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And the award for World’s Worst Customer Service goes to…

And the award for World’s Worst Customer Service goes to…

Airlines. Wireless phone carriers. Cable TV. Internet providers. E-commerce companies. Banks. Supermarkets. Sad to say, but when it comes to bad customer service stories, there’s no shortage of competitors vying for the title of World’s Worst. We are plagued by an embarrassment of riches.

And while there are many ways to boost your company’s customer satisfaction rating, all of the customer feedback in the world isn’t going to help you if you’re not monitoring how your customer is treated at every touchpoint.

These 4 companies definitely failed their customers—and in addition to getting your daily dose of schadenfreude—you can learn from these customer satisfaction screw ups to save your company from being skewered on social media.

Listen to consumers on the SurveyMonkey Audience global panel to make crucial real-time decisions.

A Postmates customer emailed the company to bring a problem to their attention. Long story short: The customer’s email sparked a series of internal emails which culminated with the CEO, Bastian Lehmann, telling his team to tell the customer to F%$&! off. Problem was, he unintentionally cc:d the customer on the email, at which point the customer sent his surly response viral with a tweet (gotta put this one behind a link, folks).

In this case, doing damage control by managing complaints on social media quickly is the way to go. And to Lehmann’s credit, he apologized numerous times after this customer service snafu had consumers all atwitter. But if you’re a smaller company working to compete with the big brands, every hit to your brand image could mean the difference between business success and failure.

Even though Target has worked hard to rebrand its company over the years, as of late many have accused them of being lax in their cyber defenses to protect customer data. And following the November 2013 security breach that affected more than 110 million Target shoppers, customers seemed less angry about their credit card information being stolen than they were at Target’s response.

That’s because it took Target almost 20 days to alert customers to the danger. In fact, it seems the only reason Target sent out a press release was because security blogger Brian Krebs outed them first. Plus, Target had to retract their initial release, which assured customers that their PIN numbers had not been stolen. (Because they had.)  Will Target be able to rebuild trust in their brand? That remains to be seen:

What’s worse than having your home decimated, losing all of your earthly possessions, and possibly dealing with injuries ranging from scrapes and bruises to death? Having to deal with all of that…and the being told you’re responsible for for the charges associated with losing your cable box in the fray.

Yes that really did happen. In 2010, following the devastating series of tornados in Alabama, a Charter Cable representative demonstrated a major lack of customer empathy (and judgment) when they told a customer:

“If your house was destroyed, and you have looked around the neighborhood for our cable box and cannot find it, you owe us $212 and you need to either pay us or make an insurance claim on our behalf.”

Eep. When the incident was publicized online, Charter Cable reversed course. Still, that’s right up there in the pantheon of bad customer service stories. Charter Cable could have benefitted from taking a walk in the customer’s shoes before giving their customers an ultimatum during such a terrible event.

After letting renowned film director Kevin Smith board one of its planes, Southwest Airlines decided he was “too fat to fly” and the captain forced him to leave the aircraft. Smith tweeted a pic of himself and said, “Hey@SouthwestAir! Look how fat I am on your plane! Quick! Throw me off!”

Bad social media feedback PLUS celebrity? (Smith has 1.6 million followers on Twitter.) That’s a recipe for some serious backlash.

Tails between their legs, the reps at Southwest Airline released a written statement, showing their willingness to consider customer feedback:

“We want to assure everyone that has expressed concern over the situation that we will use this experience in our customer service program when training our employees on the correct way to apply the policy.”

Perhaps the too-fat-to-fly debacle could have been prevented if Southwest had trained their customer service employees to deal with sensitive safety issues the right way.

So, how can you make sure your business is never nominated for the World’s Worst Customer Service award? Well, a couple of ways. First thing’s first: Survey your customers. Then survey them again (and again) to monitor how events and trends can affect your customer loyalty rating. Ask them what you’re doing right and more important, what you’re doing wrong and how you can do things better.

You also need to survey your employees to see where there could be gaps in employee training, knowledge, and engagement. (Less engaged employees are probably not going to be giving your customers the five-star treatment.) So survey your front line employees they see the good, the bad, and the ugly and can provide insight into problems that may be invisible to you.

And because SurveyMonkey survey responses can be anonymized, you have a good shot at getting some pretty candid answers about the customer service you provide, how your staff really feels about the workplace and management, and all sorts of revelatory things you can use to improve your customer service.

We’d love to be able to pick a winner for World’s Worst Customer Service but we’ve only just scratched the service. If you’ve got a story to share, send it along. We might even conduct our own survey among the nominees and let you crown the winner!