3 Rehab Tricks for Lousy Customer Service

by Cathy Miller on February 14, 2017

Be honest. You expect to receive lousy customer service. Right?

Sure, you hope you’ll be surprised. But, how often are you?

Customer service is an equal opportunity offender.

It doesn’t matter what size the company, businesses often seem to get it wrong.

There ought to be a rehabilitation program for lousy customer service.

Think of lousy customer service like a broken leg. You want rehab to increase flexibility, restore mobility, and to build strength. How can you do that for customer service?

Increase Flexibility

The cast for a broken leg provides support and prevents further injury while the bone heals.

Individuals complain about the stiffness of their leg when the cast is removed. Rehabilitation helps increase the flexibility in muscles gone lazy.

The same can happen to customer service.

Arthritic Rules

Management creates rules for structure and support. That’s not a bad thing – if you remember to remove the cast of rules when it makes sense.

For example, think about child-proof caps on prescriptions. Makes sense, right?

Now, think about my 93-year-old mother with her arthritic hands. Does it make sense to have child-proof caps on her prescriptions? Hardly.

One pharmaceutical company changed the caps with a signed waiver from my mother. Another company would not do it because that was “the rule.”

I am sure somewhere along the way, someone sued a big bucks company for having a pill bottle a child could (or did) get into. Result? Child-proof caps for everyone. Even if it doesn’t make sense.

Inflexible rules lead to lazy, lousy customer service. Click To Tweet

Restore Mobility

Few people have a cast off one day and go out running the next. Okay, bad example. Runners are their own breed.

However, for us mere mortals, we may need rehabilitation to restore mobility.

Nothing freezes customer service faster than front-line employees with no power.

Empowering customer service takes many forms.

  • Giving representatives the authority to make exceptions
  • Training them to recognize when exceptions work best
  • Rewarding those who identify obstacles to good service

Allow me to give you an example. A certain insurance company (that shall remain nameless) issues Medicare supplement plans. When open enrollment season began, the Medicare beneficiary received no notice regarding the premium for the upcoming year.

Luckily, the person had a brilliant daughter who knew a thing or two about insurance.

  • The daughter called Cigna (oops, did I say that?)
  • She asked for a letter regarding the premium
  • She learned there would be no increase on January 1
  • “Great,” she replied. “When can we expect a letter stating that?”
  • “We only send letters when there’s an increase,” was the reply

Think about that. If you have a subscription/membership/whatever that renews every year, don’t you receive notification of the fee? Even if the fee remains the same?

The dutiful daughter explained the need for something in writing that shows the premium for the new year so they could make a claim to a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) for premium reimbursement.

Again, the request was denied.

Why? Because that’s the way their system was programmed and there was nothing the customer service representative could do about it. At least, that’s the impression that was left.

When is the last time you had a company tell you a fee would be assessed but they couldn’t put that in writing? But, don’t worry. It’s not going up. Ohhhh…so just trust you?

The premium increased effective 2/1. At least we got our darn letter then.

Empower customer service to identify - not create - obstacles to good service. Then act on it! Click To Tweet

Build Strength

Have you heard the saying, “You’re only as good as your word”?

Business is all about trust.

When trust is broken, the rehab time for building it up again is lengthy. Trust may never be restored.

Empty promises can be even more frustrating.

For example, I recently replaced my Fitbit tracker. Like some cosmic joke, it totally crashed a few months after its year warranty expired.

I purchased a new one but sent an email to the company to provide feedback on the problem.

Customer service did the right thing. They apologized and thanked me for my feedback. What followed next wiped out any good feeling I had.

  • Customer service knew I ordered a new tracker
  • They offered a 25% discount on a new product
  • I asked if they could apply that to the tracker I just purchased
  • The response? No, I’m sorry we cannot do that.

Did they have to offer me a discount? No. My old tracker was past the warranty.

However, what sense does it make to offer me a discount on something I won’t need for AT LEAST another year?

In one inflexible, unempowered moment, customer service destroyed my trust. Sure, it wasn’t the individual. But, who is the face of the business?

You can't build trust with empty promises. Click To Tweet

Good Customer Service

I hate painting a bleak picture. There are businesses that know how to do customer service right – like those I shared in this post.

In a future post, I’ll share some examples of good customer service. You may be surprised at how simple it can be.

Whether you are a business of one employee or thousands, customer service is what makes you stand out. Why not make it great?

  • Be flexible when it makes sense
  • Enable smart decisions
  • Strengthen promises

What stories do you have?


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne Wayman February 14, 2017 at 11:20 am

Yesterday the tiny wire connecting my microphone to the ear piece on my phone headset broke – why don’t those who build these connections re-enforce them… I researched on the web and found my local Office Depot carried the headset I wanted at a good price. When I got there that turned out not to be true and it would take 3-5 days to get me the one I wanted. I started to complain, then I realized the very nice manager there had absolutely no control over the website – none. I asked him if he hated that site and for a moment he thought I might be a mystery shopper I’m sure. Nor, did it turn out, did he have any real influence on how the store is stocked.

A real shame… totally dis-empowers him and sets him up for customers like me to be unhappy – totally creates a lose lose proposition. And it’s unnecessary in these digital times.

I ended up buying a headset I didn’t really want for $5 more than I expected and will probably order the one I want and return the one I just bought… such waste and such poor treatment of people… it’s a shame.


Cathy Miller February 14, 2017 at 11:33 am

I think businesses are so afraid of releasing control that they miss the bigger picture. By not empowering customer service to have more flexibility, you lose far more than the cost of a single product.

If you are not hiring customer service reps. with the necessary skill sets AND you don’t provide the training they need, it’s a reflection on your business, more than it is the rep.

Thanks, Anne, for sharing your story. The amount of energy we expend on customer service-related issues drives me nuts. I think I’ll go do some deep breathing exercises now. 😉
Cathy Miller recently posted..3 Rehab Tricks for Lousy Customer ServiceMy Profile


Roy A. Ackerman, PhD, EA February 15, 2017 at 7:30 am

And, another idea. Despite the concept of a price increase or decrease, how about a letter reminding you that renewal is nigh. Instead of automatically renewing. Yes, I know that may mean you can lose the client/customer- but not if your letter is well written, your service has been superb (or even adequate, since most people never change- they’re like Orthodox rabbis or Catholic priests), etc.
Roy A. Ackerman, PhD, EA recently posted..OtherismMy Profile


Cathy Miller February 15, 2017 at 7:41 am

LOL, Roy! Love the rabbis/priests concept. 🙂

I so agree. Simple communication can turn customer service on a dime.Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Cathy Miller recently posted..3 Rehab Tricks for Lousy Customer ServiceMy Profile


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