Integrity Languages


Are You Making Your Clients Headdesk?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 20, 2015

Man hits his head off a keyboard Headdesk picture

I email a well-known online retailer (no, not that one) with some very specific questions.

They send me an automated reply which answers precisely none of them. *Headdesk*

I email another retailer (still not that one) with the same set of questions. It takes me three emails to get to a human being, who manages to avoid answering any of my questions, while the social media team tell me I need to wait a few hours until a specialist comes online. *Headdesk*

I naively try a third retailer (not that one either) who actually answers my questions (hooray!), only for me to discover restrictions on how they do business that make it much more difficult for me to achieve my goals. *Headdesk*

My mobile provider’s website won’t allow me to top up. Their social media team give me a helpdesk web address. The helpdesk can’t help me as I am the wrong type of customer. *Headdesk*

I have no intention of naming and shaming the particular offenders in those cases as they already know how I feel. But these stories, as many of you will know, are not unique. We could all grouse about customer service that seems exist only to prevent customers from getting any actual service.

But how many of us are self-aware enough to ask if we are leading our own clients to frustration. Here’s a story from my business. At one point, I was contacted by a new client who wanted me to provide some interpreting for them. They wanted me to list options of how it could be done, alongside likely costs.

Sounds great, right? I knew that they were trying to cost-save and they had already hinted at how they had had the work done previously. I sent them all the professionally acceptable options and then included the option they seemed to want to use, along with huge caveats and the line “many professionals would find this method unacceptable.” What I forgot to mention is that I was most definitely one of those “many professionals” and all the money in the world could not convince me to take on a job under those conditions.

Guess which option they asked me to deliver!


My own lack of clarity and perhaps my naivety in even including it as an option led to an uncomfortable email saying that I could not deliver the service they wanted under the conditions they suggested. Whoops. It should come as no surprise that I have not ever heard back from them again.

It’s all well and good for me to bounce my bonce off my desk at the garish mistakes of big businesses but unless I can learn from those lessons, I am really no better than they are. The truth is that people will only work with me if they find me easy to work with. My business future depends on the service I give my clients. That service begins with their first enquiry email and does not end until one of us ceases to trade.

Perhaps it’s time that bad customer service stories caused us less headaches and more lightbulb moments.

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