Four Strategies for Responding to Poor Customer Service

Perhaps you’ve noticed: customer service has deteriorated noticeably since the recession began. Fewer waiters in restaurants. Slower room service in hotels. Longer wait times for support.

A Waitress Taking an Order

This is hardly surprising. With significant layoffs in almost every industry, fewer people are available to provide the level of service you have come to expect. Everyone is scrambling. Many are stumbling.

What can you do about it? More than you think. But it begins by adjusting your attitude. This is what distinguishes leaders from non-leaders. They have the ability to lead themselves.

Therefore, here four strategies for responding to poor customer service:

  1. Be more understanding. The people who are trying to serve me are no doubt overworked and underpaid. They are doing the best they can. They didn’t wake up this morning plotting how to disappoint me. They are not stupid or incompetent. Indeed, most of them are frustrated that they don’t have more resources to meet their customers’ needs.
  2. Express gratitude. It’s easy to focus on all the stuff I am not getting that I think I am entitled to. Instead, I am going to work hard to thank people for all the little stuff they do for me. If I can set aside my expectations, it’s amazing how much more I will notice and acknowledge. A simple, heart-felt “thank you” can re-energize a person who is discouraged and ready to quit.
  3. Demonstrate patience. Is my need really so urgent or am I really that important that I need it now? Probably not. I can use these delays and annoyances to polish my own character and better learn the virtue of patience. This comes down to a simple matter of treating others the way I would want to be treated in a similar situation.
  4. Extend grace. Someone has said that mercy is not giving people what they deserve while grace is giving people what they don’t deserve. For example, that over-worked waiter didn’t give me the service that I might have received two years ago. But now he’s covering 50% more tables. And people are tipping less. I’m going to give him the full 20%. Why? Because I want to be a gracious and bless him.

None of this means you have to rollover or accept poor service as the new norm. But you are more likely to get good service if you have a good attitude rather than a bad one. And even if you don’t get better service, you can at least feel better about yourself and what you are becoming.

Question: How are you handling poor customer service?
Get My New, 3-Part Video Series—FREE! Ready to accomplish more of what matters? 2015 can be your best year ever. In my new video series, I show you exactly how to set goals that work. Click here to get started. It’s free—but only until Monday, December 8th.

Get my FREE video series now!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • JasonWert

    Unless it's so egregious that I have to make a big deal about it (I.E. they did something to one of my kids) I usually just e-mail the supervisor of the place later and say "I understand your folks are really swamped right now but…" I just be polite and say they might want to improve on something next time.

    A little understand of their situation seems to go a long way.

    • duckman1221

      as a call center rep myself, you should probably know that most e-mails/mail even if they are labeled "supervisor" are filtered and read by trusted non-supervisors. I'm sure if your concerns are deep enough a supervisor will see that the reparations that can be made are but I won't say that happens all the time. They actually outsourced tier 1 e-mail support to a group overseas recently so you have both a language barrier and a technical barrier to get your concerns heard via e-mail. Just thought you would like to know.

  • Jeff Short

    Good list. Another good response to poor customer service is to evaluate our own performance in service situations. Most everyone has to interact with others from the position of service, regardless of the field or job description. Whenever we are in the position of having to explain something, answer someone's question, or help them, we are doing "customer" service. Often when a service situation begins to deteriorate, I begin thinking about how I can apply it to my own interactions. Hopefully, I will learn something and not grow too frustrated.

  • @KimberlySellnow

    Great article. As I am increasing my travel across the United States, I find it is taking more and more patience and understanding. The airport is one the most important places to implement the above ideas. The one thing I would add, is to remember to smile. It seems that the people on the other side of the counter are a sounding board…a target, if you will, to so many customers. It is a rare and welcome sight to see a cheery traveler.

  • Rebecca Stuhlmiller

    Poor customer service is most often a result of poor training and support from the owner/company. If I encounter a situation that's completely unacceptable, I will email the company and let them know that while I love their service/store, my experience was poor. A good manager or owner will make a world of difference.

  • brad

    I totally agree. Just had a bad experience this morning and was thinking about this exact thing. In my mind I think that with so many people out of work that the caliber of people in all positions would increase as all jobs become more competitive. This does not seem to be the case!

  • Samantha

    I could probably use more patience and understanding in the deeper issues that you mentioned. I'm often too self-focused, and need to be sensitive to what's really going on. After all, things are really hard for a lot of people right now no matter what.

    Thank you for the challenge. I will be more aware of this when I eat out next or am on the phone with a representative. Most of all, I want to be a servant to that person in return.

  • brad

    sorry, for some reason it cut off the end of my last comment!

    What I was going to say was I needed to hear this today!

    Love your blog

  • @RickYuzzi

    A few observations: It's unfortunate that most companies cut back on customer service when they most need to keep the customers they have–during hard times. Those that maintain a good customer experience will be better positioned and stronger after the recovery. Also, I was thinking that there are some people should just not be in customer service. You could over pay them for minimal work, and they will still be annoyed that they have to help someone. I appreciate your statement about grace, though. It might take a few visits to an establishment before figuring out if the person is overworked and having a bad day, or they are in the wrong job. Good to give them the benefit of the doubt, and you might turn around their day.

    • Paul Stoltzfus

      These are four great strategies for life! And I like how you shift the blame to “we the consumer”.

      Customer service and marketing departments are the tax we pay for lousy deliverables.

  • Jessica Traffas

    You know how some countries have mandatory military service? I've long believed that America should enforce mandatory CUSTOMER service! :-)

    Having worked in retail and food service in my early years, I definitely developed a sense of empathy for the overworked, undersupported service industry employees. It's frustrating when you're given an impossible workload, or are bound to store policies that you did not create, which make for unhappy customers.

    Having been there, I remember what it's like. Some customers were impossible to please, so I try NEVER to be one of those customers.

    That being said, I can usually tell the difference between someone who is overworked and frustrated but trying to make the best of things, vs someone who just plain has a bad attitude. I try to have tremenous paitence and goodwill for the former, but I'll admit my patience runs thin with the latter!

  • Cassandra Frear

    This advice can only make it all better. Better for others, better for our lives, better for our hearts.

    Wise and compassionate perspective.

  • Clark

    Life's not what happens
    It's how you respond to it
    Opposite spirit

  • Dan

    How am I handling it?
    I'm not rewarding it.
    When I leave a tip, it is an indicator of their performance.

  • Cheryl Harman


  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Four Strategies for Responding to Poor Customer Service --

  • Sherrie Snyder Lord

    I so agree. I get so annoyed, not with the workers but with the people they're waiting on who get so impatient. As if the employee was providing less than stellar service on purpose, just to ruin the customer's day. Good grief.

  • Cheryl Lemine

    As the mom of a high school senior, I've looked forward to ordering my son's official senior pics. However, my experience with the studio that did them was less than satisfactory. While their recorded phone answering message said wait times were unusually long this time of year, I thought 23+ minutes was excessive!

  • Cheryl Lemine

    I tried using their website to "answer my questions 24/7" and when my re-set password kept looping me back to the sign in page, I resorted to a personal visit. The paperwork included in the $179 porfolio of pics sent to my home said the portfolio had to be returned within 2 weeks or my credit card on file would be charged for the company's $1,000 package.

  • Cheryl Lemine

    The paperwork reminded me that I had signed this agreement when I scheduled my son's session.

    I'm so thankful that God's spirit prompted me to "be still" for a least a few seconds before getting out of the car and heading to the "customer service" office. In that moment, I think God reminded me to realize that this lousy labrynth of "customer service" would not be the fault of the person at the desk. He provided the ability to calmly explain the website situation and she even took notes to relay to the IT person.

    I didn't mention the excessive "hold time" when I tried to call and He allowed me to focus on what needed to happen without taking out my frustration and disappointment on her.

    After I returned home and read your blog, I felt Him confirm my actions and reminding me that "in His strength I can do anything" [no matter how aggravating or inconvenient it might be.]

    Thank you.

  • Jeffrey Holton

    I am ashamed of myself.

    I fully expected your list to say the exact opposite. I thought that you would expect us to use our consistently high expectations to inspire change, growth, and the revitalization of American productivity!

    Of course, you're quite right. I sit corrected.

    Thank you for shocking me.

  • @AudraKrell

    This is great post that I try to apply to all relationships in my life. For example. my spouse doesn't lie awake at night thinking of ways to make my life difficult. Our relationship is better when I realize that he is doing the best he can. I use the times when things aren't going my way to practice patience.
    I've been saying it for years, it's all about who I want to be, not who the other person or their actions are.

  • terripatrick

    Good post! And the comments reflect this! Those who follow this blog is a reflection of service to others.

    Wonderful example of service to your customers, Michael. Appreciate them, and reward them with service from the heart that will enhance their lives.

    There is no need to tolerate rudeness, ego, or the enforced – up-sell, but it's a good reminder that being a customer is also a service to the company. That is how the circle of success comes into balance. Product-service-customer.

  • Pingback: Four Strategies for Responding to Poor Customer Service « Customer Service()

  • christopherbmac

    Hi Mike,

    Great post and great advice. In this day and age it seems that customer service means "you give me something for free", especially if you make a mistake.

    I work in the service industry where callers are increasingly becoming the total opposite of what you are advising your readers to do. It has been my experience, and also that of my co-workers, that people will often say things to you by telephone that they would not dream of saying if you were face to face.

    I hope a lot of people read your post and follow your advice. As the old song says "love makes the world go 'round". And in the parting words of Jesus to his disciples, "“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35.

    Show your love!


  • Daniel D

    A positive perspective wins every time. Empathy is a virtue that is far too often misplaced. Like grace, we want it extended to us but can easily miss extending it to others. I always try to consider the plight of another. Even though I am paying for a service, the person giving it is still human. The cashier might be rude because she’s been up all night with a sick child. The waiter might be distracted because he just found out a relative has cancer. You never know. I think each negative situation presents a positive opportunity for us to shine the light of Christ, even when we are wronged.

    My wife and I carry a few biz card sized THANK YOU cards plus KINDNESS CARDS in our pockets and look for opportunities to use them. To leave then for the waiter, to slip one to the drive-thru attendant, etc. It’s fun.

    • Cheryl Lemine


      Great idea. I've even started making it a point to request company response cards of find out the feedback protocol to simply compliment people who have helped me as part of their job.

      One time I did one for a research librarian and her simple response was, "Thanks. There aren't many people like you."

      Not that I'm such a shining example, but Jesus' words always brought life and that's my real purpose behind the extra effort to "compliment the competent."

  • Annie

    I am a receptionist in a printing company of which I am usually the first person people have contact with when calling or entering the company. Because I feel the impression others receive when they encounter me is a HUGE reflection of the company, it is rare that I do not offer exceptional customer service. Yes I do realize bad days happen, some days are busier than others and people who enter can be rude. Yet, as an adult, I should be able to not let this affect how I treat others. And due to my standards being high I expect the same service from someone else. Also, here in the state of Michigan, jobs are far and few between so I appreciate having a job. Unfortunately, I do not tolerate bad customer service. I have learned to speak with a manager right away so it is rectified right away. I also make a point of speaking with a manager when someone provides excellant customer service. If I return to the company and the customer service continues to be bad, I make a point of not returning again. And yes, I have written the corporate office to indicate my dissatisfaction or my satisfaction. Sadly, some of the businesses where I encountered bad customer service are no longer around. Yes I believe love makes the world go round, but in these economic times, customer service needs to be fine tuned if businesses expect to stay alive.

  • JimMartin

    Mike– A very good post and one I need to hear. Thanks!

  • MichaelSGray

    Interesting timing on this post. I recently posted a blog griping about an unexpected encounter I had with poor customer service. After reading your thoughts, I can see that I missed an opportunity to be understanding and show grace. Instead, I turned inward and focused most on what I was not getting out of the experience. Your post challenged my perspective.

  • Gerson Hernández

    Great advice, I think treating others good, I refer to people that's is not going to your church, is a reflect also of your faith. All the facts that you have post it helps us to get a better context of the things and make that comandment to be truth in that particular situation.. Thanks.

  • Sweton

    great man…it is good to see guys like you…it is damn good…

  • Marcus

    And what do you do if the only way to communicate with them is by email and the problem is going on 12 days. May not be the CSR's fault, but the system at this particular mega company is troubling.

  • Donna Frank

    I love that you're connecting leadership with acting respectful towards servers. Too often we see leaders flaunt their self-importance and sense of entitlement as a way to demand 'the respect they deserve'.

    I truly hope that none of us get what we deserve. Without grace, eternity is going to be one hot mess!

  • Pingback: The Total Customer Experience()

  • Brian Anderson

    The four strategies are filled with personal growth opportunities. Demonstrate grace, and patience, then gather the name and contact of the District manager or Regional etc and let them know by email, phone or letter. From my point of view it’s a culture issue a training opportunity. If you don’t get the information needed to improve and deliver best practice customer service than it’s a missed opportunity.

  • Pingback: Kill The Whales «()

  • Pingback: My Ten Holiday Season Flying Tips | Jackson Miller()

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Four Strategies for Responding to Poor Customer Service --

  • edo

    Vote with your feet. Let the owner / superviser know why you are leaving

  • Wendy

    This blog is basically saying to rollover and take it – accept poor customer service with grace. I think not; I am sick and tired of spending my hard earned money at places only to be treated like a 2nd rate citizen. My choice is to not return to those stores or restaurants that provide me with anything less than top rate service. I really don’t understand the point that the author is trying to make, because if you continue to tip 20% regardless of the quality of the service provided, you are in essence perpetuating the problem. The server will never realize that he/she just reuined your meal or, worse yet, a “special” night out like an anniversary or birthday. What he/she needs to realize is that EVERY customer is important and EVERY interaction should be treated as a “special” one. They “get the message” when it hits their pocketbook, don’t we all? Overworked or not, there is no excuse for rudeness!!

  • Graeme4631

    Express gratitude for the “little stuff” they do for me?? I’m sorry, but in the context of my particular problem I can’t think of anything they’ve done for me whatsoever! I am just being ignored, and left to wonder why. I suspect there is an agenda, but can’t prove anything.