Historic National Customer Rage Survey
Record level of product and service problems incite surly customers to yell more and seek revenge for their hassles
Customer uncivility — stemming from clashing value systems between businesses and customers — adds fuel to the fire.
TEMPE, Ariz. (March 7, 2023) — A recently released survey shows that Americans are experiencing more product and service problems than ever before, remain hopping mad with companies’ second-rate efforts to resolve their problems, and have become steadily more belligerent when they complain. In all, the survey estimates that businesses are risking $887 billion in future revenue due to mediocre complaint handling (up from $494 billion in 2020).
The National Customer Rage Survey of 1,000 Americans is the 10th wave of the study, dating to 2003. In addition to trending customer satisfaction with complaint handling over the past two decades, the latest release of the rage survey breaks new ground by exploring the alarming incidence of customer uncivility tied to what has become commonplace in everyday business settings.
Customer rage explores the experience of complaining about a product or service problem. Customer uncivility explores the emerging marketplace phenomenon of rude, discourteous, and violent behavior stemming from socio-political conflicts between customers and businesses, such as differences of opinion about politics, sexuality, culture, and faith. 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, as nearly one of every two Americans encountered two or more acts of customer uncivility in the past year.
Top customer rage highlights of the study:
- Seventy-four percent of customers reported experiencing a product or service problem in the past year, more than doubling since 1976.
- Product and service problems can be disappointing, costly, and distressing. Fifty-six percent of customers felt that the problem wasted their time (an average of one to two days of lost time), 43% cited a loss of money (an average loss of $1,261), and 31% suffered emotional distress.
- The level of ”customer rage” is holding steady — 63% of customers experiencing a problem feel rage about the experience.
- Some troubling trends? Customers are becoming increasingly aggressive in their efforts to solve their problems with businesses. Forty-three percent raised their voice to show displeasure about their most serious problem, up from 35% in 2015. Also, the percentage of customers seeking revenge for their hassles has tripled since 2020.
- Complaining is increasingly becoming a digital phenomenon. Digital channels such as e-mail, chat, and social media have unseated the telephone as the primary complaint channel at 50%, increasing from a mere 5% in 2013. Complainants are also doubling down on social media shaming about their problems. In addition to complaining directly to the company, 32% of complainants posted information about their most serious problem on social media sites — more than double those who posted in 2020.
Top customer uncivility highlights of the study:
- Nearly one in five Americans (17%) have personally behaved uncivilly during the past year.
- Americans view such value-based expressions of aggression toward businesses as a harbinger of larger societal ills. Twenty-two percent cited the moral decay of society as the primary reason customer uncivility is on the rise.
- The social contract about the norms for individually protesting against businesses’ belief systems and values appears to be in flux. Americans disagree with “civil” and “uncivil” behaviors for expressing their value differences with a business. While 50% of Americans view less aggressive forms of behavior (such as yelling, ranting, arguing, giving ultimatums, and social media character assassination) as uncivil, the remaining 50% see these behaviors as either “civil” or as “depends on the circumstances.” Similarly, 25% view more hostile behaviors — like threats, humiliation, foul language, and lying — as civil or circumstantially acceptable.
This independent study of 1,000 respondents to an online survey 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 at Arizona State University, is based on a survey conducted initially by customer experience organization TARP for the White House in 1976. CCMC and the Center for Services Leadership have collaborated on the National Customer Rage survey since 2003.
“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. The incidence and public displays of customers and companies misbehaving are commonplace, on the increase, and can be downright scary,” said CCMC President and CEO Scott M. Broetzmann.
“Perhaps of growing concern now is that customer hostility appears to be mutating like a virus. The expressions of malice and aggression triggered by differences in the value systems of companies and customers — so-called customer uncivility — only fuel the fire,” continued Broetzmann.
“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.”
About the W. P. Carey School of Business
The W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University is one of the top-ranked business schools in the United States. The school is internationally regarded for its research productivity and distinguished faculty members, including a Nobel Prize winner. Students come from more than 100 countries, and W. P. Carey is represented by alumni from over 160 countries. Visit wpcarey.asu.edu.
About the Center for Services Leadership
The Center for Services Leadership (CSL) is a groundbreaking research center within the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University that concentrates on expanding service innovation by combining the latest scientific insights from the academic world with the best of service strategy in the business world. The CSL was created in 1985 as a response to the unique set of challenges that companies faced. While others were focusing on products and manufacturing enterprises, the CSL pioneered the study of service. Today, the Center is a globally recognized authority and thought leader in the science of competing strategically through the profitable use of service. Our purpose is to make a positive difference in how the world is served. To learn more, visit wpcarey.asu.edu.csl.
About Customer Care Measurement & Consulting
CCMC’s customer satisfaction and loyalty surveys and analytics are used by leading Fortune 500 companies from every industry to get a better ROI for their investments in the customer experience. Learn more about CCMC by visiting customercaremc.com.
For more information, contact:
Shay Moser, W. P. Carey School of Business, firstname.lastname@example.org, 480-965-3963
Scott M. Broetzmann, CCMC, email@example.com, 703-304-7947
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