Press 1 for more anger: Americans are tired of customer service

A recent survey shows that Americans are more dissatisfied than ever with the customer service they receive. The poor guy above has been on hold for 24 months (we assume – it’s a stock photo).

Who are they? The thousands of Americans who expressed dissatisfaction with customer service. You can find them on just about any Yelp page out there.

  • Numerous industries have been turned upside down by the pandemic, and as it turns out, customer service and hospitality in general have declined in the eyes of many Americans.
  • 74% of Americans say they’ve had a product or service problem in the past year, according to the 10th edition of the National Customer Rage Survey, which tracks satisfaction and rudeness. The number of problems has more than doubled since 1976.
  • And on the other hand, it is described that consumers are increasingly talking about it – literally. The survey found that 43% of customers shouted or raised their voices to express their displeasure with their most serious problem, up from 35% in 2015.
  • If you’ve spent any time on the rage-inducing side of customer-freakout TikTok, you’ve probably seen enough to know that things… don’t feel right.
  • The research is being conducted by Customer Care Measurement and Consultancy, in collaboration with the Center for Services Leadership/WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
  • Carol Yepes/Getty Images


    Getty Images

    Turn that frown upside down.

    What’s the problem? Well, there are a lot of unhappy people there.

  • There are a number of reasons why customer service can feel worse, such as a shortage of employees in some industries, the proliferation of technology as part of the process, and a lack of incentive for companies without competition. (Have you ever tried to contact your ISP about something?)
  • Amas Tenumah wrote a book on customer service, and he cites failure to meet increased customer expectations as the biggest part of the problem.
  • “Today we live in a society where the expectations of the brands are increasing. Just think of the commercials. They promise you the world… and then objective reality hits. And you try to reach customer service. And you are met with a bot. You have to deal with waiting times… that’s really where the gap is. This gap between expectations and objective reality just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
  • What do people say?

    Tenumah is the author of Waiting for Service: An insider’s account of why customer service is broken and tips for avoiding bad service. He is also the founder of a management consulting firm and spoke to NPR about what everyone seems to be dissatisfied with.

    On how the role of technology often frustrates more than it optimizes:

    I’ll tell you, Americans are incredibly friendly when they start out. If it’s on a scale of 1 to 10, most people start at nine or nine and a half.

    But then you start this interaction and you meet an automated system – press one, press two – or a machine that you are trying to communicate with. They can’t understand you, or you meet a chatbot on the website, and then you pass by and give them your information.

    And then you finally get to a human, and the human asks you to repeat your information. Your grace began at nine o’clock. At this point you were like a four, and then, God forbid, they move you.

    By the time you are transferred, after handling the machine and repeating your information, you are at zero and many people are negative. Now this is where the abuse and anger on the part of the customer really ramps up.

    On how employee empowerment creates a better experience for everyone:

    It’s still a person to person thing. And so what I tell customers is, first and foremost, your first customers are your service reps.

    Make sure they have the right tools, they’re compensated appropriately, and your policies and procedures don’t put them between you and the customer.

    That is why I encourage these organizations to empower that professional. You trained them. You invested in them so that when the customer makes a reasonable request, they can just fulfill it and be a hero. And the customer doesn’t have to ask for a manager and escalate the phone calls and the emails are transferred vigorously.

    Want to hear more from Tenumah? Listen to the NPR interview by clicking or tapping the play button at the top.

    So what now?

  • Despite the proliferation of AI chatbots and automated customer service systems, Tenumah says customer service is a business that is extremely difficult to calculate with a formula or algorithm. Improving that system starts with valuing employees.
  • “I usually say customer service is harder than rocket science. And the reason it’s harder is there are formulas they can calculate [to] put a rocket on the moon, there’s no formula for putting two strangers on the same phone call to solve a problem.”
  • Tenumah says we need to change the social contract and not consider these workers as “low-skilled workers”. “These are complicated requests because if they were simple, a bot or a machine could do it. And the faster we evolve as an industry, the better off we will be,” he said.
  • Read more:

  • There were 100 recalls of children’s products last year – the most since 2013
  • Unexpected American shopping seems to have cooled
  • Credit card nation: how we went from record savings to record debt in just two years
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