Study: Consumers Reach Boiling Point Over Customer Service

One in Four Would Pay to Speak to 'Live' Human

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NEW YORK ( -- Consumers are feeling their oats. Fed up with automated or outsourced customer-service departments and empowered by technology, they're taking their business elsewhere and lashing out online.

Those are just a few of the findings from a recent report by the research firm Yankelovich titled "Consumers in Control: Customer Service in the Age of Consumer Empowerment." Specifically, the research found a pronounced preference for human customer-service representatives: 82% said it was important to speak with a live person, with more than one in four (27%) indicating they'd even be willing to pay extra for one.

Growing trend
"Consumers have moved beyond frustration," said Lexi Hutto, one of the architects of the report. "It's gone from a simmer to a boiling point."

Dell, AOL, Land Rover and, most recently, Comcast, are just a few of the companies that recently have taken public hits due to concerns about customer service. According to the Yankelovich findings, it's a list that likely will include more companies unless significant changes are made soon.

"[Consumers] feel they deserve what they want and will look for it wherever they can find it. If they don't find it at Company A, they'll go to Company B or C," Ms. Hutto said.

These newfound high expectations among shoppers can be seen throughout the survey. For instance, 62% believe that service people "don't care much" about their needs, up from 52% since 2004. Additionally, two-thirds believe businesses care more about selling existing products than coming up with something that fits their lifestyles, up from 58% in 2004. Finally, 86% have "no problem" speaking up about poor service, with 71% saying they'd walk out of a store even if it offered exactly what they were seeking if treated badly.

No surprises
Robert Blackshaw, author of the coming book, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000," isn't surprised by the findings. He believes poor customer service has been an issue that companies have long been able to avoid simply because of the lack of communication options available to the public.

"Companies underdelivering is not a new phenomenon," he said. But, he said, technology such as blogs and YouTube have enabled more consumers to voice their distaste. "The expression venues have made it absolutely impossible to ignore. It can't just be contained."

Some adapters
Yet some companies are adapting to the demands of the empowered consumer. According to Get Human, a database that grades companies based on the ease of reaching a live representative, Hertz, Comfort Inn, Day's Inn, Hyatt and Walt Disney World are among the brands that connect callers directly to humans, earning themselves an "A" grade. The vast majority of companies evaluated, however, received a failing mark.

"At the end of the day, customers are going to hang an 'F' on the neck of brands that don't' get it right on customer service," Blackshaw said, adding, "If you get stained by bad customer service, it's really hard to turn that around."
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