bad customer serviceA few days ago, during yet another frustrating computer malfunction, I called Dell’s “Award-Winning Service Department” and got Akbar in Sri Lanka, eager to try out his new online diploma in English-as-a-9th-language.

He announced that before we could proceed with my questions, he needed to access my account. We spent the next 20 minutes trying to spell Claflin (“C as in cat. No, not bat. L, I, F. No, not S. as inFrank. Another I, N as in Nancy. Not M. N” Repeat nine times). By the time I was ready to slam my head into the wall, he sighed and said, “Well, it seems your warranty has expired, so I’ll need your credit card. It’s 40 bucks to talk to our Tech department.”

“But what if they can’t help me?” I asked.

“Then there’s no additional charge,” he replied. “But the $40 is just to transfer the call.”

Some days you just want to smack someone.

Having taught classes in customer service during the late 70s and early 80s, I admit that my bar is probably unrealistic, especially when the Customer Service department is located in another country or in stores where the merchandise is displayed in shrink-wrapped boxes stacked six deep on wooden pallets. And I’m not asking for a personal shopper to greet me at the door with champagne and chocolates (although it’s a hell of a marketing idea). But I’m constantly amazed at how often rudeness, apathy, or ignorance appear to be part of the job description for customer service positions.

Over the years, I’ve mentally collected a few particularly outstanding, cringe-worthy customer service fails, forever seared into my brain as the “best of the worst” responses I’ve heard.

1. Me: “Do you carry the Magic Bra Genie that fits every woman, regardless of bra size?” Salesclerk (continuing to fold a huge pile of sweaters and pointing to a vague geographical region in a 150,000 square foot store), “I’m not sure. But if we had it, it would be over there.”

2. Me: “Do you carry these jeans?” Salesclerk: “Their not really in style anymore, so no, we don’t. Have you tried Goodwill?” Yeah, that’s always my first choice when I’m looking for new clothes.

3. After spending 30 minutes with the Help Desk, and never fixing the problem. “Is there anything else we can do for you?” Anything else?? You haven’t done anything yet.

4. Me: “I’m looking for this lipstick in “Hey, Sailor Red.” Saleswoman: “Oh, we get asked for that all the time, but we don’t carry it.” Why??

5. Me: “I’d like this skirt in a size 8.” Saleswoman: “Really, sweetie? You look more like a 12. But we don’t go that big, so do you still want to try the 8?”  While I’m deciding, lean in a little closer so I can slap you.

6. Me: “May I get the check, please?” Server: “Here you go. And I applied your senior discount.” So you just assumed I was a senior, since you’re like, what, 12?? Here’s your tip: Ask next time.

7. Me: “I love this dress. What do you think?” Saleswoman: “You could totally wear that. You just need some Spanx to smooth out those bumps.” You mean I could rock this if I didn’t have those unfortunate butt lumps and belly fat? Yeah, let’s just girdle the crap out of those areas. I feel sexy now.

8. Me: “How’s the linguini here?” Server: “I don’t know. I’ve never had it, because I don’t personally like the way the sauce looks. But we sell a lot of it, so it’s probably okay.” Thanks, but I’ll just have another glass of wine and a breadstick.

9. Me: “I need to return this handbag. It’s not going to work for me.” Salesclerk: “Oh, we don’t do that.” Me: “Why not?” Salesclerk: “It’s our policy.” Unless that policy came down on the Stone Tablets and was written by the Good Lord himself, I’m thinking you won’t be struck by lightening if you get out a pen and change your stupid policy.

10. Me: “My computer keeps shutting itself down. How do I fix that?” Computer guy: “Well, it’s working at our end, so I don’t know what to tell you.” Well, it’s your product. If you don’t know, I’m pretty much screwed. What’s the phone number of your competitor?

11. After waiting 25 minutes in line at the in-store Help Desk. “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do for you.” Seriously, nothing? Not even a suggestion or a referral? A refund? A store credit? You’ve got nothing??

12. While waiting (and waiting, and waiting) on hold for assistance. “Your call is very important to us. Please hold for the next available agent.” Color me stupid, but if my call is that important to you, you’d have someone to answer it. Every time that condescending message plays, I hate you just a little bit more.

13. (After 25 minutes in line at the grocery store), Me: “I don’t think your register is accurate. Go-gurt had one of those sales stickies on it for half price. ” Clerk: “Well, you’re welcome to go back to where you found it and get the sales ticket and bring it back here.” Me: “But won’t I have to wait in line again?” She shrugged, “Guess so.” Few things leave me speechless…

So I was shopping at Safeway the other day, in the early morning hours, and there was only one available checker. The lineup of shoppers snaked all the way back to Produce. The poor girl was completely frazzled, but doing the best she could while looking helplessly at the extended stream of increasingly cranky customers trying to get to work on time.

After a half-hour of waiting through the inevitable price checks, coupon clippers, lost Safeway cards, and I-forgot-the-milk-be-right-backs, I finally got the chance to ask her why on earth she was all alone. She replied, “They’re all at Customer Service training.”

Okay, that one was almost too easy.

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