As customer issues hit an all-time high, more people seek ‘revenge’

According to a new study, Americans are having more problems with companies’ products and services than ever before, and a higher proportion of them are actively seeking “revenge” for their problems.

Some 74% of the 1,000 consumers surveyed said they had experienced a product or service problem in the past year. This is up from 66% in 2020, when the study was last conducted, and 56% in 2017. Only 32% told researchers they encountered a problem in 1976, when a similar version of the study was conducted for the first time.

According to the study, the percentage of consumers who took action to settle an account against a company through measures such as harassment or public shaming in person or online, tripled from 3% in 2020 to 9% . This reversed a downward trend in vengeful behaviors: the average percentage of customers seeking revenge between 2003 and 2017 was 17%.

“It’s the idea that, if you as a company don’t really seem to care, well, I’m going to take to the streets,” said Scott Broetzmann, president and CEO of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, which runs the so-called National Customer Rage Survey with Arizona State University’s WP Carey School of Business. The research, which builds on a study first conducted by the White House in 1976, albeit under a different name, found that 32% of complainants posted their most serious issue on social media, which is more double the proportion that did so in the 2020 study.

“Most people now use a computer, they use some form of social media at this point, there’s a democratization of complaining,” Broetzmann said.

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But the findings echo findings from consultancy Forrester last year suggesting the quality of customer experience delivered by consumer-facing brands and government agencies declined in the year to April 2022. Forrester said its research studied 96,211 US consumer perceptions across 221 organizations.

And the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which analyzes customer satisfaction with more than 400 companies in 47 industries on a scale of 0 to 100, fell to 73.1 in 2022 from 77 in 2018, the biggest decline in the index’s 28-year history. Customer satisfaction is improving in some industries including shipping, sneakers, soft drinks, hospitals and online and specialty retail, but is down in fast food, hotels and gas stations, according to the latest index report.

With growing dissatisfaction comes more frequent and aggressive complaints, according to the National Customer Rage study.

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The latest wave of research found that 79% of customers complained about their most serious issue to the company at fault, an increase from 72% in 2020. And 43% said they had their voices heard at a customer service representative to show their displeasure about their most serious problem. problem, up from 35% in 2017, the last time the question was asked in the survey.

Consumers said certain types of businesses handled complaints better than others, with industries such as food delivery, package delivery and banking outperforming categories such as pay-TV, airline and retail. automobile.

Customer dissatisfaction hurts businesses in more ways than one, Broetzmann said.

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“It’s costing companies a lot of money in their future business, but there’s also the cost of serving really angry customers,” Broetzmann said. “If you think about the average number of contacts that really angry customers make, every time they contact a business, it’s costing the business money.”

Some companies have started offering expedited customer service as a perk for their paying members, the biggest spenders and most loyal fans, borrowing a strategy from airlines and credit card companies.

At the same time, more and more companies have turned to automation to reduce costs and cover staffing shortages in their standard customer service. Companies are pushing customers to phone lines and web chats powered by artificial intelligence or other technologies that can handle basic requests, leaving human staff to handle more complex service requests.

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But this strategy tends to irritate customers more, according to rabies research. Respondents named their top customer service frustrations as “being forced to listen to long messages before being allowed to speak to a representative” and “knowing how and where to contact the company,” which covers the experience to feel like a business is hiding its phone number.

Meanwhile, 25% of respondents said they expected an explanation of why their problem happened, 24% said they wanted an apology, and 23% said they wanted assurance that the problem would not reoccur, according to customers’ anger. research.

They said their complaints rarely achieved these results: companies provided explanations in 9% of the cases studied, apologized in 18% and provided assurances in 9%.

Customer service technologies such as artificial intelligence are less likely to meet this thirst for empathy than human agents, Broetzmann said.

“A robot cannot be kind and compassionate,” he said.

Write to Katie Deighton at

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