Dear Customer, You’re SCREWED!

Public transportation in the New York/New Jersey area is fairly efficient; it’s on time, cheap and moderately clean (er, well, for the most part). But, it has a huge gap in the level of customer service that the representatives provide to commuters.

NJTRAN  2 HOLL BROWNOn a Saturday afternoon, my boyfriend, dog and I crammed on a crowded train from NY to NJ. The rail system has an app in which you can purchase tickets on your phone. It’s great when you are on the run and don’t want to wait in line at the ticket counter or machines.

When the ticket agent passed by our seats, we showed him our tickets using our smart phone.

The agent glanced once, then looked back again and said,

“Oops, looks like you purchased four tickets. And, since both are activated, looks like you’re totally screwed and paid extra for nothing.”

We all look at the phone and see that there are two active tickets selected, each saying “2 Passengers” on them.

In confusion, I say, “That’s really weird. What can we do to fix this?”

The agent frowns at us and shrugs his shoulders. I ask, “Would we be able to reach out to customers support for assistance?”

As he walks away to check other tickets, he replies with, “Sure, you can try.”

After he leaves, we check the ticket order confirmation that was sent via email. We had only purchased two tickets and we found that when using the app, when both tickets are selected, it will display “2 Passengers” no matter what. When one ticket is selected, it displays “1 Passenger”. Easy enough mistake but did it deserve the “you’re screwed”?

But of course, despite his mistake with the ticket view, this situation got the wheels spinning about what to do when you are working with a customer and really cannot do a darn thing to help–how do you manage?

The Dear Customer You’re NOT SCREWED List

  1. Empathy: Even if the customer may be in a pickle, show that you care, for crying out loud!
  2. Options: Even if you cannot help the customer, who and what can? Give the customer some options of where to go for the help they need. Don’t just show them where to go–help them find it by providing phone numbers, emails, aisle numbers, departments, people’s names, etc.
  3. Own It: Again, even if you cannot personally solve the problem, find someone who can and try (as much as you can) to stick with the situation until the very end. This is also great to help you learn something new at your job.

So, when a customer gives you lemons and there’s no way out of the bad situation, make margaritas and cheers to The Dear Customer You’re Not Screwed List.




Share this post:


  • Jeremy Watkin

    Wow! I wasn’t even there and my blood is boiling. I have two theories as to what would drive a customer service person to speak like this to a customer:

    1. He was proactively lashing out at you because he knew that otherwise, you would lash out at him.


    2. He was completely powerless to rectify this situation for you proven by the fact that his supervisors would never back him up if he tried to fix the issue.

    I can’t believe someone would ever say this to a customer. I realize you don’t have a lot of other options but it would be nice for someone even in this industry to provide you with the level of service that realizes you could go elsewhere.

    • Jenny Dempsey


      Throughout the rest of the train ride, I noticed his demeanor was that of a sad dog who was left outside in the rain. He rarely smiled or made eye contact with people whose tickets he was checking. And, each time before we were to pull up to the next stop, he would stand there, head down, waiting to open the door. It was as if he totally despised his job and didn’t realize he had a larger role to play with this position. I think this goes back to the management for sure–why would they hire someone like this to represent the company? What type of training did he lack? Why was he so unhappy? What you said about supervisors not backing him up is most likely the culprit–he does not feel empowered so why empower the customers?

      • Jeremy Watkin

        Man, wouldn’t it be great if he realized the greater purpose he could have just in making a difference in the lives of customers? Easier said than done sometimes but as Shep Hyken says, we should all strive to have a “Force within” even when not supported by supervisors or corporate policies.

  • It continues to amaze me when people in a role of customer service are part of the problem as opposed to being part of the solution. It just goes to show us all that often times people in a position to make a difference FAIL TO CARE. How sad.

    Great post Jenny.



    • Jenny Dempsey

      Thanks for your comment, Doug.

      You’re absolutely right–while customer service isn’t always easy, we need to stand back and realize that we are in a position to truly make a difference, even if teeny tiny. Failing to care is not an option.

  • Pingback: 3 Levels of Pause and Ask in Customer Service | Communicate Better Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *