The relationship between consumer and company doesn’t always run as smoothly as we’d hope. Oftentimes the lines of communication can be strained with dissatisfied customers making it known they are less than pleased with said service or product, or both.
A disgruntled clientele is less than ideal for a brand or company trying to make its name (and money) in the marketplace. Ensuring customer grievances are handled efficiently, however, should be a higher priority, especially when $313 billion of company revenue is at risk, according to the eighth edition of the Customer Rage Study. This is more than fifty per cent higher than the amount reported in 2015.
Originally started at the White House in 1976, the Customer Rage Study is conducted independently by Customer Care Measurement & Consulting (CCMC) in conjunction with the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, Confirmit and Bernett. This year 1,000 people were interviewed about their experience with companies and of those, 56 per cent of people reported at least one customer problem in 2017, an increase from the 32 per cent figure reported forty years ago.
In 2017, 62 million families reported a problem with a service or product in the last 12 months with 91 per cent of people experiencing frustration, 84 per cent feeling disappointment and 62 per cent reporting feeling anger towards the situation.
While there’s no doubt emotions, the number of households reporting “customer rage” (recognized as extremely and very upset respondents) dropped from 66 per cent in 2015 to 56 per cent in 2017, though that’s still more than half of respondents with a problem experiencing such rage. 35 per cent of complainants have yelled and 15 per cent cursed when speaking to customer service about their most serious problem.
This rage continues off the phone too, and according to the study, “traditional word of mouth resulting from dissatisfied complainants is nearly three times the word of mouth communicated by satisfied complainants.” In sum, disgruntled complainants are heard more through the grapevine than those of the content bunch. Although, those that did complain online in 2017 reached more people, which can result in greater negative backlash (12 people are told in traditional word of mouth while 825 are reached online, the report notes).
A study of this nature is unique in that it offers four decades of perspective on complaint handling, but like President and CEO of CCMC, Scott M. Broetzmann, notes: “[The study] poses questions that few companies would have the courage to ask. Have you ever seen a company that asks if you ‘got nothing’ or solicits whether complaining ‘was worth your time’?” Its independent nature and detailed set of metrics make for a comprehensive snapshot into consumer complaints and the handling of these complaints.
Cable/satellite TV remains the most grieved about (18 per cent) with internet/computer services coming second (13 per cent) and telephones taking third spot (12 per cent) on the most serious customer problem list. Automobile and retailer complaints rounded out the “rage” list.
Only 25 per cent of complainants had their problems resolved on first contact, and on average, it took 4.1 contacts to resolve a given complaint, a figure that has remained practically steadfast since 2003. Customer satisfaction overall, however, has increased in 2017 though it still is lower than what was measured in the ’70s.
“Despite this increased satisfaction with complaint handling, one recognizes that the preponderance of complainants are still less than satisfied (79 per cent),” says Broetzmann. “That’s a lot of unhappiness that companies have spent billions on to inadvertently engineer.” Broetzmann notes companies often focus on improving their digital presence even though people are continuing to use the phone to do most of their raging through. In fact, the study reports that the telephone beats the internet as the main vessel to report issues by a margin of nearly six to one (70 per cent to 12 per cent, respectively), but that is gradually changing.
“Why invest so much in such reputation management activities while ignoring the lousy complaint handling performance on the phone? It doesn’t have to be an ‘either or’ strategy here. It should be a ‘both and’ strategy,” states Broetzmann.
“Too many companies formulate their customer care strategies in a ‘cost vacuum’. They either ignore the benefits associated with customer care excellence or don’t measure them in such a way that can be translated into bottom line consequences,” he adds. “As a result, this narrow prism of ‘cost’ ultimately leads to a variety of bad decisions about investing in the customer experience.”
It’s about what customers get for their headaches too, and the study found that 51 per cent of the complainants received “nothing” in return. Complainant satisfaction increased greatly according to respondents–from 41 per cent to 73 per cent–when non-monetary remedies (such as an apology) were added to monetary relief.
This two-prong approach proves to be the most effective, yet, customers still feel damages such as wasted time and money are major issues of concern. Even when complainants have their problems resolved on the first contact, only 33 per cent are satisfied with the resolution. 19 per cent even cited wanting revenge on the company.
“I’m never more surprised than when I see the gap between what complainants ‘want’ and what they ‘get’. The fact that so many seek simple, genuine, humanity-centric remedies and do not receive these gestures (or do not believe in their authenticity) is remarkable,” explains Broetzmann.
For Broetzmann “headcount, the proper utilization of staff, and the quality of staff” are central in a company’s level of effective service, and improvements need to be made. He suggests empowering the front-line staff with the ability to offer goodwill gestures (cash, speediness of repairs) to clients as one way to help lessen the time and people needed to resolve an issue.
Also, research and studies on the “reason for contact” are imperative to collect data so that relevant assessments can be made and policies can be changed. Finally, he suggests that instituting a “one transfer rule” where after one transfer the agent MUST handle the call in some capacity, would alleviate wait times and improve efficiency.
“If companies were to reallocate just 10 per cent of their training time from technology to heightening awareness of complainant expectations,” Broetzmann says that over time they would “accure significant benefits in customer satisfaction and loyalty.”
It’s all about the end-to-end customer complaint experience and “the aim here should be to reengineer all aspects of the complaining and resolution experience to minimize lost time.” After all, the better a company is at resolving issues, the greater brand loyalty they will get from their customers. 68 per cent of complainants who were satisfied with the resolution made on their problem, still would recommend the brand, according to the study.