A new study gives us a peek into the minds of hacked-off customers, and the findings should be a wake-up call for businesses. Researchers say the “customer rage” study shows that more American consumers than ever are just plain cranky.
Here are several highlights from the study, which was released by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University:
- The number of U.S. households experiencing customer rage climbed from 60 percent in 2011 to 68 percent in 2013.
- The number of people reporting customer problems jumped from 45 percent in 2011 to 50 percent in 2013.
- Despite the rise of the Internet, people are 11 times more likely to complain over the phone than online.
- Posting of customer complaints on social networking sites like Facebook nearly doubled from 2011 to 2013.
- In 2013, most customers who complained (56 percent) said they got absolutely nothing as a result, up 9 percentage points from 2011.
- When companies added free remedies, such as an apology, to any financial relief handed out, satisfaction among complaining customers doubled from 37 percent to 74 percent.
- If a fuming customer was at least soothed, he or she told an average of 10 to 16 people about the situation. But if that customer remained unhappy, he or she spread the word to an average of 28 people.
All Over the Map
In general, the gripes of ticked-off customers run the gamut.
Scott Broetzmann is president and CEO of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting LLC, which collaborated on the study. “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,” he said.
Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at the W.P. Carey School of Business, cautioned that companies shouldn’t sink money and resources into improving customer service “unless you’re going to do it right.”
“If a company handles your complaint well, then you typically become a more loyal customer,” Bitner said. “However, if they don’t, then you become 12 percentage points less brand loyal than if you never complained at all.”
Coming Up With Solutions
Certainly, the problems with customer service are well-documented. But how can you fix them? Experts offer these six solutions.
“If you create a culture of genuine caring—this means internally and externally—then everyone on your staff will know that caring for your clients is a ‘have to’ rather than a ‘want to’,” Martin said.
2. Go Beyond Lip Service.
Barry Maher, a customer service expert in Corona, CA, said that for many people, customer service is like the weather: Everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. You should spend as much time and effort providing customer service as you do jawing about it, he said.
“I’ve worked with many of the world’s largest companies. And I have never worked with a single company anywhere in the world where the top people wouldn’t tell you, often at great length, just how important their customers are,” Maher said. “But we’ve all been customers. How often do we actually feel important?”
3. Reward Your Reps.
Lenny Laskowski, a customer service consultant in Wilmington, NC, said front-line customer service representatives typically are underpaid. As a result, companies tend to hire young, inexperienced workers to handle customer service, he said.
If you properly pay employees who deal directly with customers, your employees and your customers will reap the benefits.
4. Empower Your Employees.
Give some decision-making leeway to workers who are on the front lines with customers.
“If the employee who has to directly interface with the customer has to ‘get someone else’ or ‘get permission,’ then you lose customers,” Laskowski said.
Martin added: “There is nothing more frustrating than feeling like the person you are talking to either has the IQ of a light bulb and they don’t understand what you need, or they can’t make a change even if they wanted to.”
5. Remember the Human Touch.
Far too often, companies lean on automated technology to take care of customers over the phone. Given the choice, would you rather hear a recorded human voice or a live human voice when contacting a company?
“Customers end up yelling at customer service reps—when they actually do get to talk a human being—because they spent the last 15 minutes trying to select the correct option on these terrible automated answering systems,” Laskowski said, “only to be transferred from one extension to another and end up talking to someone in another country who cannot do a thing for them.”
When possible, let real people answer your phones, not automated recordings.
6. Practice Random Acts of Kindness.
Businesses extend deals and discounts to customers. They might even send holiday or birthday cards. But how often do they thank customers out of the blue?
“Make it everyone’s job to tell a customer ‘Thank you.’ Let them know you appreciate their business,” Martin said. “Send them a real handwritten ‘thank you’ and mail it with an old-fashioned stamp—yes, they still have those—and see how they notice and are reminded why they are saying ‘yes’ to you in the first place.”