New customer-rage study out for holiday shopping season

Professor Mary Jo Bitner

With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday shopping season about to start, a new customer-rage study shows more American consumers than ever are dissatisfied with the products and services we buy. Also, despite companies’ big-money efforts to create customer-care programs, we’re less happy with the service received when we complain. The study shows 56 million American households experienced at least one problem during the past 12 months, and about $76 billion in revenue was at stake for the businesses involved.

“The moral of the story: Don’t invest in improving your customer service unless you’re going to do it right,” says professor Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, which helped design the survey. “If a company handles your complaint well, then you typically become a more loyal customer. However, if they don’t, then you become 12 percentage points less brand loyal than if you never complained at all.”

This independent study is based on one originally conducted by the White House in 1976. The 2013 version is the sixth study wave, offering a clear comparison of customer satisfaction over the years. Customer Care Measurement and Consulting (CCMC) was the principal survey designer, and analyzed the results with the Center for Services Leadership at the W. P. Carey School of Business. NOVO 1 carried out the phone interviews of about 1,000 households.

“We found satisfaction is no higher than reported in 1976,” says Scott Broetzmann of CCMC. “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.”

Top 10 highlights of the study include:

• The amount of people reporting customer problems went up from 32 percent in the 1976 study, to 45 percent in 2011, and then 50 percent in 2013.

• The number of households experiencing customer rage went up from 60 percent just two years ago, to 68 percent this year.

• We’re yelling and cursing at customer-service representatives more when dealing with the worst problems, with yelling up from 25 percent in previous rage studies, to 36 percent now, and cursing up from 7 to 13 percent.

• The type of product most often responsible for enraging us is cable/satellite TV.

• Though many people associate the government with customer-service issues, 98 percent of the most serious problems stemmed from private companies.

• Despite the rise of the Internet, people are still 11 times more likely to complain via phone than Web.

• However, customer-complaint posting on social-networking sites, such as Facebook, has nearly doubled from 19 to 35 percent since 2011.

• Most of those who reported a complaint – 56 percent – say they got absolutely nothing as a result, up 9 percentage points since 2011.

• When companies added free remedies, such as an apology, to any other monetary relief they gave customers, satisfaction doubled from 37 to 74 percent.

• If the customer was satisfied or at least pacified, he or she only told an average of 10 to 16 people about the problem, but if customers were left dissatisfied, they told an average of about 28 people.

Previous waves of this study were discussed earlier this month at the annual Compete through Service Symposium hosted by the Center for Services Leadership in Phoenix. The center was formed in 1985 as a response to the unique challenges that companies face in the services arena. More information about the center and its big-name member firms can be found at