ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Seven Effective Practices for Preventing Customer Rage

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”.

That quote is a reference to the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, and it's also my assessment after rereading the findings of our Consumer Study on Customer Rage associated with complaints and the complaint handling process.

The communication problem exists on many levels – between customers and company front line representatives for sure – but also between marketing and their customers, front line and back line operations, and due to inadequate communications and policy training within call center operations. Furthermore, consumers of all ages, especially older story-telling adults, have a hard time clearly stating their problem and their expectation for a satisfactory resolution.

Customer Rage

As a customer experience expert, I have had the opportunity to listen to many thousands of consumer complaint calls over the years and can offer some advice that both companies and customers can use to better communicate and stop the rage.

Companies have spent billions of dollars over the years adding staff, installing additional complaint handling channels and instituting extensive training, all in the effort to improve brand loyalty through improved complaint handling. But the recent Rage Study conducted by Dialog Direct, consulting firm Customer Care Measurement & Consulting and the Center for Services Leadership at W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU indicates these efforts are failing miserably. Only 14% of complaints are truly dealt with on the first call and most complaints require 4.2 contacts to resolve the issue. Further analysis shows that certain type of complaints, e.g. credit card disputes for example, may require an even higher number of contacts to resolve. These are dismal results given that the contact center industry touts an average of 70% “First Contact Resolution” on all calls. Many companies are delusional – believing they are on track with customer satisfaction. But, as any experienced consultant can tell you, averages can lie. Companies need to analyze First Contact Resolution (FCR) at a call type level (e.g. complaints vs. order requests vs. info calls) in order to truly identify what issues need to be prioritized from a procedural and training perspective.

Many company executives acknowledge that their complaint handling process falls into one of two categories:

  • the company formally tells its employees to “do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer”, often with some approval guidelines but without formal policies, procedures or communications training;
  • or, the company has prescriptive detailed complaint handling guidelines, often with suggested verbal scripts.

In the former case, companies leave the customer complaint journey completely in the hands of newly trained employees or those who have not been schooled in customer experience theory and practice.

Results depend on who the customer gets – which is never optimal. In the latter case, the complaint handling procedures or guidelines are often based on what the company believes the customer wants, and is with the approval of their legal department. These procedures are often based on little, if any, first person research as to what the customer really wants and what would significantly improve brand loyalty. That is the revelation of the Rage Study. It provides a data-driven prescriptive framework for a Complaint Handling and Service Recovery Program that actually improves individual brand loyalty and improves word of mouth advertising!

What can companies do to prevent customer rage?

This will be the topic of discussion for our session at the ICMI Contact Center Expo and Conference in Orlando on May 24 . Ruth O’Brien and I will review the results of the Rage Survey and offer insight and best practices for successful service recovery. We have developed seven tactics for successful service recovery. As a preview, below are three insights and tactics to consider in your complaint handling process. Join us on May 24 at 4:00PM to learn more.  

1.    Get real and stop measuring averages– step one, understand your true FCR at the complaint level by measuring the number of contacts for complaint resolution. Step two is to measure product type complaint resolution. You may find the root cause to the problems lies at the marketing or operational level. In that case, you may have an opportunity to stop the complaint altogether – which is infinitely more critical and beneficial than improving the resolution process.

2.    Sincerely and personally apologize – 50% of executives confide to me that they do not allow their employees to apologize because their legal program prohibits them from doing so. However, our Rage Study indicates that while 75% of customers want an apology, only 28% of customers say they receive an apology. Additionally, it is entirely possible to deliver a “blameless apology”. Many companies have figured out how to do this. The key is a truly empathetic--not sympathetic-- employee who personally apologizes. But this must be carefully trained and practiced – it cannot be an “apology guideline” issued to the front line staff.

3.    Acquire and develop a common “answer database” – extracts of which are accessible by customers, front line and back line employees. Often we find that the front line employee properly handles the problem, however the backline employee either does not know the turnaround time quoted to the customer, does not understand current process, or is not held accountable for the customer commitment. This database is a separate policy and procedure database and distinct from a case management system. It is not an “either or” scenario – you need both.

Ready to learn more? Join us on May 24 at 4:00PM for a deep dive into Customer Rage and additional tactics and best practices to stop The Rage.