarming_prescription_drug_mix.html

8. “United Airlines Breaks Guitars”

When life gives you lemons, write a song about it. Songwriter Dave Carroll recalls staring in horror at luggage being thrown about in the UA tarmac. Sure enough, he found his $3500 Taylor guitar’s neck broken. The Airline refused to process his claim since he had waited longer than 24 hours to file one. Carroll followed up for 9 months, saying that he was even willing to accept $1200 in-flight vouchers, but United shot back with a firm no.
Ref: https://www.marketplace.org/2019/07/05/a-broken-guitar-a-youtube-video-and-a-new-era-of-customer-service/

Frustrated, Carroll did what any musician worth his salt would do: He wrote a song titled “United Breaks Guitars,” produced a music video, and put it up on YouTube. It went viral. United’s move to save $1200 cost them 14 million YouTube viewers listening to the words “Should’ve flown with someone else, or gone by car because United breaks guitars”.

This is in addition to the various TV shows, Radio chats, and 200 interviews that Carroll appeared on to discuss the incident. One man’s folly is another’s opportunity; Taylor guitars gifted Carroll a new guitar and put up their video stating how the incident shocked them and subtly reminded everyone that they offer repair services. Carroll wrote two more songs to complete the United Trilogy gathering a total of nearly 17 million views. One of the unforgotten customer service blunders.

7. GASP’s ‘Pareto’ Blunder

Keirra O’Neil was disgruntled when a GASP sales assistant first incessantly egged her on to buy a dress and then yelled “I knew you were a joke the minute you walked in” as she stormed out of the store. He also made a comment about her size. Upon receiving her email complaining about the incident, the GASP manager replied by reiterating the high standard of their store, the exclusivity of their customer base, and the prowess of the impugned ‘superstar’ sales rep. He said that they couldn’t waste precious sales time on “masses” that would look but not purchase.

The manager was enforcing Pareto Principle: That if 80% of a business’ sales come from 20% of their customers, optimize time spent on 80% customers who provide 20% business. However, the haughty manner of his response email, the lack of apology for the sales’ rep’s rudeness and their tall claims of quality invoked a storm of negative comments when the correspondence was released online. GASP was driven so far into a corner by infuriated internet users that they had to close its Facebook page. Another one of the unforgotten customer service blunders.

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    6. Bank Of America: Customer Calls For Debtor’s Revolt

    The US taxpayer is no stranger to bankers benefitting from bailout dollars and subsequently pumping interest rates. Anna Minch, a customer of the Bank of America carried a balance of several thousand dollars on her Bank of America credit card, made minimum monthly payments of about $130, sometimes paying an extra $50 or $100, and never missed a payment. BOA kept increasing her interest rate until it hit 30%. Her requests for negotiating the rates were in vain. She repeatedly brought to the bank’s notice that she had been a reliable customer despite losing her job, but to no avail.

    Minch took to the internet by means of a YouTube webcam video narrating her incident, accusing the bank of unethical and unreasonable service terms. She announced that she would be closing her checking and savings accounts at Bank of America and taking her money elsewhere. She claimed that this was the “proverbial first shot in a debtor’s revolution”. Ref: Watch Video
    Her video got a hundred thousand views in a matter of days, and half a million views to date. While $5000 from one account is far from a loss to a big-league bank, the negative PR may have caused a more intangible kind of dent. One of the unforgotten customer service blunders.

    5. FedEx Delivery Man Tosses Monitor Over Gate

    FedEx’s slogan reads “we live to deliver”; aptly, it makes no such promise about the life of the goods it delivers. This 2011 YouTube video uploaded by a frustrated customer is his security cam footage of a package he had been expecting from the delivery giant.

    The video shows the agent carrying a packed computer monitor to the gates of the house and, without so much as ringing the bell, nonchalantly throwing the package over the fence. In the video’s description, the customer claims he was home and the door was open at the time of delivery. The video racked up over 9 million hits.
    Ref: Watch Video
    The FedEx spokesperson issued an apology and stated that such irresponsible treatment of packages would not be tolerated. Another one of the unforgotten customer service blunders.

    4. Verizon Charges Dead Man For Phone Service

    Bill Young of Calvin W. VA passed away in June 2009. Young’s daughter furnished a death certificate and asked Verizon to terminate his connection. Verizon, however, continued to bill his account until February 2010 and refused to stop without his Personal Identification number. They were adamant and rejected the death certificate that was provided in lieu of the number.
    Ref: myce.com
    A representative of the company reportedly said “well, there’s nothing else I can do for you,” before laughing and hanging up. Infuriated by the agent’s behavior, the daughter wrote to the Times’ Consumer Edge Column in order to report her poor experience. Soon after, Verizon spokesperson later admitted that Verizon had been wrong and assured that the representative who scoffed at lacy had been reprimanded and coached. They also credited Young’s account until September 2009. But this isn’t Verizon’s first bout at grave billing. Ref: pcworld.com

    3. Southwest Says Kevin Smith Too Fat To Fly

    Time and again, companies are reminded that a lack of tact in handling a customer’s grievance can have an impact far wider than just that person. Far more so if the customer is a celebrity who won’t think twice before pulling the Twitter. Actor-director Kevin Smith had plenty to say on Twitter after Southwest Airlines removed him from a flight Saturday for being a “person of size”. Ref: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/kevin-smith-fat-fly/story?id=9837268

    Smith had purchased two seats in accordance with the airline’s “customer of size” policy but stood for an earlier flight where one seat was remaining. He was already seated when he was made to disembark. What followed was an angry outburst on Twitter. The airline tweeted multiple apologies and offered him a $100 voucher which he flatly refused. He went on to vent out his disdain through the microblogging site; tweets that reached roughly 2.5 million followers. One of the unforgotten customer service blunders.

    2. Amazon’s Abysmal Service

    Scripted responses and incoherent call center jargon are quite run of the mill in the customer-agent sphere of interaction. Sometimes, however, the extent of it is enough to push one over the edge. Chris Williams contacted Amazon’s chat support in order to report an email account belonging to ‘Brittni’ was attempting to phish his identity. He had one request: that Amazon should delete the impugned ID. Ref: http://www.businessinsider.in/This-Man-Had-Such-A-Bad-Experience-With-Amazon-Customer-Support-He-Posted-The-Entire-Conversation-Online/articleshow/26804394.cms

    Amidst an incomprehensible sequence of words, he was constantly called to as Britney despite correcting the agent. He was told that his password would be reset, something he expressly stated he didn’t want. He was then told that his email would be deleted. Angered, he posted the transcript of the conversation online. Even though his request was finally escalated, abysmal handling at the first point of contact resulted in a heavily published and viewed negative for Amazon. One of the unforgotten customer service blunders.

    1. Comcast Service Call Embarrassment

    Ryan Block called to disconnect his service with Comcast after having switched to another provider. He was transferred to cancellations (or more aptly “customer retention”) where the representative continued aggressively repeating his questions, regardless of the answers given. This recording picks up roughly 10 minutes into the call, whereby myriad reasons and explanations as to the cancellation had been provided.

    The agent is heard badgering the customer with the exact same question through eight and a half minutes of the recording. The wide range of forms that his limited question took ranged from “Why are you leaving Comcast?” to “Why are you abandoning the #1 internet provider?” and “Why would you want to switch from a company you’ve been using since 2005?” Comcast released a statement subsequently saying that they were embarrassed by the incident and that they apologized to block personally.

    But reputation-wise, too little too late; the Sound cloud clip of the call was played over 5 and a half million times. Learning only half a lesson from this incident, Comcast recently gave a customer a refund stating the reason as “because he had an audio recording of the call” Ref: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/technology/wp/2014/08/11/he-got-comcasts-bogus-charges-to-him-refunded-but-only-because-he-recorded-their-calls/ Another one of the unforgotten customer service blunders.

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