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Study: Customer service stinks and consumers are fed up

Consumer Reports News: May 18, 2009 02:54 PM

Remember the line from the 1976 film classic "Network," in which raving TV anchoman Howard Beale, upon learning that he’s about to lose his longtime job because of lousy ratings, urges Americans to shout, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”?

Well, apparently consumers are voicing similar – albeit not as raucous -- outrage over declining customer service across a broad spectrum of businesses, cutting their ties with companies that are unresponsive or frustrating to deal with, according to a new national survey.

The survey, commissioned by Atlanta-based Jacada, a consulting firm that works with businesses to improve their dealings with the public, concludes that even though consumers expect better customer service in the bad times, fewer companies are delivering it. Among the key study findings:

• Forty-three percent of those surveyed feel that customer service has gotten worse since the economic downturn.

• Sixty-nine percent say they are less willing to put up with poor customer service than they were a year ago.

• More than half of consumers (53 percent) said that they cut ties with a company due to a bad experience with

customer service.

• Forty-three of respondents have actually postponed dealing with a problem or issue because they didn’t feel like confronting customer-service reps.

Ironically, the gloomy news comes at a time when consumers are requiring more contact with customer-service personnel than ever. Compared to one year ago, nearly one-quarter of Americans have seen an increase in the number of urgent or serious issues that require service, the study reveals.

Half of consumers surveyed said they have at least one pressing customer-service issue to deal with per month. Usually, it’s about a billing mistake. The next most-common reason was to cancel a service or account.

Interesting, while many companies are opting for impersonal Web-based customer service support, the survey shows that the vast majority of consumers prefer telephone help. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they would have preferred to resolve their dispute by talking to a live human being. That’s no surprise to me. Results show that experiences with customer service Web sites often lead to frustration and annoyance. I’ll second that.

In fact, 62 percent of respondents reported feeling frustrated when having to resolve an urgent or serious issue using a company’s customer service Website. Barely one-third of Americans  said they feel online customer service is an efficient way to get answers. 

More than three-quarters of those who have used a company’s self-help Web site to resolve a problem use at least one negative term — “annoyed,” “frustrated,” or “confused,” for example — to describe the experience.

How do you feel about online customer service? Does it work better than talking with a real person?

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