American consumers spend, on average, 13 hours per year in calling queue. According to a 2010 study by Mike Desmarais in the journal Cost Management, a third of complaining customers must make two or more calls to resolve their complaint. And that ignores the portion who simply give up out of exasperation after the first call. In fact, according to a 2017 survey by Customer Care Measurement and Consulting the Carey School of Business at the Arizona State University, over three quarters of complaining consumers were less than satisfied with their experience with the given company’s customer service department.
These accounts seem at odds with the pledges by many companies that they are committed to great customer service. Consider United Airlines, among the lowest ranked of major airlines on customer service, which claims to offer a “level of service to our customers that makes [United] a leader in the airline industry”. This is in line with surveys over time that indicate that consumers consistently perceive that customer service is generally bad and even possibly becoming worse. Despite promises companies make to treat people well, customers don’t seem to be buying it.
There’s some evidence that customer queues may be unavoidable at times. Caller complaints tend to arrive randomly, making it impossible to staff agents to handle unpredictable fluctuations in call volume. But our research suggests that some companies may actually find it profitable to create hassles for complaining customers, even if it were operationally costless not to.