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Customer rage boils over as complaints turn into acts of revenge

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Americans are so fed up with shoddy products and lousy customer service that many are growing belligerent – and even plotting revenge.

According to the National Customer Rage Survey of 1,000 Americans, complaints are at a record high while more customers are becoming aggressive in expressing their displeasure.

Some are so angry that they want retribution for their troubles. The percentage of customers seeking revenge has tripled since 2020.

In its tenth iteration since 2003, the survey was conducted by Customer Care Measurement & Consulting in collaboration with the Center for Service Leadership, a research center in W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

Subpar handling of complaints by businesses puts $887 billion in future revenue at risk, up from $495 billion three years ago, the study estimates.

Over his years of researching product and service problems, CCMC President and CEO Scott Broetzmann said he remains astonished at the lack of simple acts of kindness.

“The incidence and public displays of customers and companies misbehaving are commonplace, on the increase, and can be downright scary,” he said in a prepared statement.

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We’re all mad here, literally: Customer rage study finds complaints, rudeness off the charts

This year’s customer rage survey examined complaint handling over the past 20 years, but also was was the first to examine the growing phenomenon of customer uncivility.

Researchers described the phenomenon as rude, discourteous, and even violent behavior stemming from socio-political conflicts between customers and businesses, including contrasting political, culture, sexuality, and religious views.

“This first foray into customer uncivility reveals that unseemly customer behavior tied to clashes in values between businesses and their customers may be the new normal,” they said.

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Top findings from the customer rage survey include:

  1. 74% of customers reported experiencing a product or service problem in the past year, more than double since 1976.
  2. 56% felt that the problem wasted one or two days’ worth of their time while 43% cited a loss of money ($1,261 on average), and 31% reported emotional distress.
  3. 63% of customers experiencing a service or product problem felt rage about the experience, showing that rage remains steady from the last survey.
  4. 43% raised their voice when lodging a complaint, up from 35% in 2015.
  5. Complaining has gone digital with email, chat, and social media surpassing the phone as the primary complaint channel at 50%, up from 5% in 2013.
  6. 32% of customers used social media to complain to a company and post about their problem, more than double from 2020.

Customer Service Stats

Social contract falling apart?

Rude behavior is widespread, according to the survey: Nearly one in five of those polled admitted to behaving uncivilly in the past year. As for the cause of the rise in rude behavior, many Americans (22%) blame the moral decay of society.

But the study also revealed a widening gap between what’s viewed as civil vs. uncivil behavior when complaining to a business. Half of those polled see yelling, arguing, issuing ultimatums and social media shaming as boorish. The other half said it depends on the circumstances whether such behavior is acceptable.

More alarming, 25% of survey respondents said overt hostility, including threats, swearing, and humiliation, are acceptable.

Thomas Hollman, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership, said businesses can defuse customer rage. Generally, customers are hoping for acknowledgement of their complaint and a sincere apology.

“These no-cost actions show that the company cares, is listening to the customer, and values them,” he said when the study was released. “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.”

How does your customer service stack up to the competition? Find out how top B2B companies are transforming service.
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