Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Bad Customer Service or Incompetent Customer Service (They Are Not the Same!)

Nice Service or Flawless ExecutionCreate Confidence

We all know what bad customer service looks and feels like. We hate the customer service rep that is just going through the motions without any sincere care for the customer. We try to avoid the employee with an attitude (a bad one) that doesn’t understand that his or her job is to help ensure the customer wants to come back the next time he or she needs whatever it is the company sells. We all have stories of why we won’t go back to a place of business.

But what happens when a person has a good attitude, but just can’t deliver the service we want and expect?

Just the other day I was having lunch at a local restaurant. The server was very pleasant. She warmly greeted us and smiled as she took our order. She even joked with us. I ordered a salad with grilled chicken and a vinaigrette dressing. My friend ordered a similar salad. When she brought the salads, mine had a creamy blue cheese dressing. My friend’s salad was a small side salad, not a regular size. We pointed this out to the server, and she wasn’t sure how to react. She just said, “Sorry, I don’t know how that happened,” and took the salads away.

Both of our meals came out the wrong way, but our server still had an engaging smile and friendly personality. She eventually brought out a second round of salads. Mine was correct, but my buddy’s was a completely different salad than what he had ordered. She said, once again, “Sorry, I don’t know how that happened.”

In the end, I wouldn’t call it bad service. I’d call it incompetent service. And there is a difference.

Now, some of you might blame the kitchen staff for sending out the wrong food. Yes, we can assign some of the blame to them, but, the biggest assignment of blame goes to our server. Nice as she was, she didn’t check to see that the order was correct when it came out. She should have noticed before she placed the food in front of us.

This is a classic case of incompetent service, which some might say is the same thing as bad service, but again I think there is a difference.

Bad service doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t get what you want. It can be that the attitude of the person serving you might not meet your expectations. Using the salad story, if the salads came out right, yet the server had a bad attitude, no matter how good the food was and how flawless she was in her technical serving abilities, her attitude would ruin the experience.

Incompetent service is about mistakes. The attitude can be great, but the execution doesn’t meet expectations. The good news is that a good attitude can help overcome mistakes, unless the mistakes keep piling up.

Either way, bad service or incompetent service is not acceptable. It erodes confidence and could cause a customer to not want to come back. The remedy: A great attitude and flawless execution. Isn’t that what every customer wants?

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVI, Shep Hyken)

  1. Lisa Yetman says:

    Agreed. You really shouldn’t have one without the other. It would be like having a P.B. and J. sandwich without one or the other ingredient!
    Also, agree with the Guest Service person being ultimately responsible for the salad snafu. Even though a mistake is made by someone else, it falls to you to check it out and rectify the situation equibly.

    • The person who interacts with the customer represents an entire company. In the case of the restaurant, the server represents the kitchen staff. Thanks for stopping by with your comment, Lisa!

  2. So the difference between bad and incompetent is that one is intentional and the other is unintentional? I agree that both are just as unacceptable, but at least an incompetent employee cares enough to rectify their mistakes 🙂

    Just shared this on Twitter, keep it up Shep!

    Best, Jack

  3. Jason T. Guthrie says:

    Somewhere in time, the customer’s importance in the business relationship has flip flopped. Now it seems like most customer service personnel, act like ” you are fortunate to have them in your life”. Customers are treated as expendable, and there is no concern or accountability for ineptitude! I think a large part of the problem is the face to face interaction that has been removed, so the person on the phone or computer has no face/personality! Empathy and apologies are extremely overused, with no remedy or goal of satisfaction!

Leave a Reply