Customer complaints and rage are at record-high levels. (Courtesy of Iowa Attorney General's Office)
Customer complaints and rage are at record-high levels. (Courtesy of Iowa Attorney General's Office)

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According to a new study, second-rate customer service efforts have led to more consumer rage than ever, and patrons have become more belligerent when complaining.

Customer Care Measurement & Consulting (CCMC) and the Center for Services Leadership, a research center at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, conducted the National Consumer Rage Survey

It found that “the alarmingly high rate of rudeness by customers was linked to things that have become normal in business settings.”

The survey found that businesses risk losing $887 billion in future sales because they handle customer complaints poorly. 

That figure is up from $494 billion in 2020.

In addition to charting the trend of customer satisfaction with complaint handling over the past two decades, the study authors said the latest release of the rage survey breaks new ground by exploring the alarming incidence of customer incivility tied to what has become commonplace in everyday business settings. 

“Customer rage explores the experience of complaining about a product or service problem,” the authors wrote in a news release. 

They said that customer incivility looks at the growing problem of rude, disrespectful, and violent behavior in the marketplace that comes from social and political conflicts between customers and businesses, such as disagreements about politics, sexuality, culture, and faith. 

“This first foray into customer incivility 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 incivility in the past year,” the authors found.

According to the survey, the top customer rage highlighted in the study included:

  • 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.
  • 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. 

Additionally, the percentage of customers seeking revenge for their hassles has tripled since 2020.

The authors found that 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 incivility highlights of the study include nearly one in five Americans (17%) who have personally behaved uncivilly during the past year.

The authors concluded that Americans see this kind of value-based aggression toward businesses as a sign of bigger societal problems. 

Twenty-two percent cited the moral decay of society as the primary reason customer incivility is on the rise.

The social contract about the norms for individually protesting 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, the authors found. 

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.

“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,” said CCMC President and CEO Scott Broetzmann. 

“The incidence and public displays of customers and companies misbehaving are commonplace, on the increase, and can be downright scary,” he noted.

Broetzmann continued: “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 incivility — only fuel the fire.”

The CCMC CEO said defusing customer rage is not rocket science. 

Thomas Hollmann, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, said many customers are looking for repairs or refunds. Still, they also hope for a sincere apology and acknowledgment of their complaints. 

“These no-cost actions show that the company cares, is listening to the customer, and values them,” Hollman stated.  “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.”

Stacey Brown photo

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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  1. Rage increases as industry cuts customer service costs. No improvement is anticipated. Weak apologies sans problem resolution only increases rage.

  2. Maybe this happening because people are finally fed up with the way they ade being treated by these ever-growing, careless, responsibility-less corporations. With global ecommerce, businesses now feel they can treat customers like crap because theres always 100 more, so they outsource to foreign countries, they hire script readers and even AI, all the while producing more problem prone, poorly designed, cheaply made garbage, delivered by lazy careless dellivery people, and the consumer has no recourse as the BBB is a scam, the AG’s are uninterested and underfunded to pursue anything, and the FTC just keeps statistics. So what’s a wronged consumer to do?

  3. This article definitely refers to me in my interactions with various companies! I tell those so-called “customer service” representatives they have no clue what customer service really was like years ago! You didn’t have to talk to a stupid artificial intelligence computer that cannot solve your problem and cannot easily get you to a live person without getting your blood pressure way above its normal level! I also tell every customer service representative that their CEO should go on the TV show Undercover Boss and see what is happening in the real world instead of sitting in their ivory tower collecting their six and seven figure salary!

    I am happy that people are outraged because these companies are screwing us left and right!

  4. My biggest frustration is not being able to get a human being on the phone when there is an issue. I don’t want to talk to a computer. When I say “agent” or “representative” that means that I want a human to talk to. I absolutely hate it when I can’t get a hold of someone to talk to.

  5. I called at&t to see what I could do about a promotion that was ending. I’ve been an at&t U-verse customer for 10 years and really like the service but I just couldn’t afford it anymore so last year I called and got a 1-year promo which I was grateful for. Having been a long-time employee of at&t (now retired) I know how promos work and I expected to be told my promo days were over. What I didn’t expect was to get a confirmation email the next morning saying I had placed an order to add on a $20 movie package. I called as soon as I saw it and finally got to a “supervisor” (really just another service rep) and thought everything had been reversed. They next day I got another confirmation email—this time adding an $80 movie bundle. It’s not a surprise to me that customers get livid. We’re not just dealing with a language and accent barrier over the phone. US companies have outsourced all our jobs overseas. We’re dealing with reps who will cram packages onto our service so they can qualify for that incentive they’re being pushed to earn. It’s maddening to be treated so poorly. The unfortunate part is customers can get as mad as they want at service reps but management doesn’t hear it. I never even got an apology and at&t still has my money.

  6. The biggest problems that I have are 1- a Lot of companies are sending customer service calls to Pakistan, India and the Phillipines. The large majority I can’t understand. Very stressful. I politely askes to be transferred to th U.S. or Canada. They talk over you and mant times they said the couldn’t something and when I was tranferred to the U,S. they did it. 2- Also OptumRx is the worst company for many reasons that I won’t go into. They are the rx provider for United Healthcare which I like. 3- Publix Supermarkets in Palm Bech County Florida has taken inflation to a new level. They have products mark up so much. many of their BOGOs are the regular price in Walmart. 4- Scott Toilet paper switched to 1 ply. It falls apart in your hands! 5- 90% of ads on Facebook are scams. No vetting,

  7. Years ago I made a deposit to the wrong account and my Chase credit card bill bounced. So they kindly resubmitted it and let it bounce again. The auto payment date was set as the last day possible so any payment had to be late and they added in a late fee. Over $100. I called to see what could be done and got the rudest customer service person ever. Just NO NO NO. (BTW, I’d never missed a payment.) I searched the web till I found a NYC number for Chase that suggested asking for someone by name. I did that and though the person I asked for wasn’t there my problem was dealt with by a woman who listened to me, checked my record and removed all the fees. That made all the difference in my attitude towards Chase. (A friend who had worked in banking said, “Oh! You talked with the rich person’s customer banker.) A few years later I applied for a new card and was called by someone who said I could close an account and apply the limit to the new card. I agreed but a while later remembered that I had about $80 of rewards on the account that was closed. I was sure it was gone. A few weeks later I received a survey to rate my experience with them. I was pretty irritated and just started writing it all down and how I felt about it all. I sent it in and not long afterwards got a call from Chase. They listened to me and ended up giving me credit for more than the rewards that I’d lost. I never really liked big banks but that sort of care kept me as a customer and at times I’ve even recommended them to others. Somewhere they realized that their customer service wasn’t helping them and turned it around (though I imagine there are still times it fails). For my part I try to be civil and find it usually gets me better service than if not but I have found myself driven over the line recently. I think this year is the first that I’ve reached the point of hanging up on unhelpful agents in the middle of a call. It really does help when both sides are able to work together like people.

  8. To anyone over a certain age, it’s obvious what’s been going on. Companies are always looking for ways to cut costs so in the absence of any real ethics they have completely sacrificed any real customer service in order to achieve it. They first outsourced their “first line responders” overseas, not only angering Americans because they seem to intentionally pick people with accents so thick we can’t understand them, but because most of them are not given the tools they need to solve anyone’s problem.
    PLUS, down deep inside American customers are angry that these jobs are going to people overseas and not Americans. Then to make matters worse, they thwart the customers’ efforts to reach anyone that actually CAN resolve their very legitimate and frustrating issue. We are paying more and more for less and less and then people wonder why customer rage is at an all time high? I can’t believe that they wouldn’t see this, I just think they don’t care.

    What bugs me is that back in the day the focus was on customer service and you actually were able to reach someone that could eventually help you but now that’s not even possible. Companies go through the charade of acting like there are even more ways to reach them and get help with an issue but it’s all a facade, not for real. They shunt you over to chat apps that force you into talking to bots that have even less ability to solve your problem. In addition, quality is so far down that the problems are worse and more complicated to solve, so talking to a very poorly paid person with a thick accent that keeps talking in circles is only going to make even the most patient SAINT into a rage-aholic. Perhaps it’s because of my master’s in Psychology that I see these things, but I suspect companies know about them, they just don’t have the moral character to care, and just keep erecting ever more foolproof ways to keep the angry hordes at bay.

    As someone who belongs to the “Baby Boom” generation, I am continually shocked at how younger people often just throw their hands up and are resigned to accept this situation. I thought they were all angry and going to do something about the problem. Instead they’ve shut down and become a part of it, even making it worse. And then they blame the Baby Boom generation for being the source of these problems. Well, no, if they lived 25-50 years ago they would get an education in how much better it was when the Baby Boomers were at the helm. And they can’t blame most of the Baby Boom generation for what’s getting worse all the time because many of us are retired. So who’s responsible for this situation NOW?

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