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Complain for change: crazy customer service cop-outs

As much as I profess the benefits of complaining, it can be a truly baffling experience thanks to the impressively ridiculous things that sales assistants sometimes say. What have you been told?

To uncover the extent of this phenomenon, we asked people what bizarre and unusual things they had been told by sales assistants and customer service departments.

Sometimes it’s your eyebrows that are to blame for the problem, as Linda found out:

‘I collected my new specs from a local opticians, but when I got them home they didn’t fit correctly. The arms were misaligned and so they sat at a lopsided angle on my face.

‘I took them back to the opticians where his assistant put them on me, stood back and looked at me, and then announced “there’s nothing wrong with your glasses madam, you’ve got one eyebrow higher than the other”.’

You shouldn’t eat with cutlery, as Jacqueline found out:

‘I bought a set of beautiful gold-plated cutlery. The plating soon wore off, and the company said you’re not supposed to eat with it!’

We don’t talk to our customers

When Julia tried to make a complaint in a supermarket, the staff were too busy to talk:

‘I complained about a misleading “3 for 2” display in Sainsbury’s and was not satisfied with the reply so asked to speak to a manager, only to be told there were none available as they were practicing their dance for the Christmas party!’

While Geoff found himself strictly forbidden from talking:

‘When I wanted to make a complaint in Argos I was told that “customers aren’t allowed to talk to our head office and you can’t email them either. Send them a letter if you want to complain”.’

You just don’t understand

When Ron and his wife tried to order hot drinks, they were told it was too dangerous:

‘We were purchasing food at the food court in West Quay, Southampton. The food had been ordered and we then asked for our drinks. Mine was a coffee and my wife asked for hot water (she drinks hot water in preference to tea or coffee). The assistant refused so we said that we would purchase the tea but asked her not to put the tea bag in the water.

‘Again she refused and said that for “Elf ‘n’ Safety” reasons she could not fulfil our request because if my wife didn’t drink all of the water the cleaner who cleared our table might not notice the hot water and then might scald herself.’

Christine was given a lesson in a new way to mix cement:

‘I went to Focus to buy a small bag of ready-mix cement to repair a cracked step. Assistant went outside to get a bag which had obviously been allowed to get wet. When I commented that the contents were solid and not powder (clearly due to getting wet) the assistant told me that you had to break it down before use!’

So there you have it. Good guidance on what not to say to customers. Have you had a peculiar response when making a complaint? Have you been left speechless in the aisles?


When I told Sky that I wanted to complain that they don’t publish an e-mail address on their web site in breach of Regulation 6(1)(c) of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 and that this prevented me from sending an e-mail instead of sending a letter in the post, Sky gave me their postal address.

George says:
2 August 2012

As someone who has worked in retail and customer service for a number of years, these snide and patronising articles really annoy me whenever they appear (which they do with depressing regularity). Quite often staff have to work with whatever rules are set out by the company, which is far out of our control and often seems rediculous; however, we have to comply. Most customers seem to have no concept of this (who knows what they do for income) and think that it is the sales assistants/supervisors/managers who are being deliberately obtuse. And to be honest, get a grip: there are far worse problems in the world than ‘poor’ customer service.


If company policy is responsible for ridiculous problems, perhaps you and other employees should join those who are complaining. I don’t believe we should complain for the sake of complaining, but for every over-zealous complainer there are many who put up with poor treatment.

Maybe better respect for customers will engender better relationships. It might be worth trying. Little acts of generosity like giving customers a geographical number for Customer Services are much appreciated. Many companies use profit sharing phone numbers so that they make money from customers making a complaint.

I see that various people have disagreed with your comment, and you can have another thumbs down from me.


“We are only obeying orders” is usually known as the Auswitch defence.

MartynA says:
6 August 2012

“As someone who has worked in retail and customer service for a number of years” I would have expected you to be familiar with ‘rule 1’ of customer service – the customer is always right! I accept that sometimes staff have to comply with daft directives from above, but that doesn’t excuse the totally daft examples given here.

Linda Snell says:
6 August 2012

I worked in the social housing sector for many years and had to deal with complaints on a daily basis many of them perfectly valid but it was also clear that there are some people who are serial complainers and some who did not want to take any responsibility for their own actions. Complaints are often less than straightforwad to deal with but that does not excuse not treating them seriously and yes there are worse things in the world than poor customer service but if an organisation makes any pretence of providing a service then they should be brought to task for not providing it.

Steve Bowes-Phipps says:
6 August 2012

Actually, when I worked at MBNA, who were renowned for excellent “Customer Satisfaction”, they taught us that “The Customer may not always be right, but they always deserve our respect”. I felt that was an excellent compromise.


You’re obviously one of the assistants that doesn’t appreciate that without customers you wouldn’t even have a job!

David says:
2 August 2012

My son complained about his new jacket from Debenhams last week. His blue jacket had a white line developing down a seam that was separating. he’d had the jacket a week. Their response was that a) it is mass produced and head office have not said there is a problem with this item so it must still be ok [well there is a problem with his, that’s why he took it back!] b) it is not noticeable [well I can see it, so I noticed it, and so did the cashier, and the manager! So it was noticebale. She failed to get the logic of this exchange] I think it’s getting harde