case studies · user experience · venting

customer experience: the bad, and the worse


Unfortunately, very average customer experiences are not hard to come across… even from brands that you really want to like… It’s a shame, because sometimes the smallest things can make all the difference. Like… if you’re giving people an automated, machine driven service, then maybe play on what’s good about it – the speed, possibly the accuracy? And compensate for the downside – the lack of personal service. And if humans are providing the service, then *behave* like a human being who is interactive with another human being.

I’m not just an email address you know. I’m a person. And I’m suitably frustrated, concerned, upset by something about your company to be contacting you. I don’t complain much. Perhaps you might take a moment to think about what kind of emotions I might be experiencing and ensure that your response is appropriate to those emotions…. otherwise I might get to thinking you don’t care. If you’ve done something kind of dodgy, then maybe – oh, I don’t know – apologise?!

Good customer experience is very rarely rocket science. It’s usually just a matter of giving a damn and being a little bit thoughtful.

OK, so this is a venting and sharing post. But hopefully it’s instructional and interesting. You be the judge. Or, better still, feel free to vent and share similarly dodgy experiences.

Let’s look at two recent experiences… which will we start with. Bad or Worse?

Let’s start with Bad, which was really more like Underwhelming.

Time Out Magazine Customer Experience

OK. So I’m pretty new to London and I don’t really know what’s what and when it’s on. So, like many other people, I get Time Out magazine every now and then. Recently, they had a pretty good subscription offer that meant that I’d get a few free mags and then cheaper ones, and they’d deliver them to me. I duly filled in the form and posted it.

A couple of weeks later I get a letter from them with a card inside. Clearly they’d received my form, although I’d received no magazines. I did have this special card tho, which I didn’t know I was going to get and I wasn’t really sure what I’d use it for.

A couple of weeks later… nothing. I’d not bought the magazine in the store because, knowing my luck, I’d get home and there’d be one lying on the hallway floor waiting for me… they aren’t cheap you know, these magazines. Three, maybe four weeks pass without me buying a Time Out magazine for this reason. So eventually, I decide to get in touch.

Now, for various reasons, if I’m given the opportunity to email a company rather than phoning them, I tend to do that. (Ok, the reasons include working in an open plan office and not wanting to disrupt those who sit around me by whining about how my Time Out Magazine hasn’t arrived yet; and I’m interested to see which companies are actually responsive to email contact. Time Out was good actually, but I’ve been waiting about 3 weeks for my potential hairdresser to get back to me. I’m getting desperate for a haircut tho, I think I’m going to have to call!)

This morning I emailed Time Out. They were pretty responsive.. or so it appeared. About 20 minutes after I hit the send button I had a response. Albeit an automated one. It went like this (with my notes in italics):

Dear Customer

Re: ‘subscribed, but not getting any magazines?!’

Thank you for your email. This is a reply from the customer email team. [Rubbish. This is a reply from a computer. Do you think I’m stupid?]

Your enquiry is important and we need you to visit our web site using the link below to deal with your query efficiently:
[seriously?! Surely if my enquiry was important you’d just answer it for me rather than making me jump through these hoops…. It’s not a tricky question!]

On the site you will find answers to many of subscribers’ commonly asked questions, if you find that your question is not answered on the site, then all you need to do is quickly fill in the form to make sure we have the information we need to resolve your query fully.[well, why didn’t you show me this resource before I sent you this email? that would have been helpful and stopped all this to-ing and fro-ing! Perhaps it was there, i don’t know… I didn’t see it so for all intents and purposes it may as well not have been there]

Thank you.

So, of course, I clicked on the link. And, of course, when I got to ‘my magazines aren’t being delivered’ the website told me I’d have to get personal attention from a real human being… well… derr!

I mean… I get that people ask dumb questions all the time and people ask the same questions over and over again.. but this process is going to cause a lot of frustration for a lot of people and could DEFINITELY be simplified by asking me to look at the FAQs first!

Anyways. Continuing in the responsive vein, it was just over an hour before a real human being actually got in touch with me. Here’s what he said:


Thank you for your e-mail, you should receive your first issue next Wednesday morning.

If i can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me further.

Kind regards


OK. So what’s wrong with this picture? First up – I had to give you my name on the website when you finally gave in and let me communicate with a human. Why so hard to use it now? Otherwise, I might get the feeling that you’ve copied and pasted this reply and don’t really give a damn about me and my magazines.

And there’s something distinctly unsatisfying about this… what’s the story? Is my magazine late? Was it always supposed to be delivered next Wednesday? If it’s late are you sorry?

Oh, and thanks for the invitation to contact you, but you forgot to give me your phone number, or your personal email address…. all I have is an email address that originally came from the computer, so definitely isn’t Michael’s email address.

Oh hang on a moment… is Michael a machine?!

The real shame about this is when you read Time Out magazine, they have such a strong and appealing voice and personality. How hard would it be to continue this personality through to these kinds of interactions?

(not a trick question, the answer is not hard at all… if you let people who are part of that company personality and who are passionate about looking after their customers design the way this system works and what it says).

OK. Now let’s look at the suckiest customer experience I’ve had for a while. This is the Worse. And, for shame, it’s from a company who also otherwise does a great job at looking after their customers:


Given that so many of my family and friends are now on the other side of the globe, I’ve been using Skype for a while now and recommend it to all my friends. Then, something disturbing happened… one morning I got to work and logged onto my computer and became aware that someone or something had been having a conversation using MY Skype identity with one of my work colleagues.

Not just any conversation, but a pretty distasteful one.

Fortunately, my work colleague was somewhat puzzled but seemed to believe me when I explained to him what had happened (as much as I could explain it – I had no idea!). Thank goodness it wasn’t a client, or my boss! Horrifying scenarios were running through my head and I had no idea whether this was the only such conversation that had gone on or how to check if there were others… And then I was wondering if they’d used up my Skype credit, but I didn’t know how much credit I had to start with, so that was a hard to tell… And what on earth could I do to make sure this didn’t happen again!

(and no, I don’t have Skype installed on different computers that people could log onto and pretend to be me… just on my own personal laptop that goes almost everywhere with me!)

And so, of course, I emailed Skype to ask them what the hell was going on and what I could do to stop it from happening again.

This time they DID make me look at a bunch of FAQs before I could get my email off to them, but none of the FAQs helped me.

Off went my email and I was given to understand that I should hear back from them in about 48hrs. This was on the 26 July.

Finally, on 3 August, someone got back to me. But they might as well not have bothered. This is what they said:

Hello leisa,

Thank you for contacting Skype Support.

Unfortunately we have not been able to get to your request for Technical Support in a timely manner and we apologize for this. We try and get to as many requests as possible but due to the high number of requests and the fact that many of these problems are either irreproducible problems specific to your computer setup or already answered on website we cannot always answer every specific request.

We suggest that you search our Help section knowledgebases, user guides and troubleshooter for answers to your technical problems. If you request is related to a billing matter please submit a request to the proper department.

Knowledgebase –
Troubleshooters –
User Guides –

Also, our forums are an excellent resource to help people get answers to specific technical issues.

We are continually working at improving our software and service to provide you with the best possible product, we know of some issues with our current version and are working hard to resolve any outstanding problems. If you continue to experience problems feel free to contact us again and we will make every effort to help you solve your problems

Best regards,

D C | Technical Support Skype

And that was it. They couldn’t get back to me in a timely manner, so they decided not to get back to me at all. They referred me back to resources I’d already seen that didn’t help me, and it was up to ME to complain more in order to MAYBE get a helpful response.

And this wasn’t just a subscription running late – this was someone effectively hijacking my Skype account and impersonating me in a way that definitely caused embarrassment and could have been a whole lot more detrimental than that. If they’d have read the support request I lodged they should have been able to tell that I was really worried and somewhat shaken by the experience.

The response I received was ABSOLUTELY inappropriate and I was staggered.

I’m still using Skype for the time being, but I’m certainly not a loyal customer any more. In fact, if one of you suggests a reasonable alternative to Skype, there’s not much reason why I wouldn’t change. I feel as though they have broken a bond with me – and their already meaningless words telling me how much they care about offering me the best possible product and service are laughable.

I’m really disappointed. And I wanted to like Skype.

What’s the moral?

If both of these emails weren’t automated, then they were definitely cut and paste jobs. And both of them have had significant impact on damaging my perception of these brands and their products.

Support or Contact emails are fantastic opportunities to really push the voice and the personality of your company out in a really authentic way, and to exceed customer expectations and create great customer experiences.

What happens to your contact mail? or your support mail? Does it have the right voice? Is it treated as priority? Are you treating these like PEOPLE or like anonymous email addresses?

I might be still waiting for my hairdresser to get back to me, and I suspect he never will… but at least I’m just mildly annoyed. Maybe he’s still working on his customer response strategy and making sure it’s a great experience. Hopefully Time Out and Skype will do the same thing sometime soon!

OK now. Vent and Share :)

(apologies for such a long post and congratulations if you made it this far! It could have been much worse – i didn’t even mention the shocking time I had with Linksys on the weekend!)

Image Credit: Spiky Gaijin on Flickr

6 thoughts on “customer experience: the bad, and the worse

  1. I had a bad experience with Dabs ( a few years ago. We’d bought some wireless network cards off them and a couple of them didn’t work. After two attempts at getting them to collect them for return (where they didn’t turn up), they finally managed to pick them up on the third attempt, almost two weeks after we had originally contacted them. It didn’t help that they didn’t publish a phone number so the only means of contacting them to start with was to use email. Very frustrating and I’ve never bought anything from them since and have also always recommended against them to friends and family (and everyone I know who’s had to contact their customer service department has never had anything positive to say about them).

    On the other hand I recently had a very pleasant experience with herald ( buying a thawte code-signing certificate. Very prompt reply to my numerous emails (as in within around 30mins each time), meaning I had sorted out all my issues on the same day as submitting my first question and the woman was very friendly and helpful.

    Have also had a positive experience with Amazon in the past.

  2. Oh and btw Leisa, that time out email is from a Michael but you start berating Matthew (poor guy ;-))

  3. oh no! so I did. Poor Matthew!
    I’ve updated appropriately – thanks for the heads up :)

    my Linksys experience was with a wireless router I’d just bought… took me hours instead of minutes to get it going (despite the ‘one touch setup’ it claimed to have). I ended up going round and round with their ‘live chat’ help desk. One guy was great, but the other one didn’t even bother to find out what trouble I was having… he just wanted to give me an instruction that would require me to log off the internet, so that he could be rid of me…. grrrrr.

    but that’s just one person who was more interested in ‘doing the numbers’ than looking after the customer… it’s hard to design around that!

  4. Re: a Skype alternative. You might try Gizmo Project (, I used it on a trip to India and had pretty good success. Having said that, I haven’t had to contact their customer support… so in that regard it could be more of the same. But it is an alternative.

  5. Bad customer experience is rife in this country. I’ve just ordered a new phone from Orange, and apparently I have to have the phone delivered to my home address:
    me “but, I wont be at home tomorrow between 9am and 5.30pm”
    them “We can deliver it to a neighbour so they can sign for it”
    me “a neighbour can sign for it but I can’t have the phone delivered to me at work where I can sign for it?”
    them “that’s right. We’ll try to deliver it to your home address and we’ll leave a note saying you were out and that we can rearrange the delivery”
    me “I’ll actually be at home on Friday so why not wait a day before sending me the phone”
    them “I’m afraid I can’t do that”


  6. I made a purchase from and was told the product ordered was out of stock and would take 1-2 days to get it in stock.

    To my surprise after a few days, I was told its now going to take over 3 weeks for delivery. This is utter rubbish. I advised them to let client know this information. They cannot be contacted by phone and they have a crap CRM system. I would advise everyone to look at other places and don’t get caught up in pranks

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