When Customer Support Fails



I’m writing this in my kitchen, listening to an old ‘You Must Remember This’ podcast* and trying to calm down.

You see, I’ve spent ALL day (and a lot of yesterday afternoon) arguing with the Customer ‘Support’ department of a well known subscription website. I won’t name names, but if this isn’t sorted properly, believe me, I probably will next year when renewal is due again.

thoughtful editor


The problem? Automatic renewal failed. I followed the link in the ‘notification of failure’ email and renewed what I thought was my subscription. Instead it was actually ‘re-subscribing’ me to a new subscription. You see, the problem was, my old subscription level is no longer allowed for new customers – only existing customers on auto-renewal are allowed to re-subscribe on that, now defunct, level. And as auto-renewal failed at their end …


In short, due to their error, my renewal never happened. Because I followed what seemed to be a renewal link to allow me to manually renew, I was put onto a lesser account.

So I spent all day asking why, because of their error, I was being penalised. A ‘goodwill gesture’ was given, adding Pay As You Go credits to my account. Accepting this ‘goodwill’ I would effectively accept the lower subscription (and to be honest, their credits wouldn’t even last me a week).

question mark


As a long-term subscriber I was told – tough. I was told it was impossible to put me back onto my original subscription (can you hear the bullshit klaxon, because by this point I could).


bull head


Now I know many people would let it go or get frustrated and give up. But I’m savvy enough to know that things can be rolled back and computer systems aren’t as rigid as the ‘Customer Support’ team would have you think.

After a day of to-ing and fro-ing, and after a couple of times asking to be put in touch with the line manager, I eventually got an apologetic email from the line manager and was reverted back to my original subscription type. Although it’s only likely to be for a year (we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it).


Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of Paper --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis


Ok, I know I’m venting, but this is one thing that really makes me mad. Customer Support departments are there to support the customer (the clue’s in the name), not fob them off or frustrate them so much against a wall of ‘Nos’ that they give up.

When departments don’t communicate and when automatic emails don’t communicate effectively with the client, then things break down and everyone suffers. Well, the customer suffers, the customer support employee gets frustrated and the business just merrily counts the cash and moves on. But the business loses credibility and eventually the client’s money. You see, when the client loses faith in the business eventually they’ll take their custom elsewhere. And tell their friends.




In this case, was it a story of genuine renewal malfunction or an effective way to dump long-term clients and force them to either accept lower value subscriptions or go for the more expensive option? Call me cynical, but it happens. How many people have had the same problem and given up?

For me, I’ve seen both sides of customer service and know not to settle and accept easily thrown ‘goodwill gestures’ (which, let’s face it, are rarely good will).




By now I’ve calmed down, but have spent the day with raised blood pressure and lost hours. You know the feeling, when the next email arrives and you dread which way the fight is going to go next. How many of you get palpitations, like I do, when these hit the inbox?

fiery heart


Ok, so this post has been all about me, but I’ll bet you’ve had something similar happen at some point. You’ve been fobbed off by ‘Customer Support’ departments hoping that you’ll shut up and go away.

Now, this is not legal advice, but you should know that you don’t need to give up if you get no support from Customer Support.

Here’s how to tackle it when you’re being fobbed off and the problem’s genuinely not your fault.

When negotiating, remember:

  • Customer Support is supposed to help the business help its customers, not drive them away.
  • Your immediate point of contact won’t necessarily know how to help you. You’ve encountered ‘cut and paste’ replies – you know what I’m talking about. Some support staff are brilliant, but some aren’t, just as some are more trained than others. Some stick to the script, while others will know when to be more ‘hands-on’.
  • Be as specific as you can, have your facts ready and don’t accept the first thing they offer you.
  • If you get no satisfaction from your first contact, go higher. Ask to speak to the line manager or supervisor, who is probably more experienced and has more authority.
  • If you get no satisfaction via email (I always prefer email as you have a record of what was said and agreed), the next step is to phone. Ask for the department manager.
  • Don’t accept liability. They will try to get you to say it’s your fault, even when it isn’t. People get flustered, and can very easily have the tables turned on them without realising.
  • Don’t give up until you really have to, and don’t accept that ‘it’s automated’ and they can’t do anything because it’s computerised. Remember behind every automated email or response or service, there are humans in charge.
  • Finally if you come away feeling dirty and used, it’s a sign that it’s time to move on. After you’ve been given the satisfaction you deserve.


call centre


And if you run a business? Well, it’s simple:

  • If you have staff, train them (and treat them) well.
  • Train your staff to communicate effectively and politely with customers.
  • Ask yourself how you would deal with situations that might arise. Implement ways to deal with these problems.
  • Make sure that your automated emails point to the correct information, and that they’re unambiguous and helpful.
  • Make sure that your website communicates effectively, and that all areas are covered.
  • Set up a ‘yes, we can help’ framework, rather than a ‘no, go away’ one.
  • Leave your customers feeling that they’ve been on the end of good customer support, rather than being a nuisance to the company.


yes button


As an update to this little saga, the line manager has been in touch again. They’re refunding and recharging to allow the renewal next year to go ahead. In other words, refunding my lesser subscription and doing that auto-renewal properly.

Let’s hope it goes smoothly!


Have you had experience of good or bad customer support? How do you deal with it?



* (not heard of it? If you love old Hollywood you’ll love this)

4 Comments on “When Customer Support Fails

  1. A friend had part of her house upgraded, and despite doing a vast amount of homework and talking to loads of places and choosing very carefully things haven’t gone well. But once they had her money their service changed, they didn’t ring back, they made mistakes and won’t do more than replace the basic items, after many repeated contacts she did get them to pay for her fitter to do the replacements, but she planned this last spring with it done in summer to autumn and be all sorted for winter and new Christmas, the items will arrive end of March now! so 12 months from start! took ages and they refused to take any responsibility for the original mistakes even if they made them and when there were more they shook their heads and basically walked away. I have left out details to make it more anonymous but I doubt any of us would use the company for ourselves!
    Lost work due to customer services being poor.

  2. That is supremely annoying. Glad you got it sorted in the end, but as you say, it’s probably only for a year. Probably because they want to get more money out of you than they are currently squeezing!

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