By Nancy Friedman, Keynote Customer Service Speaker; President Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training

These are true stories taken from our book CUSTOMER SERVICE NIGHTMARES. But before we begin and before you read them, let’s talk a moment about just ‘exactly’ what is BAD customer service?

Is it real? Is it perception? Is it because someone was in a bad mood? Could be you or the person helping you. Is it not giving eye contact? Is it not listening to the customer? Is it getting the wrong food order and doing nothing about it? Is it long lines? Is it one word answers? Is it not smiling at the customer? Is it not being helpful? Is it, is it and is it? And the list goes on and on. We all have them. Stories from Hell. Stories that rival each other.
Bad customer service is like the expression “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”

Most everyone has experienced some form of bad customer service; and in most cases it’s something different for each of us.

Which brings me to the point of poor service. What’s the difference between poor customer service and BAD customer service? And then take the other side. There’s good customer service and GREAT customer service.

Can EVERYONE be GREAT? How can EVEYRONE be BAD? Ok, ok, everyone isn’t BAD. But then everyone isn’t good either. And for sure everyone isn’t GREAT.

Here are five BAD customer service stories we received when we put out a call for our book Customer Service Nightmares. Not sure they are the ‘worst’ ones, but they work for this blog. There are many more in the book.

Story #1 – He’ll never forget! And he’s telling everyone.

It’s 1971 and I’ve just finished a thirteen-month tour with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. I’ve been discharged and am flying home to Miami from Los Angeles aboard a commercial flight. I’m wearing my uniform for two pretty good reasons: It’s required to qualify for a reduced fare military ticket and I had no civilian clothes.

An hour into the flight, a stewardess informs me that an insufficient number of meals have been loaded on the plane. Since I am flying on a reduced fare ticket, I will not get fed. And I didn’t. The airlines went out of business a few years later.

Was the company a victim of government deregulation (as some claimed), or did it reap its just reward for insensitive customer service?
After twenty-five years, I remain convinced that it was the latter!

GG, Phoenix, AZ

We thank you for your service GG.


Story #2 – Right! She’ll never go there again!

Whose Attitude? About a year ago I went to one of our larger department stores in the evening. Although I realized it was 8:45 pm and the store closed at 9:00 pm, I really needed to buy four director chairs. The chair department had only two on the floor, so I asked a member of the sales staff if they had two more of the chairs. She told me that nothing was left on the floor to match the color and style I wanted.

When she failed to offer to check the stockroom, I asked if they had any in stock. With a big sigh she told me she would have to call down to the stockroom and find out. When she did call, she found out they had two more of the kind I wanted. She then asked if I really wanted them. I replied that, of course, I did!

“Well,” she said, “it’s going to take some time and we’re almost closing.”

I indicated that I was willing to wait.

She then told the person in the stockroom to bring them up, resignedly saying, “This lady wants them!”

“Thank you,” I said, “and I hope this isn’t going to be too much of a problem for you.”

I meant this sincerely, but the clerk obviously didn’t like the comment. “You know, lady,” she said, “you really have an attitude problem.”

At this point I said I would be right back to get my chairs and I walked over to the customer service department a short distance from where I was standing. When I reported the incident, the chairs were quickly brought up. But I never shopped at that store again and I have often shared this story so that this one bad customer service incident has been heard by many people.

LP, Green Bay, WI


Story #3 – Did you REALLY put them on HOLD?

A few years ago I bought my son a mountain bike from a sporting goods store. About a month later one of the bicycle’s cables broke. Since it was so recently purchased I called the store to inquire about their repair policy. I reached the bicycle department and explained the problem to a young man. He asked me to wait a moment while he checked with the service guy. Then he put me on hold – or at least thought he did.

Suddenly I heard him saying, “Yeah, I got some wingnut on the phone. Her kid trashed his bike and now she wants a free one.”

At this point I interrupted saying, “Excuse me, this is the customer. You know, the wingnut. I didn’t ask for a free bike. Now put me through to your manager.”

Needless to say, we got our problem fixed!

RR, Chicagwagee, NY


Story #4 – “Down Under” Gets Upset Too! It’s EVERYWHERE!

When I called about the seminar for which I had registered to be held in Melbourne, I was advised by a customer service person that the seminar had been cancelled. I told her that I had never been informed. She said that letters had been sent about the cancellation and that I should be receiving a refund check soon.

I indicated that I was not reassured and was put through to a person who was in charge of contacting registrants. I spoke with her and told her that if I hadn’t called, my manager and I would have turned up on Wednesday in Melbourne on nonrefundable flight tickets to attend a seminar that had been cancelled.

She said the letters had been sent out and that it was probably in my office some place. I suggested that phone calls should have been made to all pre-registrants. I was told that this was usually the case, but did not happen in this case. It was not her fault.

This was not the sympathetic response I had expected. As a customer, I really don’t care whose fault it was. I just want an apology and a reassurance that this was not going to happen again or for someone to have the empowerment to say, “I will offer you a discount on the next seminar you book with us” or something to that effect.

PA, Sydney, Australia


Story #5 – Hard to Believe, but somehow I do.

I was in an upscale department store and walked into an area. The salesperson asked if she could help me and I said, “No thanks, I’m just looking.”
A few minutes later I found something I wanted. The salesperson and I were the only ones in the department, so I walked back over to her and told her I wanted to buy the item I selected. She turned and told me that I had just said I was only looking. And then she walked away!

AA, St. Louis, MO


Bad customer service stories! We all have them. And we all love to VENT about them to anyone who might listen. Anywhere! About the experience at the doctor’s offices, lawyer’s offices, small business down the street, large companies – doesn’t matter – WE TALK.

It’s not easy to have a great customer service rating, but it is easy to follow the golden rule. Be kind. Be nice. And well, you know. And YES, I have a book of the GOOD stories too. That’s coming!

Nancy Friedman

Nancy Friedman

Communication and customer service expert Nancy Friedman, The Telephone Doctor, founder and chairman of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training, is back in the saddle again. Well, back into live onsite programs, and still offering her ZOOM programs, in a cost saving manner. Whichever you choose, onsite or Zoom, you’ll be glad you did. The reviews are excellent, and audiences have loudly applauded her in either area. Sales, customer service and communication skills are her area of expertise, and she welcomes calls, texts, or emails. You can reach her directly at; through the website at, where you can sign up for her newsletters; or call/text directly at 314-276-1012 central time. Bring it on. Whether you need a keynote speaker or workshop/breakout speaker on customer service and communication skills, you’ll make a great choice.