Consumers increasingly seek ‘revenge’ for poor customer service, study finds

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But experts question whether service is actually getting worse

Complaints about the quality of customer service are on the rise, and a new study suggests consumers have reached the boiling point. 

Researchers at Arizona State University’s business school have released a small study cataloging consumers’ “rage” at what they perceive as second-rate efforts to resolve their problems. The study also found that consumers have become steadily more belligerent when they complain.

In a concerning development, the study identified what it called “the alarming incidence of customer incivility tied to what has become commonplace in everyday business settings.”

At ConsumerAffairs, we have tracked the rise in 1-star reviews – the lowest possible rating – in reviews that mention “customer service.” In many cases, these reviewers are voicing increased frustration in their dealings with a company. Patrick, of Cleveland, Ohio, is a good example.

“Did a rental, loved the property,” Patrick wrote in a recent ConsumerAffairs review of Vrbo. “Wanted to write a nice review - and after over an hour of trying, looking at their support info, chatting with customer service and calling, NO SOLUTION!! Only misinformation and boilerplate auto responses that didn't help. Really?!?! They can't even get this right? Should be simple. I just wanted to write a positive review.”

The role of the internet

While the number of complaints and their intensity is on the rise, the experts we consulted take issue with the belief that customer service is declining. Richard Gardner, CEO of Texas-based Anthropic AI, says there are arguments suggesting companies have gotten so large they can’t adequately serve their customers. But he thinks the role of the internet is an even greater factor in the rising rage level.

“Even if customer expectations haven’t shifted significantly, their ability to make known their unhappiness is much greater than it was 50 years ago --- or even 20,” Gardner told ConsumerAffairs. “With the rise of social media chronicling the events of our day-to-day lives, it was only a matter of time before disputes became more public.”

And when they become more public they often reflect the harsh tone that pervades social media, according to Joe Kevens, founder and editor-in-chief of B2B SaaS Reviews.

“Across review sites, it's common to have 1-star reviews by customers complaining about poor customer service,” he told us. “These ‘revenge’ review posts can be emotionally charged. Poor customer service can make some customers feel wronged. By sharing their perspectives publicly for management and potential customers to see, more of today's consumers realize how leaving a negative review can feel like an effective way to make the situation right.”

Failure to communicate

In some cases, it works. Gardner notes that many companies closely monitor social media and review sites and react quickly to resolve complaints. Nancy Zafrani, general manager of a major moving company, Oz Moving & Storage, says what consumers perceive as poor service can often be a breakdown in communication.

“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of starting off on the wrong foot with someone who is stressed out, or the interpersonal chemistry is just off,” she told ConsumerAffairs. “Ultimately, the keys to successful customer service are putting yourself in the client’s position, giving them as much information as possible to set them up for success, and if there is a dispute, finding middle ground.”

But a common theme of many of the 1-star reviews mentioning customer service is the inability to even talk to a human being.

Companies like wireless carriers have gotten so large, with so many customers, they have resorted to artificial intelligence (AI) to deal with customers through chatbots – a practice that often increases consumers’ frustration. And as AI continues to develop, it’s a practice that is likely to increase.

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