As Customer Complaints and Uncivility Rise, a Sincere Apology Helps

Americans are experiencing more problems with products and services than ever before, and their complaints to companies are becoming more belligerent and uncivil, new research from Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business finds.

According to the “National Customer Rage Survey” of 1,000 Americans, businesses risk losing an estimated $887 billion in future revenue, thanks to their mediocre handling of customer complaints (up from $494 billion in 2020).

In the study’s definition, “customer rage” means complaining about a problem with a product or service. The study defines “customer uncivility” as rude, discourteous and violent behavior that stems from socio-political conflicts between customers and businesses, such as differences of opinion about politics, sexuality, culture and faith.

Nearly half of Americans surveyed said they had encountered two or more acts of customer incivility in the past year. Of those,  74% said they had experienced a problem with a product or service during that time.

In addition, 43% said they had raised their voices to show displeasure about their most serious problem with a product or service, up from 35% in 2015. The percentage of customers seeking revenge for product or service problems has tripled since 2020.

In addition to complaining directly to the company, 32% of complainants posted information about their most serious product or service problems on social media, more than twice as many as in 2020.

In the surveys of Americans, 50% of respondents view yelling, ranting, arguing, issuing ultimatums and engaging in social media character-assassination as “civil” or say that whether such behavior is uncivil “depends on the circumstances.” Also: 25% view threats, humiliation, foul language and lying as civil or circumstantially acceptable.

Besides wanting a repair or refund, customers are “also hoping for a sincere apology and acknowledgment of their complaints,” says Thomas Hollmann, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State’s Carey School of Business. “These no-cost actions show that the company cares” and “can turn a potential blowup into a lifelong customer.”

[Illustration credit: roman]


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