Real Customer Service Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Whether you’re an auto dealer or an Australian company that sells wallaby bedpans, handling and managing leads is all about good customer service. Want to close more sales? Want to engage customers better? Want to improve your appointment show rate? The answer, as you may have guessed, is to invest (or re-invest) in customer service.

Bad Customer Service Examples

“Wait. Doesn’t everyone know this?”

You’d be surprised at the number of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad customer service tales we’ve heard and even been forced to coach dealers on throughout the years. These are those horror storiesembellished for effectof bone-chillingly awful lead handling, which your dealership could very well relive if you don’t take our tips and examples of great customer service to heart.

But heed our warning: Strange and scary things are indeed afoot, so venture onward if you dare. (Boo!)

The Tale of the Harassing Salesperson

On his lunch break, Christoph walked into the local dealership to price out used cars for his 16-year-old daughter. Within seconds, a salesperson approached him, hand extended and pearly whites splayed from lobe to lobe.

“Welcome to Hometown Auto,” she said. “I’m Sandy. Did you have an appointment or is there anything I can help you find?”

“I actually bought my last car here, but right now I’m really just browsing,” Christoph said. “Can you point me in the direction of your ‘used cars for teenage daughters who’ve grown up too fast’?” They shared a laugh.

Sandy pointed toward the northwest corner of the car lot. “Of course. We’ve got some great new additions over here that I think would be perfect for your daughter,” she said, escorting Christoph outside. “What’s her name?”

The doors swung open, humid air pelting Christoph in the face. “Bonnie,” he said.

“That’s a sweet name,” Sandy responded. “I’ve got a teenage daughter, too – Kate. Still a couple years before she starts driving, but I feel your pain.” She pressed her palm against her chest, a sign of parental camaraderie.

“I’m petrified, honestly,” Christoph said. “But thank you for showing me around. I’m just pricing out our options. Not looking to make any big purchase today.” It was clear he wanted to extinguish the chit-chat before the blaze got out of hand.

Sandy nodded and gave Christoph her business card. “That’s me: Sandra Reynolds. If you need any help, give me a call or shoot me an email.”

“Sure thing. Thanks again.” He slid the card into his back pocket and spent 41 minutes and 13 seconds looking around.

The next afternoon, after a needlessly long team meeting in which John decided company memos were to be printed on Uncoated 70# Stock rather than Coated 80#, Christoph sulked into his office. His phone blinked, notifying him of a missed call at 12:01 PM. He dialed into his inbox.

“Hey, Chris. This is Sandy from Hometown Auto. I hope you don’t mind, but I pulled your VIN after we spoke and was just calling to check in on you and Bonnie. Have you made any decisions on a vehicle yet? I’d love to help whenever you’re ready. Please give me a call.” She left her number and a too-peppy ‘thank you,’ and the message ended.

Christoph, feeling slightly uncomfortable about the wanton invasion of his privacy, slogged on with his day, putting the odd voicemail in the back of his mind. He drove home, made a cocktail, ate dinner with his family, and fell asleep in front of the television.

Two days later, at 12:01 PM, his phone vibrated. A call. From Hometown Auto. From Sandy.

“Hello,” he answered reluctantly, “this is Christoph.”

“Hi, Chris. This is Sandra Reynolds from Hometown Auto again. Did you happen to receive my voicemail I left a few days ago?”

 “Yes,” he stuttered, “I got it. And no, we’re not quite ready to make a decision. Thanks for checking in, though.”

“Okay, well I was just wondering why you hadn’t gotten back to me. Normally my customers are kind enough to return my calls.”

Christoph paused to answer, the silence heavy and awkward. “Excuse me?”

“My customers,” she repeated, entirely deadpan, “are kind enough to return my calls.”

Usually one to avoid confrontation, Christoph ruminated for a moment, working up a response. “Sorry, I’m not sure what’s going on here, and I don’t think I want to do business with you. Your approach is terrible and, honestly, very strange. Please don’t call me again.” He hung up the phone, his hands trembling and upper lip beading with sweat.

Christoph’s vow to never again buy a car at Hometown Auto remains unbroken to this day. But anytime his phone rings, he checks the time before picking up.

Spooky, huh?

Good Customer Service Tip #1

First of all, the obvious tip to improve customer service over the phone is to not be creepy. (If you’re creepy by nature, perhaps work in the back, away from clients.)

Once you’ve got that under control, consider utilizing your CRM’s automated email responder to handle your first-response leads via email. Auto responders are excellent tools for both busy dealers and overzealous salespeople like Sandy.

In the horror story above, In-Person Sandy was Dr. Jekyll: personable, helpful, and not at all a weirdo. On the phone, In-Person Sandy transformed into Sandra “Mr. Hyde” Reynolds, and the results were catastrophic. Were she to have an auto responder and a good lead management process in place, as well as a competent manager and an Internet Sales Coach to review her performance and calls, Christoph may very well still be a Hometown Auto customer.

And above all else, don’t contact a potential customer without their consent. That’s not a good look.


Mean Business

“If you don’t have the credit to buy this car,” the man screeched, his voice a croaky echo in Jackson’s ear, “then why did you bother contacting us?”

Jackson had scrimped and saved all year—a dollar here and a dollar there can go a long way, his father always said—to put a down payment on a new car. He’d just landed a stable job out of college, a career even, and the time had come to break out of his slump, fix his finances. He had his sights set on buying a nice place to call home and supporting a family that grew with each passing year. Jackson was certainly not lacking ambition, but his life all started with that car.

“You should go somewhere else,” the man said, ending the voicemail message with a click.

The nerve, thought Jackson. How could someone be so callous—and to a customer, no less? Jackson’s father, a car salesman since before vehicles even had seatbelts, wouldn’t let that stand. So, why should he? Jackson dialed O’Shanahan Automotive, a fairly reputable dealership just outside of the city, and was quickly connected to the store’s manager, Tim Timson.

“This is Tim. What can I do for you?”

“Hi, Tim. I inquired about a car recently and received a pretty awful voicemail from one of your sales guys. I’m shocked at how terrible it is.”

“That’s not good,” Tim said. “Can you give me the salesman’s name?”

It was at this moment that Jackson realized the man had never left his name, nor did he provide any contact information whatsoever. “Actually, he never mentioned his name,” Jackson replied. “But I can send you the voicemail in an email if that works for you.” Tim apologized and provided his contact information, and the two said their good-byes.

Jackson emailed the message to Tim, who’d responded simply yet regretfully with a “wow” and an “I will take care of this.”

The weekend passed without an update from Tim. By Monday evening, Jackson was worried his complaint had fallen on deaf ears, but he remained patient—yet another trait he’d picked up from his father. On Tuesday morning, Jackson’s phone rang.


“Hi,” the voice said. “This is Tim from O’Shanahan Auto, calling for Jackson.”

“This is Jackson.”

“I just wanted to apologize and let you know that I’ve handled your situation,” Tim said. “We’d love for you to come back in and speak with another salesperson.”

Jackson, always in curiosity mode, asked Tim what the issue was—and, most importantly, how he would resolve it.

“Well,” Tim said, “I listened to your voice message a few times with my management team. We got ahold of other voicemails left by that salesman over the weekend. Turns out he’s been very rude to several customers, and that was something we couldn’t overlook.”

An immense feeling of accomplishment burst up through Jackson’s voice. “I’m not surprised,” he said, “and I’m glad your team got to the bottom of this so quickly.”

“Absolutely,” Tim said. “and we thank you for bringing this to our attention. We also reviewed your initial inquiry, and if you’re able to come in this week, I think we can definitely help you find a car.”

Jackson’s father would be so proud.

Goosebumps–I’ve got goosebumps.

Good Customer Service Tip #2

Managers don’t have time to watch over every salesperson’s shoulder; it’s simply not possible. So, how can auto dealers handle bad customer service and lead management before things escalate?

An in-depth mystery shop is a good start. Run by a third party, mystery shops help dealerships identify training opportunities and the “bad apples” that may be pushing customers away. On a grander scale, a good mystery shop will also help to determine where in the lead management funnel customers fall off, allowing management teams to understand why and strategize ways in which to improve the lead handling process.

To put it plainly, mystery shops are one of the best lead management solutions for dealerships.

How does a mystery shop work?

Although it varies from company to company, we perform customized mystery shops (Customer Engagement Analyses) that seek to reveal gaps that may be damaging our clients’ reputation.

Unbeknownst to our clients’ team, we secretly inquire about a vehicle and evaluate their response quality, quantity, and timeliness from all four methods of communication: email, phone, text, and webchat. Then we send a full analysis and report of our findings to the management team.

If you’d like more info about our Customer Engagement Analysis product, contact us here.


The Call is Coming from Inside the Dealership

A woman needed her vehicle serviced before a long trip. As always, she used her mobile phone to schedule service appointments through her dealer’s website. This was the easiest and most convenient way for her to pick a day and time that worked around her hectic and sometimes chaotic schedule.

She tapped the online scheduler button only to see a white page with the bold, black text: That Page Was Not Found.

That’s strange, she thought. So, she went back and tried again, thinking she’d clicked the wrong link the first time. The same result: That Page Was Not Found.

About to give up, she noticed a chat option in the lower-right corner of her screen. Another tap on her phone, but this time a man named Jacob was on the other end. He helped her choose a day and time – next Tuesday, 10:00 AM – and booked the appointment. Three minutes. Done. She finished her morning coffee and drove to work, an email confirmation from the dealership sitting in her inbox.

Had she read the email, she’d know of the nightmare that awaited her next Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, the woman pulled into a bay at the dealership’s service center. A friendly service representative greeted her as she exited the vehicle.

“Hi,” the man said, “I’m Ben. Did you have an appointment or are you just dropping in?”

The woman told the representative that she did indeed have an appointment for 10 o’clock.

“Great,” Ben said. “Let me just look up your details. Can I have your name, please?”

The woman provided her name and waited patiently for the representative to locate her appointment.

“Sorry,” Ben said, “but I’m not seeing you in our system. Did you call or book online?”

The woman explained the situation—that she made the appointment using the webchat since the website’s scheduler wasn’t working.

Ben looked confused. “Oh, I wasn’t even aware we had that option. Let me ask my manager. One second, please.” Ben walked to the back of the facility and into an open office door, disappearing behind a sheet of closed window blinds. When he exited, another man, taller with gray whiskers littered in his goatee, followed.

“This is Tony, the service manager,” said Ben. Tony and the woman shook hands.

“Sorry for the confusion,” Tony said. “I spoke with our GM and he informed me that our web chat is only for our sales department.”

The woman, having taken the entire morning off work, became anxious. “So,” she said, “I don’t have an appointment scheduled through you?” She imagined all the paperwork that sat at her desk, all the missed phone calls and voicemails she’d have to respond to.

“Unfortunately,” he replied, “we don’t have you down. We’re really sorry for the mix-up. I can get you back there and put you ahead of the line, but you’re probably looking at a two-hour wait.”

The woman, still agitated, agreed. She found a little nook in the corner of the lounge—a cutesy place with rustic automotive décor: antique license plates, old gas station signs, vintage wheel rims—and pulled out her novel. At least I can finish this book, she thought.

Before she even finished reading the first page, she heard her mobile phone’s muffled ringtone coming from her purse. It was the dealership. That was fast, she thought.


The voice on the other end—a man’s, kind and polite—was calling to confirm an appointment to test drive a vehicle: the make and model she already owned and had just seen drive into the service area.

 “No,” she replied, “I actually already own one and had scheduled an appointment for service, not a test drive.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Should I cancel your appointment with us then?”

The woman couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. “Yes, I am waiting for my car in the service area as we speak.”

“Okay,” the man said, “if anything changes, please let us know. Thank you.” The woman said good-bye and hung up, still in disbelief. And she thought her life was chaos.

I want my mommy.

Good Customer Service Tip #3

Though every employee in the tale above was polite and apologetic for the confusion, this should still be considered an example of bad customer service for two reasons: poor communication and poorly integrated sales and service teams.

It all began with the woman’s unfortunate run-in with Jacob—you remember him: the mystery man behind the chat screen. He scheduled an appointment for a test drive rather than service. Had the customer not overlooked her confirmation email, this could have been avoided; however, it’s the chat provider’s responsibility to confirm these details and communicate any potential issues to the dealer. Better yet, webchat providers should set their software up to cover both sales and service departments. That would make things easy.

But the dealership isn’t off the hook for this blunder. When dealers incorporate features like webchat on their site, they should ensure they’re added for convenience, not to create extra hassles. In this scenario, for instance, the webchat should have clearly alerted the customer that they cannot schedule an appointment for service.

Mystery shops can confirm webchat responses are customer-friendly, while also helping you understand if your lead follow-up software is up to par. But something like a multi-point digital inspection, or even an audit of your website’s UX, may be the best and most affordable way to identify these problems on the surface.


Do you have any embarrassing #dealershipfails or horror stories about bad customer service to share? Try to scare us in the comments below. Just know that we’ve heard every tale of terror before, and we’ve got ironclad bladders. Come at us.