Consumers: Mad As Hell, Not Taking It Anymore

If it seems as if today’s consumers are simmering with rage, it’s not just your imagination. According to the latest National Customer Rage Survey conducted by Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, nearly three quarters of American consumers have experienced a problem with a good or service in the last year. Almost a third posted online about their worst brand experience, while nearly one in ten have tried to take revenge on a brand through pestering or public shaming.

Not surprisingly, all these scores rose substantially since the last time the study was conducted, in 2020. Since COVID set in and sent life topsy-turvy, the number of Americans experiencing problems with goods and services has increased eight points, while negative social media posts have doubled, and “score-settling” has tripled.



Other studies echo these findings. According to the Wall Street Journal, a 2022 Forrester survey reported a decline in the quality of customer experiences with brands and government agencies. Meanwhile, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (measured on a 1-100 scale) reports a decrease from 77 in 2018 to 73.1 in 2022, the largest decrease in the measure’s 28-year history.

In January 2022, New York Times reporter Sarah Lyall reported on the rise of rageaholic consumers in a piece entitled “A Nation on Hold Wants to Speak With a Manager.” Her article went viral, receiving over a million views in its first two weeks, and striking a nerve in a short-tempered nation.

Why is everyone so gosh-darned angry? COVID disrupted day-to-day life like nothing else in the modern era. The social unrest in Summer 2020 and disputed election soon after stoked tempers and frayed nerves. Battles over COVID vaccines and masks put front-line employees in the awkward position of policing customers. “The Great Reopening” led to supply-chain and labor shortages, leaving customers to face stores with empty shelves and nobody at the register. And the worldwide inflation spiral is causing prices to skyrocket far beyond wages. Ask anyone who’s filled their tank, paid their heating bill or bought a carton of eggs how they’re feeling right now.

Making matters worse, when customers get mad, they often have nobody to complain to. Companies have either cut back on customer-service reps or can’t find enough takers for the job. Many apps and websites offer no number to call when things go wrong. When there is a number, customers are frequently put through a torturous phone tree before reaching a human. And as companies roll out AI-powered chatbots, the likelihood of speaking to a real, live human offering empathy and solutions diminishes by the minute.

How can brands better serve a pissed-off public?

*Monitor social media. Every brand’s social media team must continually monitor for any negative mentions and try to address problems in real time. On average, an unhappy consumer vents to 9-20 people, so it’s critical to stop this negativity from spreading, especially when a TikTok can go viral, be seen by millions and inspire responses around the world.

*Empower front-line workers. Every consumer-facing brand representative must be empowered to do whatever they can to placate an angry customer, from offering a refund to replacing the faulty product to providing a generous credit for future use.

*Say “I’m sorry.” A timely, heartfelt apology individually and on social media goes a long way. It should have all the key tenets of a good apology: admission of wrongdoing, expression of contrition, and submission of restitution. Such a framework can reduce the risk of PR nightmares and even lawsuits.

With so many consumers running hot, successful brands will learn how to lower the temperature, and leave boiling consumers feeling warm and fuzzy.
3 comments about "Consumers: Mad As Hell, Not Taking It Anymore".
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  1. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, March 9, 2023 at 2:35 p.m.

    Consumer anger can be remediated by having a quality customer service department: easy to find contact phone number, easy to reach a human that speaks good English and has been well trained and empowered to fix problems. That might be a little costly, but it should not be hard to do. The cost should be offset by retaining a customer's good will and their business.

  2. Michael Giuseffi from American Media Inc, March 15, 2023 at 4:50 p.m.

    I will tell one good story.  I own a few Le Creuset pots. I've had them for at least twenty years.  The inside enameling on one of the large pots has worn out, The company claims a lifetime warranty so I contacted Le Creuset.  They asked a few questions and asked for a few photos. Two weeks later a brand new replacement pot arrived at my home.  It was trully that simple. 

    I have no affiliation with Le Creuset BTW. 

  3. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, March 16, 2023 at 1:40 p.m.

    It would be nice to know how much of this sentiment is based on consumers getting tired of brands prioritizing their social values and initiatives while offshoring customer assistance and implementing online bots that are moronic. 

    How often does a CEO fly in coach in disguise or walk into one of their stores with an issue or call their own customer service and go through endless prompts to go nowhere or deal with an online bot that can't follow simple requests?

    Do we really need a study to understand that customers are rightfully pissed off?

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