We live in a time in which brands are being held more accountable than ever. Twenty years ago, if you paid for a product or service and you weren't happy with what you received, the best you could hope for was that if you sent in a letter of complaint, you'd eventually receive a refund. You could tell a couple of friends and maybe they'd tell their friends, but that was about it.

Nowadays, though, if a customer has a bad experience then they can post about it online, and if they post about it online then it can go viral and even seriously damage the overall value of your brand. After all, all it took was one tweet from Kylie Jenner to knock $1.3 billion off Snapchat's valuation.

You might be tempted to think that you can avoid this problem by going the extra mile for any "celebrity" customers. But in the internet era, you don't have to be a celebrity to make your voice heard, as some of the brands in today's post have found out to their peril.

Here are just three of the best examples of when bad customer service had a serious impact on a brand and its public perception. Note that in all three of these cases, the brand had a chance to apologize for their mistakes and to make it right. They just didn't take that chance and they ultimately ended up paying the price. Learn from their mistakes and make sure that your company doesn't repeat them.

1.     Dell Hell

Dell Hell is arguably one of the most well-known examples of a high-profile customer service fail because it happened just as blogging and social networking were starting to take off and show their true potential. At the time, bloggers were often looked down on (if brands knew about them at all) and nobody would have dreamed that one unhappy blogger could have had such an effect on a multinational company.

It all started when journalist Jeff Jarvis started to blog about his negative experience with Dell's customer service team. Jarvis's blog took off in part because he wasn't the only one who was having a negative experience at the hands of the company. Other disgruntled customers started sharing the blog with their friends and family and eventually the New York Times picked up on it.

The ensuing negative publicity on blogs and social networking sites and inside the pages of national newspapers did a huge amount of damage to the company. Luckily for Dell, the company was able to move quickly and to turn the situation around by dramatically rethinking their approach to customer service. But not everyone is so lucky.

2.     Amy's Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro

You might have heard of this company because of their appearance on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. In the show, the celebrity chef walked out on the owners of the Scottsdale, Arizona based restaurant after deeming them too difficult to work with.

The problem here was not the initial negative feedback but rather the way in which the company dealt with it. Owners Samy and Amy Bouzaglo responded to criticism on their Facebook page by posting a series of bizarre rants, with statements including: "I AM NOT STUPID ALL OF YOU ARE. YOU JUST DO NOT KNOW GOOD FOOD. IT IS NOT UNCOMMON TO RESELL THINGS WALMART DOES NOT MAKE THEIR ELECTRONICS OR TOYS SO LAY OFF!!!!"

One of the company's big mistakes was to try to take on Reddit users, who were discussing the meltdown in real-time and sending further traffic through to their Facebook page. They later claimed that their accounts were hacked and the business ultimately had to close its doors, in part due to having a 1.2/5 rating from over 800 reviewers on Google.

3.     United Breaks Guitars

When musician Dave Carroll flew with United Airlines, he wasn't expecting his $3,500 Taylor guitar to arrive at the destination in pieces. He raised the issue with airline employees who "showed complete indifference". When he tried to file a claim for compensation, they told him he was ineligible because the claim hadn't been filed within 24 hours.

Carroll ended up spending nearly nine months trying to get compensation and acknowledgement from the airline before eventually growing frustrated and penning a protest song. The song, United Breaks Guitars, came with its own music video and received 150,000 views in the first day. As of late last year, it was up to nearly 20 million views and hundreds of thousands of likes.

It's interesting to note that Taylor offered Carroll a replacement guitar and turned it into a huge win for themselves, while United's stock valuation went into a short-term freefall. In 2017 after footage emerged of United Airlines forcing passenger David Dao off Flight 3411, #UnitedBreaksGuitars started trending again. This just goes to show that people have long memories and that even though United was eventually forgiven for the incident, it wasn't forgotten.

Conclusion

Ultimately, it's more important than ever to focus on customer service and customer experience because if you get things wrong and someone has a poor experience, the word will get out. In fact, bad reviews on Google's results pages can lead to you losing 70% of potential customers. Just a couple of poor customer experiences can sink your brand for good.

The companies we've included on this list are great examples of what not to do, so try not to follow in their footsteps. Instead, go out of your way to surprise and delight people so that instead of building up a reputation of a company that shouldn't be trusted, you become known as the best people to do business with.

Bad customer service can kill your brand, but good customer service can elevate it and make you stand out from the crowd. It can even allow brands to charge a premium because people will pay more if it guarantees them good customer service and a quality product. So when it comes to customer service, it's a no-brainer.

Published on: Mar 16, 2018