New 'rage survey' shows consumers are fed up

Frustration is mounting as Americans get increasingly irritated by poor products and shabby customer service.

By MSN Money Partner Dec 10, 2013 3:13PM
Image: Angry businessman (© Imagesource/Corbis)By Herb Weisbaum, CNBC

Americans are not very happy consumers. We're frustrated and angry -- and for good reason.

More people than ever are dissatisfied with the products and services they buy, according to a new report from Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business. And when there is a problem, we're less happy with the customer service we receive.

The number of households experiencing "customer rage" -- they were very or extremely upset about the company response when they complained -- jumped to 68 percent from 60 percent in the last survey, in 2011.

More of us are expressing that rage by yelling and cursing at customer-service representatives than two years ago. Yelling rose to 36 percent from 25 percent of the time, while cursing jumped to 13 percent from 7 percent.

Other key findings from the 2013 Customer Rage Survey:

  • The percentage of people with customer service problems rose to 50 percent from 45 percent.
  • Most of those who complained (56 percent) said they got absolutely nothing as a result, up 9 percentage points.
  • The product most often responsible for enraging us is cable or satellite TV.
  • Though many people associate the government with customer-service issues, 98 percent of the most serious problems stemmed from private companies.

"These numbers have just steadily increased, and it's disconcerting to see," said Professor Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State. "We all know that some companies are doing a good job at this -- they provide great products and service -- but on average, many are not doing this very well."

One thousand households were questioned for the Customer Rage Survey during the summer. They shared their customer service horror stories. A few examples:

  • A 35-year old woman from Maryland was upset because she was not allowed to return a bathing suit that she discovered had been previously worn and returned.
  • An 83-year-old man from Utah was told by the repair shop that the manufacturer does not make the products to be fixed, only replaced.
  • A 22-year-old woman from North Carolina said that, in the first year of ownership, she had spent $150 to $200 for four repairs to an item that cost $150.
Everyone in business realizes the importance of good customer service. Solve a problem and you create a loyal customer who will tell 10 to 16 others about your company. Fail to make customers happy and you've made enemies who will each tell an average of 28 people about their terrible experience.

It turns out that bad customer service is worse than no customer service. People who receive poor response become 12 percent less brand loyal than if they didn't bother to complain at all.

"Given the fact that most complainants are not satisfied, corporate America is spending billions of dollars on customer care programs that are actually losing them customers," Bitner said.

Why is this happening?

How could so much money and effort have been put into customer service, and yet satisfaction levels are no higher than they were in the mid-1970s?

The report blames poor execution. Many companies are "doing all the right things the wrong way," it said. The investment in corporate complaint-handling departments has not kept up with customer expectations.

"It ranges from how they do their training, to the various policies they put in place and bad use of technology," said Scott Broetzmann, president and CEO of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting, which designed the survey and analyzed the results. "It's hard to believe that companies could spend as much as they do and get as little back as they seem to be getting."

To reduce costs, many companies try to drive customers who need solutions to the Internet. A Web chat or email complaint is much cheaper to handle than a phone conversation with a service agent. But it's much harder to give the customers what they're looking for in that online environment.

Unhappy customers want to talk to someone on the phone and get an answer quickly. The survey found they are 11 times as likely (66 versus 6 percent) to make a call as they are to use the Internet to complain.

What do people want when we contact customer service? We expect the companies we do business with to be there for us when there's a problem after the sale. But all too often, they're not.

It's hard to reach them -- those phone trees and hold times seem endless—and it's often impossible to get a straight answer.

"The No. 1 thing people want is to be treated with dignity and courtesy," said Jack Wilkie, chief marketing officer with customer service training company NOVO 1, which conducted the survey. "People also want that representative to be knowledgeable, helpful, friendly and patient."

The goal, of course, is to get the problem solved. But we also want an apology, and a lot of people don't get it. The survey found that when companies added a free remedy, such as an apology, to any monetary relief, customer satisfaction doubled.

And if a problem is not handled to our satisfaction, we are more likely to talk about it on social media. That behavior has nearly doubled, to 35 percent from 19 percent in 2011.

Lessons to be learned

Most businesses see customer service as an expense. This study shows they need to consider it as way to improve the bottom line.

"There's clearly a benefit to better customer service and a real cost for poor service," Broetzmann said. "Businesses are losing billions of dollars a year because of lousy customer service."

More from CNBC



Dec 10, 2013 4:30PM
I want to speak to a person that speaks and understands English.
Dec 10, 2013 3:29PM
I get fed up quickly with calling for service and getting a voice actived system which never has my problem listed or the person i need to speak with. And secondly getting a live person and find they speak little if any English and sound as though they live in BF Egypt.
Dec 10, 2013 4:40PM
What really ticks me off is I have to press one for English, and then I get someone from a third world country who I can not understand. I had to hang up five times before I finally got a lady who spoke well enough English that I could at least somewhat understand while trying to activate a corporate AMEX card a while back... No wonder America is in the sad shape it is in.
Dec 10, 2013 4:51PM
I think it's time to become a farmer and live the simple life. Brew my own beer, grow my own organic produce, and let my kids play in the sun instead of glued to a screen.

Dreaming does feel good:)
Dec 10, 2013 5:06PM

Part of the problem is I am in my 50's and recall buying quality products. The newer a product is, the shorter the lifespan.  I can't blame enough of this on the absolute (and literal) garbage coming from China.  They make nothing that is worth owning.  They can't even make a Christmas ornament last thorough the season.  How many times have your kids toys been broken before the end of Christmas day?

I have a solution.  Keep your money.  Spend as little as possible, and try to buy products made anywhere but China.  Heck, the Chinese even ruined my favorite hobby, Astronomy.  The best stuff is still made here, Japan and Europe, but most of it comes from China, and I just refuse to buy it anymore. 

Dec 10, 2013 4:43PM
Nothing is built as good as it used to be. Everything is designed to crap out in a few years and then intentionally redesigned so as you have to buy new because parts are no longer compatible. Just think of the refigerator your grandma had for 25 years and the 5 you have been through in the last 20.
Dec 10, 2013 5:01PM
Biggest problem is stores that don't stand behind what they sell. Every time you buy something from a store, they give you notification "do not return this item to the store, contact customer support", well to the stores I say, quit selling me junk that don't work and stand behind the crap on the shelves, if it don't work, give me my money back, you (the stores) sold it to me, therefore you are responsible for it. If something is wrong with it, give it back to the stores to contact customer support so the store can return it for their money back, dont pass it off on me because you already made your profit on the item and then you expect me to lose all my time and money trying to get something returned/fixed that you sold me in the first place. Corporate policy needs to change!
Dec 10, 2013 5:41PM
Everyone request a to be transferred to an American operator when a foreign customer service rep comes on the line.  They must transfer you.  You will know what the heck they are saying, they will understand you, and help keep a job or two in America.
The companies don't care. They know they have us by the throats and that many people have been socially engineered over decades to be mindless shopping zombies.
Dec 10, 2013 5:22PM


A 22-year-old woman from North Carolina said that, in the first year of ownership, she had spent $150 to $200 for four repairs to an item that cost $150.


Is it just me or does the problem seem to go a little deeper than the level of customer service on this one?  LOL!

Dec 10, 2013 5:31PM
Cable companies were never going to make anyone on this earth happy.
Dec 10, 2013 5:00PM
That's not what I'm fed up about ..... I'm fed up about the shabby leadership in the Whitehouse along with the stooges Barry has brought in to help him run this country. Lies, lies and more lies. Broken promises, disastrous foreign affairs, a leader that can't make a decision to save his life. Overbearing and unpayable debt ...... costs going up, taxes giong up ... and money coming in going down?? Middle class getting screwed over and over.  HELP!!!
Dec 10, 2013 6:16PM
If a product is sold to Americans, it should be Americans who answer the phone, not someone in India or Pakistan or wherever who does not understand English.
Dec 10, 2013 4:18PM
Mostly fed up with Obama and his incompetence and lies.
Dec 10, 2013 4:30PM
People want the cheapest prices possible such as the Big Box and the  Mart stores such as Wal and K. offer When you hire low wage, no skill workers you keep the prices down but without good service. It is peoples' low expectations that are the only ones met.  Buy low, have low expectations, it's a lesson many never learn.
Dec 10, 2013 4:52PM
Dec 10, 2013 4:37PM
Fed up with Obamacare and it is still new.  Can't wait to see how fed up I am when more and more becomes known to the public.
Dec 10, 2013 4:54PM
This story was cariied since this morning. There were hundreds of meaningful comments that i was reaading through. MSN decided to reformat this story and all those comments that I was reading through and writing are  now all gone for noone to see. Just 16 comments now at this time I am writing this comment.
Dec 10, 2013 5:48PM
I think they forgot to add that Americans are also fed up with crappy 'service' from our government, too.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


StockScouter rates stocks from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, using a system of advanced mathematics to determine a stock's expected risk and return. Ratings are displayed on a bell curve, meaning there will be fewer ratings of 1 and 10 and far more of 4 through 7.

124 rated 1
266 rated 2
452 rated 3
702 rated 4
671 rated 5
604 rated 6
640 rated 7
495 rated 8
267 rated 9
158 rated 10

Top Picks




Top Stocks provides analysis about the most noteworthy stocks in the market each day, combining some of the best content from around the MSN Money site and the rest of the Web.

Contributors include professional investors and journalists affiliated with MSN Money.

Follow us on Twitter @topstocksmsn.