No Sugar Coating Here

A survey takes the pulse of the American customer-care experience by measuring consumer rage

A new study released by the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University shows how American consumers really feel about their customer service experiences. The 2017 Customer Rage Study shows that more than 62 million families experienced at least one customer-service problem during the past 12 months that made them frustrated and angry. When they had a complaint, 80 percent of consumers were not happy with the way it was handled. It’s a slight improvement over past results, but it’s still a failing grade. By jeopardizing repeat business, says the study, customer dissatisfaction puts more than $300 billion of future sales at risk.

This is the eighth Customer Rage Survey since the original was conducted by the White House in 1976. The most recent was completed in 2015.

The independent study is conducted by Customer Care Measurement & Consulting in collaboration with the Center for Services Leadership, a research center within the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University; software provider Confirmit; and market-research agency Bernett, which interviewed 1,000 respondents by phone.

Here are some of the highlights.

  • More than 55 percent of people reported having problems as customers this year. Forty years ago, the number was 32 percent.
  • The most-hated customer-service practice – automated phone technology without the option to talk with a live person – is followed by the second-most-hated, “try to sell you something.” Customer service agents with accents also made the list, as well as outsourcing.
  • The number of households experiencing “customer rage” dropped slightly this year, to 56 percent compared to 66 percent in 2015.
  • Negative emotions are still high in 2017, with 91 percent of people experiencing frustration, 84 feeling disappointment, and 62 percent feeling anger.
  • Among the products that enraged customers the most were cable/satellite TV services, followed by computer (e.g., internet) services, and telephone services.
  • Corporate complaint-handling improved by a small margin in the eyes of consumers. Among the 76 percent who complained about their most serious problem, 25 percent say the issue was resolved upon initial contact, compared to 14 percent in 2015. Satisfaction by customers who reported they “got something” as a result of complaining also improved.
  • When companies offered a free remedy, such as an apology, only 23 percent of people were happy. Satisfaction jumped to 73 percent when they received monetary relief and free remedies, like an apology.
  • Forty percent of people reported feeling dissatisfied with the way their complaint was handled. Only 3 percent said they intend to buy the product or service again. On the flip side, if complainants were satisfied, 68 percent of them would re-purchase.
  • In 2017, the telephone is still the primary way to complain, by a nearly six-to-one margin over the internet (70 to 12 percent).
  • However, social networking websites can spread a massive amount of negative word-of-mouth, reaching 825 people on average, compared to 12 people with traditional word of mouth.

“When customers complain, they don’t want to waste their time repeating their problems to multiple people,” said Mary Jo Bitner, co-executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business. “First-contact resolution saves customers precious time and eliminates the frustration of having to repeat themselves. Businesses need to understand what their customers expect when there is a failure: they want knowledge, research, and customer communication. Then businesses need to efficiently, politely, and positively respond to complaints in a manner consistent with customer expectations.”


The W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University is internationally regarded for its research productivity and its distinguished faculty members, including a Nobel Prize winner.

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