We frequently write about customer experience as a key competitive differentiator. In fact, according to industry data—and anecdotal evidence from the contact center leaders we talk to every day—consumer expectations are only increasing. And that makes scary customer service potentially more damaging than ever.

According to a recent Vanson Bourne survey of 3,000 US and UK consumers, the vast majority (94%) of respondents say customer experience impacts whether they would make the decision to move from one brand to a competitor.

Yet, Halloween-like horror stories of bad customer service have become perennial social and mainstream media headlines. Think: the bloodied United Airlines passenger carried off an overbooked flight or a suffocated 10-month-old puppy stowed in an overhead bin by a United flight attendant.

Bad customer service doesn’t have to reach epic—or tragic—proportions to be frightening. Here are three cases of customer service missteps that may ring more relatable, even recognizable, and how they might have been avoided.

  1. Amazon Flushes Customer Service Down the Toilet

Imagine you’ve ordered three cartons of toilet paper from Amazon. The cost: $88.77. Then imagine a $7,455 shipping charge. That’s what happened to Barbara Carroll.

And it gets worse. At first, Carroll wasn’t concerned. It was Amazon, after all, which has a reputation for taking care of its customers. But not this time. At least not immediately, or without effort.

She complained to Amazon six times, even wrote a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos. After every complaint, she received a form letter explaining that there would be no refund because the delivery was made on-time and undamaged. What?

It wasn’t until she took the matter to a local television station and the story went viral on social media that Amazon took action. Two-and-a-half months later, she was finally reimbursed.

The problem was a combination of missteps from several areas of the business. But there’s no denying the customer service system stumbled where it could have helped.

Ultimately, after Carroll was fully reimbursed, Amazon issued a statement saying it was investigating the interactions with its customer service team, “so it can improve the experience for all customers.”

But it clearly never should have gotten that far.

Amazon possibly could have avoided the reputation hit entirely by training its customer service employees to ask questions and empowering them to go beyond rote processes or automated systems to get to the heart of the issue right away.

Read the whole story here.

  1. The Unexpected. Even at Reliable McDonald’s?

Tom and Tina Olszewski went to a McDonald’s drive-thru with their 9-year-old son. After waiting 15 minutes for their order, they finally gave up and asked for a refund. When the cashier refused, the manager stepped in. His reaction was caught on video.

The video of the enraged manager’s response, which involved screaming obscenities and insults at the Olszewskis, was posted on Facebook and the incident covered by local media.

For a brand as highly scripted as McDonald’s, you might think that type of behavior would be at the top of the “things not to do” section of its customer service training manual. But here’s the obvious lesson (obvious, but perhaps overlooked even in the largest organizations): consistently exceptional service requires continual quality management and training.

Implementing a workforce optimization program that includes ongoing quality management can be a powerful tool. Quality management is a key factor in boosting the customer experience because it pinpoints where your team is doing well in delivering outstanding service while uncovering opportunities for additional training and coaching.

Here’s the whole story

  1. Bad Reviews for MoviePass

MoviePass, the now-defunct company that let you see a movie a day for about $10 a month spent its relatively short life under siege from customer service complaints. This is just one example:

Dorothy Wickenhiser of San Francisco found her account suddenly closed—with no refunds and no process to fix it. Like an increasing number of organizations these days, MoviePass went to great lengths to prevent customers from contacting a live person for service.

After many hours of hunting, however, Wickenhiser managed to reach someone, who informed her she had violated the terms of the agreement by going to see a “premium movie.” She hadn’t, and she pointed out to the person that she always goes with her husband who has his own card, and there didn’t seem to be a problem with his.

When San Francisco’s ABC News investigated, they found over 1,500 complaints on the Better Business Bureau website, and that the BBB had given MoviePass an “F,” the lowest possible grade.

The MoviePass response to all the complaints was to deny there was a problem, and if customers wanted to dispute such things, all they had to do was contact their customer service department. They did not, of course, mention the bit about their customer service department being virtually impossible to reach.

The eventual demise of MoviePass this year showed its business model was fraught with problems. However, its customer service nightmares show that while digitally savvy consumers want options for interacting with brands, and they are willing to try self-service, when they want to connect with a live agent, it must be quick and simple to do that.

The most successful brands give customers a consistent experience, regardless of the channel they choose, while agents have the necessary information to support interactions across any channel. The result: quick resolution, happy customers, lower agent stress, and a solid reputation.

Here’s the complete story

This Is Not the Time to Scare Off Customers with Bad Service

For many companies, Halloween means the beginning of their busiest time of year. The customer experience you deliver—and the loyal fans you win over—now will make lasting impressions that impact your business all year long.