A Customer Service Horror Story

The Incident

Recently, I had a rather horrific experience with customer service the other day. I was waiting in a doctor’s office for someone to finish their appointment, I was the chauffeur, when an elderly woman came in. Keep in mind the area which I live is predominantly elderly, so she was not an unordinary patient.

Anyway, she came in and asked her husband to sign her in as she uses a walker and wanted to sit down. Before he could even get to the check-in window, the women behind the counter raised her voice and said in a rather condescending tone,

“Hey, hold on, we don’t have any more appointments for today!”

She said that as if it would make the elderly couple get up and walk out like mindless drones without any cause for confusion or frustration.

Rightfully so, the elderly woman turned around, mind you she uses a walker, and this was not an easy task, and went over to the window with earned distress.

It can be very stressful, and confusing being told you don’t have an appointment when you were certain you had one, so naturally I was sympathetic.

The patient expressed her confusion and frustration to the secretary, this clearly was one of many frustrating encounters with the secretaries at that office, and I expected an appropriate and calm response from the staff.

Instead, though, I was aghast to hear the secretary basically insinuate the elderly patient and her husband MUST be confused and senile. Regardless if they were, this was an extremely inappropriate and outright rude response.

This went on for quite a while, escalating to the point where the elderly woman, her husband, and the (now multiple) secretaries were yelling at each other. At one point, the elderly woman was so ticked, she threatened to throw her purse at the secretaries.

The entire time, might I remind you, I am sitting in that small waiting room with a look of terror, horror, and extreme discomfort on my face. So not only did the secretaries allow such an inappropriate interaction to take place, but they did so while a young adult, who looks like he could be 16, sat and watched.

The entire ordeal ended with the elderly couple storming out, calling the secretaries “jerks.”

Then, not ten seconds later, the secretaries began audibly and rudely insulting the poor old woman. They were blatantly trash talking her! All while I am obviously still sitting right there. They even tried to make that eye contact with me like,

“Wow what a crazy old bat huh?”

I grimaced, and they proceeded to ignore me further.

As the secretaries were determined to prove the old woman wrong, they discovered the woman had an appointment with the brother of the doctor they worked for. They did suggest that during the argument, but in a rude and disrespectful manner.

The secretaries then proceeded to call the woman back, bluntly inform her of the mix-up, and DEMAND she apologize for the way she treated the staff.


The elderly woman hung up, and the nasty cackling hens went at it again, laughing and making fun of the elderly couple. Remember, I’m still sitting there more uncomfortable than an agoraphobe watching the ‘Sound of Music’.

Finally, who I was waiting for finished his appointment, we picked up a prescription from the crass clerks, and left.

I’m still amazed at the disregard for customer service that these medical clerks had. Granted, the elderly woman could have been a little more patient, but the secretaries were absolutely at fault. They should have de-escalated the situation and provide a calm resolution.

At the very least they should have acknowledged my presence and apologized for having such an altercation right in front of a customer, me. There was no aspect of how they handled that situation that I, or anyone else for that matter, would approve of.

I have never witnessed a truer display of unprofessionalism in my entire life. But, I have a feeling it will be thoroughly outdone. But does that mean that I should give up expecting quality customer service? That I should expect to be treated as rudly and disrespectfully as that old woman? Absolutely not!

You Have to Remember What Your Business Relies on

If you forget, even for a second, that your business relies on customer satisfaction you will have minimal if not zero chance at success. If you or your employees are terrible to customers, you are essentially telling people to go someplace else and to tell their friends the same. You need customers, but they don’t necessarily need you.

The Exception, but not an Exception

Some businesses, like the medical office described, don’t really rely on customers choosing to use them or not. No, instead they are reliant on government-provided Medicare referrals. In other words, the only thing they must do to keep an influx of customers is to provide the cheapest, though reliable, care. This is how most government subsidized and contracted businesses work. To the lowest bidder go the spoils!

HOWEVER, if you happen to run this sort of business, where most of your income is from government programs, this is by NO MEANS an excuse for poor customer service. You and your business are there for a purpose: to provide a SERVICE. If you are unfamiliar with the word, here’s a definition:

serv·ice ::  /ˈsərvəs/ : noun : the action of HELPING or doing work for someone

Hmm. Interesting. Notice that subtle word in the middle there? Helping. I am certain we know what that word means. So, if you run a business that provides a service, even if subsidized by government programs, why would you not provide that service the best way you possibly can? The world has not progressed as far as it has by doing the bare minimum, neither has any business…ever.

What Can we all Learn from this?

I’m looking at you, medical office clerks! Perhaps the main takeaway from this is that customer service is at the core of just about every business, organization, and program that exists. Most can’t survive without a high customer approval rate and those who can, shouldn’t take it for granted. This doesn’t mean only face to face interactions either, calling is equally as important.

If you happen to be a business owner, manager, overseeing doctor, or any other authority figure, you might want to consider looking into how your staff handles your customers. It might just surprise you, for the better or the worse. Good luck out there and happy adventures.



A: B. Delamater


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