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The Art of Terrible Customer Service

Last week I experienced the worst customer service I think I have ever had. It was worse as I received it from a source I trusted and didn’t expect it from. I’m not the perfect client and never claim to be. I have high standards of myself and expect the same of other people and companies.

I won’t name the company as it would be unfair to them and they of course have their side of the story, but essentially it boils down to this:

Blaming your customer for your mistakes is not the solution

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A number of remarkable statements were given to me. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been as angry or bemused:

– I was told the developer used was not suited to the particular task. However I hired the company, not the developer, for that task.

– I was told I was not spending enough money with them. However they never responded to three quote requests.

– I was told other clients didn’t “blink” when spending large amounts. I’m sorry but you can’t have a blank check/cheque and just get back to me when you’re done. I’ll happily “blink” all day long.

– I was told that breaking working parts of software was “an inherent risk in software development” and therefore I should have to pay for it to be fixed. Even if they broke it. Incidentally if you wanted, you could make a great business model around breaking things and charging to fix them apparently.

So, as if you needed reminding, here are some things I never do:

  • Belittle a customer because they don’t have a huge budget. I only have a one hour minimum.
  • Wait a few weeks before responding to an email. I try to respond within 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays of course.
  • Hide from making a mistake and avoid rectifying it unless paid for. If any occur, I will fix a new problem that appears because of my work, for no charge. After all, I caused it.
  • Charge you for work completed when you’re not satisfied. I will do everything I can to make it right.

Of course I’m not perfect. I try to be, but I’m not. Maybe this other company will stay in business longer and be more successful than me. But doing the right thing is more important than that to me.

If you want a quick, brilliant, read, then How Doing Less Work for More Money Saved Client Work… by Josh Blankenship is great. Sample quotes:

When clients were frustrating to work with despite my best efforts on my best days, hey, I picked them, right? I chose to enter into a business relationship with that client. In short, I was never a victim of anyone other than myself. And my clients paid for it.


I Over-Communicate Over-Communication

Every client is different, but in general I want clients to want me to stop bothering them. I’d much rather be the annoying one than the one they can’t get in touch with for a week.

So it’s time to dust-off, get back up and find another PHP developer. If you know any great ones, please let me know below or via my contact form.

25 thoughts on “The Art of Terrible Customer Service”

  1. In the book, “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” sales guru Jeremy Gittomer explains what he calls the Grandma Rule: before you respond to a customer’s complaint, think about what you’re going to say – and put the word “Grandma” at the end. In other words, “I’m sorry, we only fix our mistakes on Wednesday and Friday…Grandma.” Or, “If you don’t follow our rules, you’ll have to wait even longer…Grandma.” His point? if you wouldn’t say it to your Grandma, don’t say it to a client.

  2. Customer service is the heart of every business so definitely, we should ensure to find for solutions and not blame customers of the problems they made happen. I’ve experienced the same and from there I thought I would never do that with my own customers. At the same time, I take care of my business’ reputation and customer satisfaction.

  3. If companies would just admit that they “messed up” and simply appologied to the customer/client. Then none of the problems would exist. The customers would be much more happier and life would be much more enjoyable.

  4. Ohhhhh, I had a TERRIBLE experience with customer service a couple of weeks ago! At one point a phone representative told me that another employee had lied to me. Can you believe that?? After bad stuff started happening, I Googled the company by name so I could have their address. I wanted to mail in a complaint letter. Would you believe that the top results on Google were huge rants and complaints dating back years?? I cannot believe a company would be so lax about their reputation. Terrible.

  5. Joel

    As I was also on the receiving end of this experience I know exactly what occurred and personally I think you have ‘played down’ how bad the customer service we received was.

    I’m still angry thinking about it now.


  6. That was quite a story, Joel I hope you pad them by credit card so you can deny payment. That sometimes works.

    Wondered why “good” experiences you had with them before to assure you they were ethical. They must have been pretty slick to fool you.

    Very sad when that happens.

    Just a note about Michelle’s mention of Air France. Of course, inexcusable. Uncaring.

    But a tip. NEVER NEVER tell an airline that you or a companion is SICK. Most times they won’t let you on the plane at all. Always tell something like a sprained ankle or a bad back. They will buy that.

    They are afraid to let sick people on board. Possible transmission of germs – a unplanned landing because of a complication. Most will just then inconvenience you by requiring a leer from a doctor. Big hassle.

    (as a former travel agent, I had to share thar)

  7. Brilliant! I love the over communicate quote. I’m happy to say that Air France is terrible at customer service. One of the worst airlines ever when it comes to service. They promised my family a voucher because they wouldn’t get my ill mother a wheelchair when travelling, then the supervisor called back and said, so, we won’t give you a voucher, it’s not our fault your mother was sick! REALLY!? !!! So I have no problem calling them out on it. Bad customer service deserves the spotlight they give themselves.

    1. I’ve yet to meet an airline that is good at customer service! Sorry you had such a problem though, it really just compounds a bad situation when teh company doesn’t seem to care.

  8. You just wonder at how people like this keep afloat – possibly because people don’t complain or take custom else where. Good luck finding a new developer.

  9. @happymakernowco A lot of companies get away with terrible customer service, but for small businesses customer service helps build loyalty and repeat business. Plus it is the right thing to do 🙂 Thanks for your compliment and for stopping by!

  10. Thank Joel for sharing this customer service story. Companies do go broke when they start thinking of the money rather that the service they are giving people. The better the service the bigger the business grows.

    thank again and you are a great example for giving gooood service,


  11. @RyanViers Thanks Ryan. We parted on OK terms after agreeing to disagree. I try to never burn bridges and I think a lot of it was business rather than personal. We’d probably happily have a beer together (if they’re paying!) but I doubt we’ll ever work together again. It’s frustrating as there are two or three things that could have fixed any issues earlier but it was a vicious circle with them.I appreciate your comments – I agree it’s not hard to do, but easy to fail to do it.

  12. I would have been as pissed as I imagine you were. Bad customer service kills me, because good customer service is so easy…treat people like you would treat them in person (assuming you aren’t a jerk) and treat them as a person and not a transaction. It sounds like you were more of a transaction than a person to whoever you talked to. This person that gave bad customer service is the ambassador for the company, which may now have a tainted image in your mind (again I’m assuming).

    This person and/or company now has an opportunity to win you back, assuming they are listening and that they care. For the companies sake I hope this was an instance where someone made a bad decision and is now looking for ways to make it right.

    I know I’m preaching to choir here Joel…we have 3 years of history to attest to that.

  13. Those are very kind words, thanks Ann! As I say I’m not as perfect as I would like but I strive to be and hope I provide the same customer service as I would hope to receive from others. Much appreciated!

  14. Joel – to illustrate the opposite of the shoddy customer service you received, people need only look to the way you conduct yours. The reason I hire you over…and over…and over…is because of your absolutely plu-perfect work ethic, integrity, and customer care. And those are just the bonuses to your expert skill. I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience but am so glad you wrote this post, giving me an opportunity to say thanks! – Ann Vertel

  15. Dear Joel –

    I don’t use the “pushy New Yorker” card often but it is handy to have it in my gene pool.

    Now that I live in the Midwest, I don’t see bad service often. They are nice here.

    But seller beware. You will never see it coming.

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