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)

An interesting week

mad week2


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The best copywriting book I’ve read

Today’s a good day.

I won the Being Freelance Community Non-Employee of the Week Award (yaaay me!). It was announced by Steve, our glorious leader, this morning. The fig rolls shall me mine.

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winner's trophy


After all the lovely comments about last week’s post I thought this week I’d give you a little insight into life in the far north of Scotland. And a book review.


I’ve been living here 20 years this week and I’m still not used to driving a 5-hour round trip to go shopping in Inverness (our nearest city and place with shoppy shops). The 4-hour each way train ride is a no-no at this time of year as it’s often a replacement bus service. Urgh. Besides, you do the maths. Five-hour round trip or eight?


Inverness in January 2
Inverness Castle


But yesterday we had to drive down. It fluctuated between -4 and -6C. The roads are twisty turny. It was beautiful, but the sun was in my eyes. And also in the eyes of the lorry driver driving north, who stopped on the apex of Berriedale … a hairpin bend that frequently shuts the road when lorries get stuck. One of the two roads into Caithness. I expect the cars and lorries coming up behind him had a lovely time.

I stopped four times on the way south as the windscreen wash froze in its nozzle and the wipers smeared salt all over the windscreen. Fun that.

But we made it to the city.


Inverness in January
Isn’t it pretty?


What’s this got to do with a book review?

Absolutely nothing.

Apart from the fact that while my daughter was off getting her hair dyed with beautiful flame colours I nipped for a coffee and finished a brilliant book.


Art of the Click at lunch
It was great – I got a seat and found out that if you have green hair and are reading an interesting book no one dares ask to sit at your table.


The Art of the Click by Glenn Fisher is a gem. And if you write for business (either your own or as a copywriter) I reckon this book should be on your bookshelf.

Now, I haven’t written any direct-response long copy. Yet.

But this book is inspiring. And I genuinely mean that. After reading it I just can’t look at copy in the way I used to. Hell, Glenn’s even got me looking critically at all the emails that fly into my inbox. On any given day you’ll have me nodding at my phone, or making sucking ‘Oooh, that’s bad’ noises.

I’m now actually reading those annoying emails that come through after chancers have harvested my email address. I’m still deleting them, but I’m dissecting them before I do.


So what’s so great about this book?

I’ve got a few copywriting books on my shelves. I’ll admit, I’ve not finished all of them (mostly because they were so dry). This one is different.

I like the writing style. That’s probably a given considering what the book is about. Fisher writes the way he speaks. I like that. I do that too.

He’s not sanctimonious, he doesn’t preach and he doesn’t make you feel stupid. But he does make you think. He even gets you to write out a long-form document so that you can dissect it later in the book. (Hint: it takes a bit longer than the half an hour he reckons it might take, but it’s worth doing.)


blank notebook


Basically, this book is like chatting over coffee with a mentor. It’s the equivalent of a day school. The one where you leave at the end of the day with a new point of view and a skip in your step. Not the one where you struggle to stay awake and have to nip to Costabucks for a triple-strength espresso before you go home.

I even constructed a three-page mindmap type thing as I read through the book. It made me that nerdy.

*As I write, a letter has come through from the garage where I bought my last car. It’s quite a good one. I wonder if they’ve read the book? It got me intrigued (there’s some ‘Good News’ about my car, perhaps it’s worth more as a trade-in than I thought?), but unfortunately I can’t afford a new car right now. Shame that.*


What’s in the book?

When you read this book you’ll find out how to improve your direct-response copywriting. You’ll learn:

  • Why you need to research
  • The old gem of features versus benefits
  • How to write decent headlines
  • How to grab the reader’s attention
  • Why testimonials work (and why they don’t)
  • Time management tips
  • and much, much more


There’s more in there, but you should buy the book. I can’t give away all Glenn’s secrets.

This is *the* best copywriting book I’ve read. Hands down, the best.

Buy it.

broken, piggy bank, money


So did I get back home again?

If you’ve stayed with me this long you’ll remember I was in Inverness, finishing this rather fabulous book.

Well we made it home. But only after I succumbed to the lure of the shops. I came away with stuff that I really shouldn’t have bought and a cast iron skillet. Hey, it’s useful, you can put it in the oven and everything.



When I filled the car with petrol (6p a litre cheaper than up north) I plonked in some neat screenwash that actually said it was ok to -10C rather than the paltry -5C that froze in its tube. And we left early to make sure we got back up that hairpin bend without sliding back down the hill (or over the cliff edge).

I can’t justify all the money I spent, but I reckon that skillet helped us hold the road that bit better.




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