Customer Service Horror Stories

September 19, 2017

Customer Service Horror Stories

As a Customer Service Instructor and Consultant I am forever waiting for bad service. As soon as I see it I pounce like a waiting tiger. Much of the time my prey is young and helpless. They are often untrained, new to the job or have been on the job far too long and no longer care about creating an outstanding customer experience.

In July 2011 I walked into a gas station in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It was a beautiful, warm summer evening. I was headed to a friend’s place for drinks and BBQ’d burgers. I filled the gas tank and went in to pay. My prey made his first mistake about eight seconds after my entry. He failed to greet me. There was no lineup and two staff members sat to the right of the till. They were young so I decided to ignore this initial indiscretion. I walked three steps towards the cashier and made eye contact as if to say, “hello”. What I got in return can only be described as the unpardonable sin of Customer Service. The look I got for my “hello” was, “what can I do for you”…but not the nice kind. It was the, “I have no idea what you are doing in here and I’m way to cool to smile and provide any kind of service in front of my two friends.”

Poor young fellow. I smiled knowing I was about to eat my prey and then have a great story to regal my friends with later on in the evening. I fire the first volley, “You’re kinding right? This is how you greet a customer?”

His response, another mistake, “Whaaaat?”

Oh my, this is going to be fun. “Go get your manager right now.”

“I am the manager”

“You can’t possibly be somebody in charge..You’re 11 going on 5. Get the manager.” At this point the other two give me a knowing look as if to say, “Yes sir, he really is the manager. We are that desperate and are really scared of you right now. Please let us live…Respectively yours.” Slowly they bow and back away.

“Son, my name is Martin Presse. I give people lessons in providing killer Customer Service. Tonight you have failed in your duties. Since you don’t seem to get it and your two cohorts seem ashamed to be near you right now, I’m going to give you a lesson.”

Blank stare

“Let’s start at the beginning. Always greet your customers in any of the follow 3 ways.”

  1. Good Morning

  2. Good afternoon

  3. Good evening

“Always follow the opening greeting with, “How is/was your day today?”  If the customer makes conversation then make conversation back with the customer.”

“Yes sir”.

I size up my prey. “I’m waiting”

“Good evening sir, how was your day today?”

“Fantastic. I’m hungry and somewhere in this city is a burger with my name on it.”

Blank stare.

I let him know customers are the backbone of business and without them we are all out of work. Each customer must be greeted as they break the ten foot barrier and/or make eye contact. Once the initial greeting process has been completed the customer needs to hear, “How can I help you today?” and finally “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” It’s short and sweet. It’s what every customer expects. Anything else leaves them feeling awkward, confused and dissatisfied.

I handed my prey some money, he handed me back some change and looked right through me. I call it the thousand mile stare you typically only see in soldiers who’ve seen too much battle. No “thank you” or “here’s your $10.57 in change.” Or even, “Will there be anything else with that”….

 “Ok, you’re kidding right. Did you not get any training at all?” Finally the truth comes out.

“My dad owns this store”….Ahhhh that explains it. Daddy owns the shop, gives son a job assuming son is mature and capable of handling customers as well as daddy can. For you great dads out there, your son is probably a great kid but right now he needs some basic customer service training.

Here are a few more tips you can teach your young and inexperienced staff.

  1. Always be the first to acknowledge customers. If they have to seek out your attention you’ll have to work twice as hard to get them to know, like and trust you.

  2. Depending on the size of your work space, lobby or store, all customers should be greeted within 20 seconds.

  3. For every dollar spent, customers are likely to spend an additional dollar when given the opportunity. This means upselling. McDonalds turned this into an art with, “Would you like fries with that?”

  4. However much you think you know what customers want, let them finish asking their questions. You’ve likely heard the same question fifty times today but to the customer it’s the first time. Fight the temptation to finish the question for them or answer it before they are done asking.

  5. Paraphrase the question to make sure you’ve heard it correctly especially if the customer has rambled or seems nervous. It can be as simple as, “Excellent question Mr. Jones, just so I’m clear you want to know the difference between product x and y, as well as what the monthly payments will be compared to one yearly payment. Is that right?  Bammm “Yes” or “No.” You’ve now got complete clarity or further explanation will be required.


Having completed my transaction with the young fellow at the gas station, the giggles from his cohorts let me know they enjoyed the brief lesson. One followed me out of the store and apologized on behalf of the “manager”. Immediately I thought, “This kid gets it…he gets to live another day.” I returned to the store the following day to speak to the owner. Indeed the staff had received no training and staff turnover was high. The cost to the store in terms of hiring new staff and providing what little training they did likely cost the store tens of thousands each year. No business can afford those losses.


Not sure where to start? Develop a training program. Create a manual all employees must read and be tested on. Hire ghost customers to come in and test your staff. You'll find their responses both surprising and refreshing. 


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