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Rage Rises Among American Customers When Reporting Product Issues, Says Survey

American customers are facing more product and service problems than ever, and are becoming “steadily more belligerent” while complaining about the issues, according to the results of a new survey.

The National Customer Rage Survey, which polled 1,000 Americans, found that 74 percent of respondents reported experiencing a problem regarding a product or service in the past year, states a Mar. 7th press release by the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. This is more than double the rate from 1976, said the survey. Sixty-three percent of respondents with a product problem admitted to being enraged about it.

The latest survey showed that 43 percent raised their voice to express displeasure regarding the problem they were facing, up from 35 percent in 2015. In addition, the percentage of customers seeking revenge for the trouble they faced has tripled since 2010, according to the survey.

The survey was conducted by Customer Care Measurement & Consulting (CCMC) in collaboration with the Center for Services Leadership, a research center within the W. P. Carey School of Business.

It estimated that businesses were risking $887 billion in future revenues due to their mediocre handling of customer complaints, up from $494 billion in 2020.

“Even after 20 years of intensively researching customer rage, I remain astonished that—when sorting out ordinary product and service problems—acts of simple kindness and a sense of kinship are, all too often, in short supply,” said CCMC president and CEO Scott M. Broetzmann.

“The incidence and public displays of customers and companies misbehaving are commonplace, on the increase, and can be downright scary.”

Uncivil Behavior, Profiting From Customer Complaints

According to the survey, 17 percent of customers have behaved “uncivilly” in the past year. Americans see such aggression toward businesses as “a harbinger of larger societal ills.”

Twenty-two percent of respondents pinned the primary blame for rising customer uncivility on “the moral decay of society.”

Fifty percent of Americans were found to view less-aggressive behaviors like ranting, yelling, arguing, social media character assassination, and giving ultimatums as uncivil. For the remaining 50 percent, such behaviors were seen as either “civil” or “depends on the circumstances.”

Moreover, 25 percent found more aggressive behaviors like threats, lying, foul language, and humiliation as “civil or circumstantially acceptable.”

However, the fault cannot be entirely placed on the customer, and companies can potentially profit from complaints if they are handled correctly. A study done by the Harvard Business Review found that customers were willing to spend more money if the company dealt with their complaints quickly.

When an airline replied to a customer’s tweet in five minutes or less, the customer was found willing to pay almost $20 more for a ticket with that airline in the future. For wireless customers, such speedy replies resulted in them being willing to pay $17 more on a monthly plan.

Declining Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction has been on a decline for years, according to data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI), which measures how satisfied a consumer is with over 400 companies in 47 industries.

For fourth quarter 2022, the ASCI came in at 73.4, which is the ninth straight quarter the index has remained below 74, going back to fourth quarter 2020. The previous time ASCI was below 74 was during fourth quarter 2005.

Based on the 2022 Customer Experience Index report by Forrester Research, customer experience (CX) quality declined for 19 percent of the brands last year, which is the highest proportion of brands to drop in a single year since the survey began.

Only 3 percent of American companies were identified as “customer-obsessed,” meaning they put customers at the center of their leadership, strategy, and planning initiatives. This is a fall of seven percentage points from 2021.

“CX quality in the United States, which reached new heights in 2021, has fallen to pre-pandemic levels due to brands losing their customer focus,” said Rick Parrish, vice president and research director at Forrester.

“This is unfortunate for businesses that survived the worst of the pandemic but are now losing CX-driven customer loyalty gains. For brands to regain CX momentum, leaders will need to refocus their behavior on helping their companies become customer-obsessed.”

“Defusing customer rage is not rocket science. Although many customers are looking for repairs or refunds, they’re also hoping for a sincere apology and acknowledgment of their complaints,” said Thomas Hollmann, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business.

“These no-cost actions show that the company cares, is listening to the customer, and values them. It’s up to brands to communicate as humans with their customers. A sincere ‘I’m sorry this happened’ can turn a potential blowup into a lifelong customer.

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