Customer Rage Study

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The holiday shopping season has been pushed back even earlier than ever before. With that season upon us, a new study on “customer rage,” designed in part by Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, shows more of us are unhappy with our shopping experience. Professor Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at ASU, will discuss the study.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. With the holiday shopping season now upon us, we thought we'd look at a new study on customer rage. The research was designed in part by ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business, and it shows increasing displeasure with the entire shopping experience. Here to talk about the study is Professor Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of ASU's center for services leadership. Good to have you here and thank you very much.

Mary Jo Bitner: Great to be here.

Ted Simons: I find this stuff fascinating. Especially in this time of year, when you go out there among the masses and you see stuff and you are trying to figure it out. A survey on customer rage. Why?

Mary Jo Bitner: Well, we've been doing this now for -- this is the sixth wave of this study, it started back in 1976, the first study was done, and we have done the last five waves since 2003. Really, to track and see why and how customers respond to the failure of products and services, whether they are more satisfied, less satisfied over the years, and just how they react.

Ted Simons: Define customer rage.

Mary Jo Bitner: Well, the way we define it, technically, is those customers who have a problem with the products and service, and when they complain, they are very upset or extremely upset about how those problems are handled. Those are people with customer rage.

Ted Simons: So it's more than -- I'm not happy with the service or the product, it goes beyond that.

Mary Jo Bitner: It goes way beyond that, that I'm really very upset or I'm extremely upset with the way this has been handled, and I'm experiencing some sense of, of anger, and we call it rage.

Ted Simons: Ok. And so, what are customers most peeved about?

Mary Jo Bitner: In terms of the types of products they are most peeved about, it would be really the satellite TV, internet, cell phones. Anything really communication-related, or electronics, all the things that are really, really important to us, and when those things are not working right, people get on the phone, and they complain to the providers, and what they are upset about is that oftentimes it takes them a lot of time. They waste a lot of time getting those problems solved. Getting even an answer to their question, and they might have to talk -- the average is four people, they have to call four times to get a problem solved. And so, just wasting their time, feeling it's not worthwhile, dealing with automated phone lines. Those are the things that get people upset.

Ted Simons: And at the wasting time thing is just -- it gives me almost shivers to think about having to make certain calls because I figure the next two hours of my life are gone. You just sit there and watch the clock.

Mary Jo Bitner: Exactly, exactly. And being passed around from one person to another, and having to repeat your story. And then, maybe not getting satisfied in the end, and that's the whole point, I think, when we look at how many people are satisfied with how their complaints are handled, there is only 20% of the people who complain about a problem, are completely satisfied with how that was handled.

Ted Simons: Is that a reflection of the customer? The people? Or are companies, actually, trying to do the best that they can with this kind of response?

Mary Jo Bitner: Well, you know, companies are trying. It's common knowledge, among business people, and companies, that if you satisfy a customer, that's had a problem with you, and you do a good job of it, they are going to be more loyal. So all companies want loyal customers, and they are, they want to try to solve the problems. What's happening is they have got a lot of good ideas about it, but it's not being implemented well, and customers perceive, in fact, many customers perceive that they get nothing when they complain. They think nothing has been done for them. And they -- what they really want, and it's some really simple things, they would like an apology. They would like somebody to explain, you know, what's gone wrong. They would like the company to say, you know, we won't do this again. We understand. Let us see what we can do, and a lot of those things, customers perceive that they don't get that.

Ted Simons: And I found that fascinating, something as simple as an apology, that really does help.

Mary Jo Bitner: It does. It does. In fact, it can only, it can almost double the level of satisfaction, if you just apologize, or you give an explanation or do something that does not cost any money.

Ted Simons: So, and you mentioned loyalty for a second there, the loyalty does hang in there when at least you get an apology or an explanation. If you are not satisfied, and you were a loyal customer, are you out the door?

Mary Jo Bitner: You very well may be. And you are much more likely to be out the door if your complaint was not satisfied at all, or even if it was, sort of. You are more likely to leave and never come back than if you were satisfied, obviously. But even, you are more likely to leave than if you never complained at all.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Mary Jo Bitner: So that's kind of the new finding this time in this particular wave of the study. We did not find this in the past, and in fact, back in 1976, what they found was that if you just opened the door and let somebody complain, they would be more likely to come back, whether or not you did anything about it. That's not true anymore. These days, if you let people complain, and you handle it poorly, and they are dissatisfied with how you handled it, they are much more likely to leave than someone who never complained at all.

Ted Simons: Are people today much more likely to complain than they have been in the past?

Mary Jo Bitner: They are more likely to complain. They are more likely to, but there is still a lot of people that just don't bother. Because they figure, I will waste two hours, I might not get anything anyway, so why don't I forget it. It's not that important.

Ted Simons: Judging from some of the numbers, 32% reported problems in this area in the 1976. 45% in 2011, and 50% now. It's not getting better.

Mary Jo Bitner: No.

Ted Simons: Is it, is it not getting better? Or are we perceiving that, that we're just not getting better service?

Mary Jo Bitner: I think what's happening is a couple things. The products and services that we have today compared to 1976 ones are much more complex. They are technical. They require integration of various products and services to work right. They are technical, and they are very much more complicated than what we, than what we had in 1976, and they keep getting more so. And then, I think also, people's expectations are rising, you know, we can, we tend to be more demanding, I think, just in general. So, the combination of those two things, I believe, results in a, you know, having more problems today than we did even ten years ago.

Ted Simons: The technology, I think, is interesting because in a lot of those cases, you know, if your car is not working or something, you have an idea of why or you think, maybe there is a guy down the street, a shade tree mechanic. But for so many of these devices and things this, we're powerless. There's nothing we can do right now.

Mary Jo Bitner: We don't understand them, and sometimes, we feel like when we call in, that the provider doesn't understand them, either, or sometimes they don't. Sometimes the problem is very complex, and they are not sure where the actual issue is, either, so the complexity is, I think, has created a lot of these issues.

Ted Simons: And yelling is up 11%?

Mary Jo Bitner: Yes.

Ted Simons: Cussing is up 6%. Again, is that a reflection more on society? Or on the fact that we're not getting good service?

Mary Jo Bitner: I think that, that it's interesting to see that, that number has gone up so much in the last couple of years. So, I think part of that may be the general environment, that we're in right now, people are frustrated by a lot of things. They are kind of emotional. And maybe that's reflected in some of that increase. You know, we hear that that's more prevalent in society in general. People swearing and yelling at each other, so it may be a reflection of that.

Ted Simons: So business looks at this study and they want to do right.

Mary Jo Bitner: Right.

Ted Simons: They want to get it right and they want their customers to be happy, and they are willing to go the extra mile. What do they take from this study?

Mary Jo Bitner: I think that first of all, I want to say that there are a lot of companies that do this right. And so, we're talking about the average across the board, you know, kind of what we see on average. And there are many companies that really do get it right. What they need to do, and what they can learn from a study like this is to try to handle the problem on the first try, and they need to invest in the training of those employees, give them the power to do that and try to not keep customers waiting. And try to just get things done quickly, and it does take an investment, though. And, and I think that, that companies can get it right.

Ted Simons: Do you find that companies, when they get this kind of an information, for the most part, they do take it seriously? Or is this kind of thing sloughed off?

Ted Simons: It varies. Some companies take it very seriously and have invested a lot in trying to improve customer service are very successful, and it pays off for them. They keep their customers they build their business, they have a lot of loyal customers, they get great word of mouth. We tell people when we have great service, right?

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Mary Jo Bitner: So it pays off. But there are companies that don't think -- still think of it as a cost and something that they shouldn't really invest in.

Ted Simons: Last question, what shall we, as consumers, take from this kind of information?

Mary Jo Bitner: Well, I think that one thing that I would say is that we, as customers, probably need to have a little more patience for these service providers that we go to because the front line folks don't typically -- you cannot really blame them for the problems. But, I think that we need to, to have some patience. Realize that we have very complex services that, that are difficult to make work right.

Ted Simons: It's very interesting information, and especially as we all wade out into the deeper waters coming up this weekend. It's good to have you here and thanks for joining us.

Mary Jo Bitner: Thank you very much.

Mary Jo Bitner:Executive Director, Center for Services Leadership at ASU;

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