Customer rage is on the rise — here’s how to combat it

December 5, 2013 1
Customer rage is on the rise — here’s how to combat it

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.

care1. Show That You Care.
This attitude should saturate your company culture, according to Jennifer Martin, a business consultant in San Francisco.

“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.”

human touch

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

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  • Storage manager

    Companies are never going to pay front line workers enough to deal with what they have to deal with. ALMOST more important than paying a living wage is backing up the employee when the customer is wrong. I’m sorry, the customer is not always right. I used to be a pharmacy tech. I had a customer screaming at me and complain to the manager. She was not a regular customer of our pharmacy. We did not have her insurance info. It was after 10 pm. Her insurance company was closed for computer upgrades. She wanted pain medications that her husband told her while I was standing there that he had enough of to get to the morning when she could go to her own pharmacy. Yet this woman screamed at me and called me every name in the book and a few I hadn’t heard before. What did the manager do? Told the customer he’d write me up for not being helpful. The pharmacist told the mgr that I was polite throughout and had been sincerely trying to help the customer but the mgr took her side. As this was not the 1st, 2nd or even 3rd time something similar had happened, I quit. Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers!