How Consumers Complain About Poor Service

Nearly 70% of U.S. consumers say that they have had an unsatisfactory service interaction in the past 12 months.That’s a problem, because customer experience directly correlates to both purchase intent and word of mouth. It’s also an opportunity to use feedback about poor service interactions to learn from their mistakes. In our recent consumer survey we identified where companies can find consumer feedback. We found that:


  • Telling friends or family is the most common complaint method. Among consumers who had unsatisfactory service interactions, 70% told friends or family about their experiences. That makes word of mouth the most common complaint method.


  • Seniors are less likely to tell friends or family. Consumers ages 65 and older tend to be less inclined to tell friends or family about their poor service interactions. Interestingly, Seniors are also much more likely to provide feedback directly to companies via surveys, emails, and letters.


  • Gen X and Gen Y are social and provide the least direct feedback to companies. In contrast to Seniors, Gen X and Gen Y reported the least use of direct customer feedback mechanisms such as calls, letters and emails for service complaints. Not surprisingly, Gen X and Gen Y surpass older consumers in sharing poor service experiences via social channels such as social networking sites, blogs, and Twitter.


Customer Service Complaints


With the majority of consumers getting poor service and telling friends or family about their experiences, it’s clear that customer service needs attention. Thankfully, companies can use complaints to drive improvements. To capitalize on this opportunity, companies should ensure that their Voice of the Customer programs:


  • Make it easy for customers to submit feedback. While many consumers already provide direct feedback about poor service interactions, many still don’t. Amplify the process by incorporating easily accessible feedback mechanisms into all key customer scenarios, whether on the Web, in the contact center, or in physical locations.


  •  Balance social and traditional feedback mechanisms. With the rise of social media, it is important to address complaints about poor service everywhere including social channels. To assess the value of listening to your customers through social media, start by examining customers’ online social behaviors. Then decide where to focus your efforts.


[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]CDW drove $230 million in incremental revenue by following up with customers who expressed interest in additional product areas.[/pullquote] 

                  • Close the loop with customers. While most Voice of the Customer efforts focus on analyzing huge data sets, following up with individual customers remains the most straightforward path to business value. Most firms use closed-loop processes for service recovery: A low survey score or negative comment triggers an alert to an employee, who then follows up with the customer to rectify the situation. This creates value by recovering at-risk business and stopping or reversing negative word of mouth stemming from the initial problem. Interestingly, some firms also use closed-loop processes to enrich healthy customer relationships.



  • Fix problems at the source. Addressing individual customer complaints isn’t enough to help companies excel at customer experience. Firms also need to make systematic improvements that prevent problems from occurring at all. Companies need to build a strong foundation to help their Voice of the Customer programs succeed. Culture and alignment provide the motivation to adopt Voice of the Customer processes. Governance and process provide the means and accountability to actually do it.



Jason Peaslee

Jason Peaslee is the Managing Partner of Thrive Analytics, a marketing research and analytics consulting firm. His career spans more than 20 years in marketing, advertising, product development, research, and business management. Before founding Thrive Analytics in 2010, he held several senior leadership roles at AT&T, Reynolds & Reynolds, Berry Network, & The Berry Company.

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