10 Most Annoying Customer Service Practices

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Researching and writing The Squeaky Wheel involved calling more companies than I can remember, experiencing their customer service practices and marveling at how needlessly annoying many of them were. Consequently I developed the following list of pet peeves* (some of which I elaborate upon further in the book) which here I phrased as questions to the companies themselves. Perhaps one day, these questions will be answered—but let’s just say, I’m not placing my breath on hold.

Dear Customer Service Corporate Executives:

1.  Why is there no ‘back’ option for automated menus so we can correct mistakes without having to start over? Don’t you realize some of us have fat fingers?

2.  Why does every company think the only song that can sooth my frazzled nerves when I’m on hold is Dolly Parton and Kenny Roger’s Islands in the Stream? If I hear that song one more time we will definitely not “Ride it together, uh-huh!”

3.  Why does your automated message caution us to “Listen carefully because our menu options have changed”? Who are you warning exactly? How many customers do you think memorized your entire menu tree and need to be alerted you changed it?

4.  Why does the automated voice that announces “Your wait time will be two minutes” sound just as upbeat and cheerful as when it announces “Your wait time will be fifty-two minutes”? Would it kill you to tape a version that sounded slightly more apologetic?

5.  Why are American companies using posh English accents on their automated menus? Do you really think your business will come across as ‘high-end’ if the person giving me menu choices sounds like Judy Dench even though the live person I reach sounds like Judy Tenuta?

6.  Why do your automated menus tell me to enter my account number for faster service if the first thing your representative does when I finally get through is ask me for my account number?

7.  Why does your on-hold message insist that you know my time is valuable at the very moment you’re wasting it? Don’t you see how that could be perceived as passive aggressive?

8.  Why does my toaster oven have a serial number that’s more complicated than the code for the nations Nukes? Surely there’s a simpler way for me to describe my product than reading a string of characters and symbols that look like they could open a Stargate.

9.  Why is it so hard for you to distinguish between first and last names? Am I supposed to feel confident about your ability to handle my problem when the first thing I hear is, “Yes, Mr. Guy. Can I call you Winch?”

10. Why do you instruct your representatives to end a call saying, “I hope I’ve been able to answer all your questions” even if they haven’t answered any of them? Don’t you realize you’re just making it awkward for both of us?

*Further inspiration provided by Kate Nasser, Greg Levin and Write the Company.

Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

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11 Comments for 10 Most Annoying Customer Service Practices

Andy Hanselman

Hi Guy!

Greetings from the UK! – Love these!

Here are a couple more…..

Why if ‘my call is important to you’, don’t your people answer it?

Why do your people think that my name and ‘personal details’ will have changed since I spoke to their colleague 30 seconds ago?


Andy Hanselman


    Two great additions. Thanks!

Kimberly Nasief-Westergren

It’s Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. :)
And I’d like to add that when you speak to someone, and they give you the “direct number” to call back in case you are disconnected (or if you need to speak to another division), they are lying. The direct number, even though it is completely different, puts you right back into the same phone tree hell.

Great list though!


    I made the Kenny Roger’s correction. I should note that I got it right in my book but ‘misremembered’ it here until you set me straight so thanks!




Had to laugh over Islands in the Stream. Seems like the worst hold music I’ve come across was a terrible Musak version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Made me want to hang up the phone every time!

Jeff Toister

Great post, Guy. Since many of your pet peaves come from calling a 1-800 number, here are some of mine:

11. Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Nothing says you hate your customers like making them deal with an incompetent robot.

12. Entering my account information only to have to repeat it to the CSR. (The technology to avoid doing this has existed for years.)

13. Come to think of it, I’d much prefer that my phone call was quickly answered by a knowledgeable and helpful human being who could probably get me to the right person 3x faster! Much of the automated phone tree mess is specifically designed to keep people from getting to a live person so companies can save on labor.

Write The Company

Terrific list!

All of the above practices are doubly annoying after being placed on hold for the fifth time and then you’re disconnected — usually for me somewhere between the 44th and 53rd minute mark. Then you have to listen to the automated menus and messages all over again before being reconnected with someone who apologizes and proceeds to put you on hold several more times. Sometimes after calling a support number back multiple times, later in the day I’ve experienced automated deja vu. Reliving these messages and prompts is even more annoying when you’re not on the phone.

Thanks for the mention at the end!


Hilarious list! Is it wishful thinking to hope companies actually pay attention, respond or (gasp) change these practices?

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