Seven Customer Experience Horror Stories

Thomas FairbairnApril 10, 201910min0
You've got to know what to avoid...

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The Italian poet Dante knew a thing or two about hell. In his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, he described it as having seven circles.

But was Dante ever stuck on hold for hours, only to be answered by an indifferent monotone? No, never!

Every CX professional will have their own horror story about a nightmare customer or appalling customer service – and these stories are just as useful as examples of CX done well. Sometimes you just need to see how not to do something.

So, just as Virgil guided Dante through the seven circles of hell, allow me to give you a tour through seven instances of shocking, offensive and downright dangerous Customer Experience…

1. The Personalised M&M’s From the Pits of Hades

Customer Experience Horror - M&M's

Did you know you could get M&M’s with your face printed on them? I certainly didn’t.

One unfortunate customer was trying to upload their photo to the M&M’s website. Just after placing the order, they received an email saying there were too many faces on the picture for it to be printed. The email included a customer service number to call.

So the customer called – and was put on hold for 2 hours. And what was the light at the end of this particular tunnel? Well, after 1 hour 52 minutes, the customer was told they could simply reply to the original email with a new picture. At this point the customer was incensed – why on earth wouldn’t you just say that in the email?

Then, after submitting a new picture, the customer received a voicemail telling them there was a problem with the order. So the customer called the suggested number and waited for two and a half hours. When they finally got through, they were told there were no problems with the order.

Verdict: Self-serve is the way forward. Give customers the key information on your website or in your emails. You don’t want to waste your own resources answering routine complaints, or worse still, non-issues!



2. The Hotel That Tried to Censor Guests

It’s understandable – the rise of sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor have made certain institutions nervous. The potential ‘ripple’ of a bad review is much wider than ever before. Most restaurants and hotels have responded to these changes by striving to give good service at all times. If a complaint does come through, the best companies engage on social media and address those concerns in real-time.

I guess there is one other response: ban bad reviews.

The Union Street Guest House in upstate New York put out this message:

If you have booked the inn for a wedding or other type of event, and have given us a deposit of any kind, there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review placed on any internet site by anyone in your party.

I’m not sure what they thought the response would be. It’s a gross abuse of power, and the attitude smacks of insecurity.

Indeed, customers were so offended by this threat that the hotel currently has 1.5 stars on Yelp.

Verdict: Don’t be surprised when a heavy-handed attempt to enforce a rule has a counterproductive effect.


3. The Restaurant That Fell Asleep

Alex Bowen had been waiting in a Waffle House in South Carolina for ten minutes. There was no sign of any service.

After waiting a little longer, Alex thought things were getting ridiculous. So he walked into the kitchen at the back. And what did he see?

An employee lying there, asleep.

Most customers would have woken the employee, or just left, but Alex did something rather different. He made his own meal in their restaurant.

And the strangest thing is, the employee slept through the entire encounter.

Verdict: Self-serve is good, but not like this!


Customer Experience Horror - Asleep on the Job



4. The Vehicle Rental Company Who Are Actually Evil

This one goes beyond irritation or disrespect. Linda Tobias tells this shocking story about renting a truck:

A do-it-yourself moving company rented me a truck that failed to stop at a stop sign at the bottom of a hill; it went halfway into the intersection. When I told them about it, the clerk said, “Oh yeah, we’ve got a guy coming tomorrow to work on the brakes.”

I’m not sure what’s more disturbing about this tale – a potentially deadly fault in the machinery, or the clerk’s cavalier attitude to the whole thing.

Verdict: People who do this kind of thing should go to prison.


5. The Call Centre Agent From Hell

A customer called up a company rep, explaining that her 12 new laptops were not powering on.

Instead of helping, the rep turned the issue back on the customer. This is what he said:

If they don’t power on I can’t troubleshoot them and if they aren’t powering on, it has to be something you did to them that made them not work

This assumption was extremely offensive. There’s a real sense of ‘more than my job’s worth’ coming across here from the agent, and the lack of sympathy is rather shocking.

Verdict: Assuming the customer is lying isn’t a great starter position for Customer Experience.


6. The Bloody Mary

There’s no need to change the title for this one, as it actually concerns a Bloody Mary cocktail!

This example isn’t as egregious as the others – it’s just a case of rotten luck.

A waitress spilt a Bloody Mary onto a white dress shirt. Trying to atone for her error, she returned with some free replacements – and then spilt them too.

This may be a case of rotten luck, but the end result is still the same for the customer.

Verdict: To spill one cocktail may be regarded as a misfortune; to spill two looks like carelessness.


Customer Experience Horror - Bloody Mary


7. The Cruise That Wouldn’t Shut Up

People normally go on cruises for some rest and relaxation.

So you can imagine that passengers on a Norwegian Cruise Lines excursion were outraged to hear that there was loud maintenance work going on throughout the ship.

Apparently, you couldn’t escape the sound of hammers and drilling. The passengers complained to the captain but he was unsympathetic.

Norwegian refused to apologise properly, using the euphemism of ‘enhancements’ to try and deflect attention from the disruptive nature of the building work.

Although customers didn’t get a refund, they certainly won’t be travelling with Norwegian Cruise Lines again.


Do you have a hellish Customer Experience story you’d like to share? If so, we’d love to hear it!

Do you have an inspiring CX initiative you’d like to share with the world? Enter the UK Customer Experience Awards 2019 now!








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Thomas Fairbairn

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