December 5, 2022

small business advice

Customer Rage

Jerry Osteryoung | 4/27/2009

Anyone can become angry - that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way; this is not easy.
— Aristotle

One of the things that I spend so much time counseling our clients about is the importance of customer service. You can make so many cuts in your business, but once you start affecting customer service in any way, you directly impact the viability of your business.

There is no question in my mind that customer service has gone down over time, and that is what study after study has shown. I think the reason is that management has not recognized how important customer service is to the bottom line; instead, they focus their attention on other areas. How difficult is it, after all, to be greeted by a smiling employee? Yet this is hardly required or demanded.

I believe ignoring proper customer service has caused “customer rage” to increase. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, you can get a pretty good idea of customer rage — warranted and unwarranted - by watching the various TV series that focus on customer service at airlines and airports.

A study completed at the end of 2008 by Arizona State University (ASU) defined “customer rage” as an issue that made the customer feel “extremely” or “very” upset. According to the study, 70 percent of the respondents had experienced customer rage in the last year. The scary thing is that of these customers, 15 percent said they wanted revenge for their mistreatment. Only one percent shared that they were able to get it, but thankfully, the details of their revenge were not requested.

Customer rage seems to occur the most in travel, financial services and with call centers. What drives me crazy (enrages me) is trying to get a hold of customer service and being told to expect a wait of at least 25 minutes. Then, once I finally get through, being told that they do not know the answer and that I will need to call back at another time or call another phone number.

In the ASU study, 84 percent of the respondents with rage shared their story with many others, and 50 percent of the respondents said they would not do business with the offending company. The bottom line is that letting poor customer service migrate to “rage” is very costly to businesses.

Without exception, the majority of customers surveyed said that all they wanted was an apology; yet, only 25 percent got one. Personally, it makes me feel so good when I call with a problem (normally related to technology) and the customer service rep says, “I am so sorry you are having these problems.” Having empathy with the customer is the first thing that you can do to eliminate customer rage and poor customer service.

Another thing that upset customers want to hear is an explanation as to why the problem occurred. The ASU study showed that 75 percent of the customers wanted one; yet only 18 percent got this basic information.

Having your customers upset at your service is not good for your business in so many ways. You need to make sure that each customer that has a problem with your company is treated with respect and empathy.

You can do this!

Jerry Osteryoung is the Director of Outreach of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University, the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship; and Professor of Finance. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 850-644-3372.

Tags: Florida Small Business

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