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Here’s why customer service is worse than ever and so is consumers’ rage

Customer service is worse than ever and more people are enraged about it, according to a new Arizona State University survey.

The online retailing experience is creating even higher expectations among consumers, which companies must be ready to address, said Thomas Hollmann, a clinical associate professor of marketing who was involved in the “2020 National Customer Rage Study,” released this month.

More than two-thirds of the 1,000 people polled experienced a product or service problem in the previous 12 months and nearly two-thirds of them said it made them “very” or “extremely” upset — feeling “customer rage.”

The survey was sponsored by the Center for Services Leadership at the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, in partnership with Customer Care Measurement and Consulting, and KraftHeinz.

This was the ninth customer rage survey done over the past 40 years. The first one was done in 1976 at the request of the White House, and the 2020 iteration shows how much the service industry has changed, said Hollmann, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership.

“We call it the ‘Amazon-ation’ of business. Everything should be one click and one-hour delivery, so customers think, ‘Why do I have to jump through five hoops when I deal with you?’” he said.

The 1976 survey led to the concept called the “free lunch.” Essentially, the finding then was that even when customers complained, they would still come back. So the businesses got a “free lunch” — invaluable feedback on their problems as well as a return customer.

“By complaining, customers are buying into the relationship and they’re making an effort, so they have the feeling that this relationship is worth something, even if they don’t get what they want,” Hollman said.

“That’s been taught in business schools for 40 years now.”

But the rising expectations of customers have led to the loss of the free lunch, he said.