Consumers ‘Can’t Get No’ Satisfaction With Customer Service

Improving the customer experience is a priority for almost any retailer today, but the front-line people and technologies consumers turn to when they have problems are falling short, according to the 2017 National Customer Rage Study.

Consumers feel their headaches have increased steadily over the years, with 56% of 2017 respondents experiencing problems with at least one product or service over the past year. In 1976, 32% of consumers reported having problems in the previous 12 months. That percentage averaged 42% from 2003 to 2013, but spiked to 54% in 2015.

The majority of people (76%) who had issues complained to the company about the most serious problem they encountered, but their customer service experiences were largely disappointing:


  • When they contacted companies to voice their complaints, just 21% of customers were completely satisfied while 40% were “not at all satisfied.”
  • Half (51%) of consumers felt they got nothing that might have resolved their complaints.
  • While 37% of respondents said the “damage suffered” as a result of the problem was money, 62% said it was the time they lost.
  • On average, disgruntled customers told 12.4 other people about their complaints by word of mouth, but postings on social networking sites reached an average of 825 people.

These responses came from a telephone poll of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 consumers conducted by Customer Care Measurement & Consulting (CCMC) in collaboration with the Center for Services Leadership at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, Confirmit and the Bernett Group. This independent study builds on more than 40 years of data by incorporating core questions first fielded in 1976 in a White House study, but the Customer Rage Surveys in their current form have been conducted in alternate years since 2003. 

‘Rage’ Has Subsided Since 2015

As its title implies, the survey gauges the emotional impact of poor customer service. If there is good news for retailers, it is that only 6% of consumers identify retail as the cause of their biggest problems. Cable and satellite TV tops the list of offenders at 18%, followed by Internet and phone (mobile and land lines) services at 12%.

Customer rage, defined as the percentage of people who were extremely or very upset as a result of a product or service problem, has subsided since 2015. In 2017, 31% of respondents reported being extremely upset, down from 40% in 2015, and 25% said they were very upset, slightly lower than the 26% in 2015. When asked about other emotions they felt, 91% reported frustration, 84% experienced disappointment and 62% were angry.

Phones Remain The Main Channel For Customer Complaints

In spite of the rise of live chat, chatbots, online help communities and email options for problem resolution, 70% of consumers used the phone to contact customer service in 2017. At 17%, in-person complaints edged out the Internet (12%) as a channel for complaints.

The consumer’s satisfaction with the eventual resolution of the problem drops with each handoff between one customer service representative and another. If a complaint is resolved with one contact — which is the experience of only one-quarter of customers — one-third of those customers are satisfied. When a problem requires two contacts, 28% of customers are satisfied with whatever action is taken. With three or more contacts, the satisfaction rate drops to 14%. This is bad news because the average number of contacts it takes to resolve a problem is 4.1, a number that hasn’t budged since 2003.

“Resolution is the key word – customers want their problems resolved,” said Mary Jo Bitner, co-executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business in a statement. “Typically it takes multiple contacts before a problem is resolved, and too frequently there is not a satisfactory resolution.”

Many Customer Service Gaps Remain

Large gaps emerged between what customers wanted from their interaction with customer service and what they felt they received:  

  • The top remedy people desired, at 87%, was “to be treated with dignity,” but only 37% of people felt they were;
  • 79% wanted an assurance that the problem would not be repeated, but only 18% felt they got it;
  • 76% wanted their product repaired or service fixed, but only 29% reported getting that;
  • 76% did not want “a scripted response,” but only 34% believed they were spoken to in a genuine way; and
  • Money ranked ninth among the remedies customers desired, at 54%, but only 22% of the people said they received a financial remedy.

The study concluded that dissatisfied complainants are 10 to 12 percentage points less brand loyal than non-complainants.

“Nearly 80% of complaining customers were not satisfied with how business responded to their problems,” said Scott Broetzmann, President and CEO of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting in a statement. “These dissatisfied complainants were more than 60% less brand loyal than satisfied complainants. The lesson to be learned, then, is do it right, or don’t do it.”



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