'Customer rage' higher than ever, study finds

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

TEMPE, Ariz. -- A new "customer rage" study shows more Americans than ever are dissatisfied with the products and services they purchase.

The study, released Tuesday to align with the holiday shopping season, also found that despite companies' costly efforts to improve customer service, Americans are less happy with a purchase when they choose to complain to the company.

According to the study, 56 million American households experienced at least one customer service-related problem during the past year, and about $76 billion in revenue was at stake for the businesses involved.

"The moral of the story: Don't invest in your customer service unless you're going to do it right," said Arizona State University professor Mary Jo Bitner, who heads the Center for Services Leadership at the W.P. Carey School of Business.

The center helped design and analyze the survey with Virginia-based Customer Care Measurement and Consulting. NOVO 1, a company that aims to help businesses improve customer experiences, carried out the survey by contacting about 1,000 households.

Bitner said if a company handles a customer's complaint well, the customer usually becomes more loyal to the company. However, if the customer feels the company did not handle the complaint well, the customer's loyalty is 12 percent lower than it would be if he or she never complained at all.

The 2013 study is the sixth wave conducted since the White House first surveyed Americans about customer service in 1976.

"We found satisfaction is no higher than reported in 1976," said Scott Broetzmann, President and CEO of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting. "People are frustrated that there are too many automated response menus, there aren't enough customer care agents, they waste a lot of time dealing with the problem, and they have to contact the company an average of four times to get resolution."

The following are the top 10 highlights from the 2013 study:

  • The amount of people reporting customer service problems increased from 32 percent in 1976 to 45 percent in 2011 and, finally, 50 percent in 2013.
  • The number of households experiencing customer rage went up from 60 percent two years ago to 68 percent this year.
  • The amount of people yelling at customer service representatives went up from 25 percent in previous rage studies to 36 percent in 2013. Cursing jumped from 7 to 13 percent.
  • The type of product most often responsible for enraging American consumers is cable/satellite TV.
  • Though many people associate the government with customer service issues, 98 percent of the most serious problems stemmed from private companies.
  • Despite the rise of the Internet, people are still 11 times more likely to complain via phone than the web.
  • However, customers are complaining via social networking sites more than ever. These complaints nearly doubled from 19 percent in 2011 to 35 percent this year.
  • More than half of the people who reported a complaint -- 56 percent -- say they received nothing as a result, up 9 percentage points since 2011.
  • When companies added free remedies, such as an apology, to any other monetary relief given to customers, satisfaction doubled from 37 to 74 percent.
  • Customers who were satisfied, or at least pacified, told an average of 10 to 16 people about their problems. Customers who were left dissatisfied shared their experiences with an average of 28 people.