Consumers Have Had Enough, 'Rage Survey' Finds

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By Herb Weisbaum

Americans are not very happy consumers. We're frustrated and angry -- and for good reason.
More people than ever are dissatisfied with the products and services they buy, according to a new report from Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business. And when there is a problem, we're less happy with the customer service we receive.

The number of households experiencing "customer rage" -- they were very or extremely upset about the company response when they complained -- jumped to 68 percent from 60 percent in the last survey, in 2011.

More of us are expressing that rage by yelling and cursing at customer-service representatives than two years ago. Yelling rose to 36 percent from 25 percent of the time, while cursing jumped to 13 percent from 7 percent.

Other key findings from the 2013 Customer Rage Survey:
  • The percentage of people with customer service problems rose to 50 percent from 45 percent.
  • Most of those who complained (56 percent) said they got absolutely nothing as a result, up 9 percentage points.
  • The product most often responsible for enraging us is cable or satellite TV.
  • Though many people associate the government with customer-service issues, 98 percent of the most serious problems stemmed from private companies.
  • "These numbers have just steadily increased, and it's disconcerting to see," said Professor Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of Arizona State University's Center for Services Leadership. "We all know that some companies are doing a good job at this -- they provide great products and service -- but on average, many are not doing this very well."
One thousand households were questioned for the Customer Rage Survey during the summer. They shared their customer service horror stories. A few examples:
  • A 35-year-old woman from Maryland was upset because she was not allowed to return a bathing suit that she discovered had been previously worn and returned.
  • An 83-year-old man from Utah was told by the repair shop that the manufacturer does not make the products to be fixed, only replaced.
  • A 22-year-old woman from North Carolina said that, in the first year of ownership, she had spent $150 to $200 for four repairs to an item that cost $150.
Everyone in business realizes the importance of good customer service. Solve a problem and you create a loyal customer who will tell 10 to 16 others about your company. Fail to make customers happy and you've made enemies who will each tell an average of 28 people about their terrible experience.
It turns out that bad customer service is worse than no customer service. People who receive poor response become 12 percent less brand loyal than if they didn't bother to complain at all.

"Given the fact that most complainants are not satisfied, corporate America is spending billions of dollars on customer care programs that are actually losing them customers," Bitner said.

Why is this happening?

How could so much money and effort have been put into customer service, and yet satisfaction levels are no higher than they were in the mid-1970s?

The report blames poor execution. Many companies are "doing all the right things the wrong way," it said. The investment in corporate complaint-handling departments has not kept up with customer expectations.

"It ranges from how they do their training, to the various policies they put in place and bad use of technology," said Scott Broetzmann, president and CEO of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting, which designed the survey and analyzed the results.
"It's hard to believe that companies could spend as much as they do and get as little back as they seem to be getting."

To reduce costs, many companies try to drive customers who need solutions to the Internet. A Web chat or email complaint is much cheaper to handle than a phone conversation with a service agent. But it's much harder to give the customers what they're looking for in that online environment.

Unhappy customers want to talk to someone on the phone and get an answer quickly. The survey found they are 11 times as likely (66 versus 6 percent) to make a call as they are to use the Internet to complain.

What do people want when we contact customer service? We expect the companies we do business with to be there for us when there's a problem after the sale. But all too often, they're not.
It's hard to reach them -- those phone trees and hold times seem endless -- and it's often impossible to get a straight answer.

The goal, of course, is to get the problem solved. But we also want an apology, and a lot of people don't get it. The survey found that when companies added a free remedy, such as an apology, to any monetary relief, customer satisfaction doubled.

And if a problem is not handled to our satisfaction, we are more likely to talk about it on social media. That behavior has nearly doubled, to 35 percent from 19 percent in 2011 .

Lessons to be learned

Most businesses see customer service as an expense. This study shows they need to consider it as way to improve the bottom line.

"There's clearly a benefit to better customer service and a real cost for poor service," Broetzmann said. "Businesses are losing billions of dollars a year because of lousy customer service."

More from CNBC:

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the Customer Rage Survey and report to the University of Arizona, rather than Arizona State University. This was a reporting error.

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I will never be happy with CS as long as the person on the other end can't speak AND comprehend English and pays absolutely no attention to my issue but instead reads from a sheet. I don't enjoy screaming and cursing, but I sure do let out a lot of steam when the opportunity arises. I paid for your product which shouldn't have a problem with it and if it needs a manual, it should come with it. You only worsen the problem the minute I hear some dummy on the other end giving me a fake name with an accident that says "offshore" or otherwise unemployable.

December 11 2013 at 7:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Thats the result of the online purchasing trend. You should get much better before or after the sale customer service when you are standing on front on someone as compared to emailing them. That being said, many retail people even in the stores don\'t really want to be there and it comes through in the way they deal with customers.

December 11 2013 at 11:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Oh that's right Mr. Chairman of the can justifiably blame all the rage on your poor customer service reps instead of your business model or the crap you peddle as products. With prices constantly rising and quality continually dropping to suit your over the top profit margins, people now pay much more for your substandard product then they did for your half decent one. God bless you planned obsolesce and Wal-Mart! Now that you got a whole nation completely addicted and self identified with consumerism and cheap plastic garbage, you can have your way with us! But please, be generous with the Vaseline!

December 11 2013 at 10:41 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to razzer80's comment

Very well said!

December 11 2013 at 8:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It is much worst then it sounds. In our country today most sales people and merchants are intentionally out to scew thier customers. It thicken the pocketbook. It is thier belief that this must be done to succede in sales and business and services. It is just the mentality that has been breed over the last 30 years. Remember to them, Greed is good. Costumer service, is bad and wasteful.

December 11 2013 at 10:32 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

BIG IS NOT BETTER...........and that is the problem. I knew the party was over when the nice department stores went out of business, and those that survived, gobbling up the others stopped providing those nice boxes that proudly and with destinction proclaimed the store's name on it. Now at point of sale you get a flat box and tissue for you to assemble. That says it all folks. The days of the carriage trade are over and no more are the department stores existing with that wonderful of customer satisfaction high on their list. They are all gone.

My Christmas memories include John Wannamaker's and the organ in the grand court and their restaurant with fine linen and china and silverware. Now you are lucky to get a food court with plastic utensils and you usually have to ask if you want another paper napkin. I remember those other days foldly and they are gone the way of 'once upon a time in America.'

December 11 2013 at 10:30 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

To start with it's the answering service. A computer that puts people in a maze of numbers and that starts the tempers rising. The moment I hear that it's computer. My blood pressure jumps 10 points and then keeps going. By the time I get to a real person. I'm ready to jump out of a window. And I know other people feel the same way. And let's add insult to injury, why don't you by putting a Hindu or someone from a foreign country on the phone that either cannot or will not help you and he doesn't even speak English. What the hell is wrong with the CEOs of these companies. These are the same people that make millions of dollars a year in salary and don't know the simplest things. And I'm not afraid to name names look at Google or call Walmart what about Verizon. There's ago one or any number of your credit card companies. You will get a foreigner on every phone call, they reroute the phone to India, Pakistan, all over the world. The only foreign voices I have not heard is Russian, German Canadian. The company's that do business in the United States, whether they are foreigner or not need to address this phone problem with English speaking Americans and dump the computer answering service. I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to reach through the phone and grab someone by the throat. Getting service today from any company is total madness and it's only going to get worse. The industry believes that it has rigged a way to get out of service by not addressing anything, and in some cases is working. Your cell phone company, for instance, it is easier to throw the phone in the trash and go buy a new one than try to get service to fix it.

December 11 2013 at 10:24 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I have found that most companies do not practice or understand customer service. The larger the company, the more likely the lack of customer service. For instance, Walmart has absolutely no concept of what customer service is. And I agree that TV companies are the worst.

December 11 2013 at 10:19 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to knchamberlain3's comment


December 11 2013 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I could type here all day about bad customer service, but if I could get just one thank you from a clerk in a store, it would make my day. The other day I got to chatting to the clerk about things and the lady behind me chimed in. We got to the part about clerks saying thank you. When my order was done, I looked at the clerk for the longest time. She crossed her arms and stared back. There was no way anybody was going to get her to say thank you. Even many managers say that they can't make anyone do it. I could. If my clerks refused to say thanks to a customer they would be well on their way to finding another job.

December 11 2013 at 10:15 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Remember Sears when they had service?

Thank Wal Mart for no service. There is a trade off. Cheap gets you just that, Cheap. Why do we shop there? Low prices.,. and that's what they market,,, lower prices. We are addicted to them.

So we buy junk and hate it,,,, and expect more?

December 11 2013 at 9:56 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

This is what happens when you let salestrash take over your economy. They believe the ONLY purpose of a business is to make a profit. That is because their simple little non minds cannot comprehend anything further than that. It will be a long time before we get back to a sound economy. salestrash have no respect for anything. Businesses have not respected their employees for a long time. If they do not respect their employees why would they feel any different about the customer. Close down the b-schools and throw out 80 percent of the salestrash then things will improve.

December 11 2013 at 9:53 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply