Some of the most successful companies in the world are renowned for their bad customer service. If you’ve ever watched a Ryanair hostess yell at customers on your flight from Heathrow to Dublin, you’ll already know this. That’s because you’ll be one of the passengers cowering in your seat among the great unwashed of the UK and Ireland, wondering why you decided to spearhead this intracompany austerity initiative.

A committed outrage merchant can spend their entire life cycling between Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, based on how they were treated by a call centre operator on any given day, but that telephonic empire doesn’t care. You’ll be back the next time they send a sweet sign-up deal to your inbox – discount code included.

Big bad service is everywhere

Apple sells overpriced pretties to cashed-up hipsters, but once you’ve got that smooth object in your palm you’ll be lining up for repairs at the Genius Bar alongside all the other Granny Smiths who used to be the Red Deliciouses of the company’s eye.

Meanwhile, we’ve all quietly become used to the idea of scanning and bagging our own groceries. We barely interact with anyone at McDonald’s anymore thanks to the soft-serve self-serve machines. Nobody even remembers a time before we put petrol in our own cars. Try ringing your local Fastway courier – the phone is always off the hook. The other day the UberEats rider left my lunch at the front door, without even ringing the bell. It was just there on the porch when I sent my mate out to check.

The truth about bad customer service

Customer service is something we all talk about, but its absence is obviously not a dealbreaker, given the companies that thrive without being civil to us. They save the human face for social media and new sign-ups, while leaving existing customers to deal with the obstacle course of phone queues.

It’s an open secret, that obstacle course. Only contenders with the drive and determination to make it past the following can get the service they truly need:

  • The phone tree
  • The first call centre operator who has zero refunding powers and an endlessly bad connection
  • The stonewalling baseline manager who probably has KPIs for people like you

It’s an old-fashioned endurance test, and one you should consider installing in your own company, if you haven’t already. Of course, there are some weaknesses for the canny customer to exploit, so be aware that some of them will be able to cancel their account, get that fee waived or – worst of all – be granted a full refund.

For starters, those call centres have targets to meet, but they’re not allowed to hang up on customers unless they’re abusive. Staying on the line incentivises the drone to solve their problem, so they don’t get reprimanded. Secondly, you never know if it’s a bonnet-beed op-ed columnist on the other end of the line (me), who’s drafting a poison pen letter while they build up a head of fury at the chirpy voice that interrupts the off-brand Girl From Ipanema hold music.

Thirdly, everyone’s on mobile phones these days, so the waiting game isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be. People pop in their earphones and tune out while they tidy the house or do some admin work, until a crackly voice on the other end cheerily introduces oneself.

Even getting to talk to another person represents a sunk cost, time-wise, which means the people your offshore call centre speak to will come in hot, angry and ready to be listened to. They’re the ones you have to placate with waived fees and quasi-apologies, giving them a modicum of satisfaction to go with their sparkling kitchen and reconciled business account transactions.

As for everyone else, they’ll write a cranky status update, get the angry reactions and validation they’re after, and quietly continue using your product or service like the weak-willed sheep they are.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Ryanair flight to book on my playing-up iPhone before digging into my incorrect McDonald’s order.

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