Is complaining about customer service becoming America’s national pastime?

@TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20
Jun 26, 2019

Americans, a new study concludes, love complaining about subpar customer service.

Forty-eight percent of consumers have left a negative review online and 73 percent of those have done so in the past year, according to the results of a survey of 100 retailers and 2,000 U.S. consumers released by Brightpearl and Trustpilot.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents said they would be “very” or “somewhat likely” to leave a negative review after a bad customer service or product experience. Negative word-of-mouth is common in  America with 45 percent having shared a bad experience with others.

Just because a consumer hasn’t left a bad review or a low star rating on a site, doesn’t mean they are happy with their shopping experiences. While 41 percent say they have not gone online to express their unhappiness, almost two-thirds of those regret not having done so.

While many debate the relative value of ratings and reviews, with particularly concerns about fake ones, 62 percent of respondents say they see how many stars a business has before making a purchase. Anything under four stars is generally considered a negative.

Results of a separate survey of 1,000 consumers released  by Bazaarvoice found that 41 percent of shoppers rely on online reviews when it comes to “Black Friday in July” sales that have sprung up in response to’s Prime Day promotion.

The same study found that 44 percent of shoppers have taken pause as a result of reports about fake reviews on Amazon. Thirty-seven percent say they are more cautious when shopping on the e-tail giant’s site for Prime Day, while seven percent will take a pass altogether.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: In what areas do you think retailers, particularly e-tailers, are most at risk of coming under criticism by customers? What are the best approaches to responding to low star ratings, poor online reviews and negative social media posts?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I encourage retailers to take a hard look and determine if there is any truth to the complaints."
"Is it a national pastime? As much as outsourcing has become a corporate pastime, I suppose."
"The best approaches by the retailer to respond to low star ratings or poor online reviews is to address them directly, one by one if possible."

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19 Comments on "Is complaining about customer service becoming America’s national pastime?"

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Mark Ryski

There have never been more ways for shoppers to communicate, and not surprisingly, they are! While all reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt, the most egregious reviews tend to be the ones that describe profound lapses in basic customer service – till lines a mile long, disrespectful staff interactions or store cleanliness/organization.

The most important thing a retailer can do is to actually respond to the criticism publicly and make an honest effort to resolve the issue. I’ve scanned thousands of Yelp! reviews for retailers, and it’s shocking how many complaints go unanswered or receive an automatic “we care about your feedback, blah, blah” response.

Ed Rosenbaum

I agree Mark. My recent complaint on Yelp got a stock response so I decided to drill down more. I saw the same or similar responses to both positive and negative reviews. But often there were no comments which says no one is looking or caring.

Phil Masiello

Social media and online review platforms make it easy for customers to vent their frustrations. Many times this is not warranted, but consumers feel empowered by the keyboard. E-tailers and retailers need to have processes in place to stop negative reviews before they happen.

This is where a great post purchase email strategy comes into play, no matter where you are selling. A strategy like this will give the consumer a direct line to the company so any issues can be fixed and emotions lowered before the customer leaves a negative review.

When a brand does get a negative review online, respond appropriately and empathize with the customer offering up solutions. Do not argue with the customer. This will show anyone reading the negative review how the company handles complaints. No consumer expects a company to be perfect. Just make sure your positive reviews outnumber the negatives by a large margin.

Cynthia Holcomb

E-tailers, ever try finding a phone number to call them? How about the chatbots, programmed with irrelevant responses. Brick and Mortar, with few exceptions, is like shopping a self serve warehouse. The best approach to getting rid of the truth? Think like a customer.

Neil Saunders

In general, I don’t think customer service in the US is terrible. However, consumers are more discerning and demanding than ever and have more ways in which to communicate any dissatisfaction. That means complaints are much more visible to others. Good retailers will deal directly with any gripes, but they will also look for patterns which reveal weaknesses in their service propositions. Asking consumers to give private feedback, via a survey link on a receipt, for example, is also a way of eliciting feedback in a way that doesn’t become visible to everyone else.

Paula Rosenblum

I think customers have always complained, but they have a bigger stage to complain on. BUT … the outsourcing of customer service to people who barely understand the language but can read scripts without too much of an accent is a special new frustration.

So they may be complaining more, but frankly, they have a right to. Is it a national pastime? As much as outsourcing has become a corporate pastime, I suppose.

And … when retailers report that “geez, if we only had the money we’d spend it cleaning up our stores” you have to assume there will be some complaints about dirty stores.

I think the industry has gotten penny wise and pound foolish. Don’t blame the customer if your service is sub-par, and don’t call it a “national pastime.” Do BETTER.

Liz Adamson
Liz Adamson
VP of Advertising | Buy Box Experts
3 years 1 month ago

E-tailers are particularly susceptible to poor reviews. Between problems with shipping and poor or inaccurate product descriptions a lot can go wrong when purchasing online. The best practice is to read and respond to poor reviews, let the customer know you are listening and care about their experience.

I also encourage retailers to take a hard look and determine if there is any truth to the complaints. Often you can uncover ways to improve the experience and delight the customer by listening to feedback. This can be anything from improving shipping times to clarifying your product description and images.

Harley Feldman

Primary areas of criticism are customer service being less than expected by customer and product satisfaction less than the customers expectations. Product ratings are reflected in the review stars and can help consumers with opinions from other customers. Customer service will typically not be reflected in the stars but will be judged by the customer on each transaction .

The best approaches by the retailer to respond to low star ratings or poor online reviews is to address them directly, one by one if possible. It gives the customer a feeling that the retailer cares about their products and service, and it may convince the customer that the review was overdone or biased.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Fewer associates in bricks & mortar retailers, combined with long wait times & poor experiences when connected to customer service personnel when contacting by phone, have driven customers to the Internet to vent their frustrations with poor performing products & related services. The alternative to a phone complaint was at one time limited to snail mail. Without the technology of easy to use electronic communications less than 5% of customers would formally complain to sellers. Now, it is not only easier to complain via social media, the post is also available publicly versus a phone call or written letter.

Seller responses should be empathetic, timely & non-argumentative. Treat the customer before you treat the problem. Saying you’re sorry for a bad experience is not the same as saying you’re guilty. Respond quickly & don’t argue with the customer. If you argue with the customer you will lose them & may alienate readers of the interaction.

Ed Rosenbaum

Customer Service has been a passion of mine for more years than I can recall. How it started, I don’t remember. But I am always aware of good or bad customer service. It sticks out like the matador’s red cape to the bull.

Yes, I think more are commenting on it now than previously because poor customer service has almost become the norm as opposed to what it should be. Recently, my wife and I visited a car dealership looking to make a decision on what to get. The salesperson did a bait & switch on me and I called him down on it as well as reported it to his superiors. I also posted it on Yelp. I got an immediate reaction from the powers that be and we will see if things change. I doubt one voice makes a change. But a chorus of voices will.

Joan Treistman

Geez, I think the best response to a low star rating, review or post is an honest effort to remedy the problem. Too often the stock response or representative’s script, “…sorry for your inconvenience” is the end of the road. I agree with those who say don’t call it a national pastime, but recognize that customer service is lacking. Retailers will suffer the consequences when their competitors pick up the gauntlet they’ve dropped.

Georganne Bender

In a word, yes.

We do a lot of consumer focus groups each year. When we ask the group to tell a customer service story, nine times out of 10 they will share a bad one. We didn’t say “share a bad customer service story” but that’s what happens. People expect perfection; they say they spent 45 minutes on hold when it was only five. With social media it’s easy to complain, especially when you have an audience.

Lee Peterson

This reminds me of the current bank conundrum: banks spent 30 years driving people to auto tellers, but now they want customers back in their branches. Mega challenge.

Retailers did the same thing, creating self-service (see also: none) “warehouses” where “sorry customer, you’re on your own!” was driven into their minds. So guess what? They’re angry. That was a BAD move, a dark period in the history of retail. Of course there’s complaining. 30 years of NO service, or basically demoting the importance of CS and CX behind operations and logistics, not sure what was expected.

It’s going to be a long road back, buckle up, retailers!

Heidi Sax

It’s important to note that the mere presence of reviews, positive or negative, serve to legitimize a retailer’s business. Would you rather purchase an item with a 3.5-star rating and 15,000 reviews than an item with a 4-star rating and 1 review? Regardless, retailers should strive to respond to as many of the (qualified) negative reviews as possible. They shouldn’t be defensive but should communicate what they are willing to do, or did, to make the customer happy. And, hey, if you’ve got time, why not the positive ones too?

Ananda Chakravarty

Let’s be frank about complaints. Customers usually don’t give this kind of feedback. Given that the average American buys 65 garments per year (and that’s just garments — a tiny % of their 300,000 items owned), that 48% that file at least a single complaint a year doesn’t amount to much feedback. It’s so rare, retailers should be more appreciative of the feedback they get, negative or not. Those that give it care enough about the brand to make it better or enough about the experience to share immense frustration. There will certainly be the immature feedback as well, but even these serve a purpose. Most customers don’t have the time or interest to complain to others, they will vote with their wallets first.

Shep Hyken

We train our customers to expect great service, so when customers don’t get it, they complain. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver. For low star ratings, always respond. Apologize and then go off line to talk to the customer. Then come back and thank the customer for letting you help them. In the perfect world, the customer comes back to thank you and complement you for the service. Keep in mind what my buddy, Jay Baer, says. “When it comes to online customer support … it’s a spectator sport!”

Shikha Jain

We live in the world of the rating economy. We rely on reviews for everything and if we receive anything below expectations, we are vocal about it. Gone are the days that the disgruntled were the vocal minority. Consumers are more and more integrated with their brands and brands are increasingly part of individual identities. Because of this close connection to brands, consumers rightfully so, hold their brands to a high standard. For brands that do not take this feedback mechanism seriously will see it negatively affect their top line.

Jack Timonen

I run a website that helps consumers to resolve complaints with businesses. Our data shows that more than 70% of our users have tried to reach out to the business directly first.

What can you learn from this? Brands get negative reviews because their customer service fails to deal with complaints.

That said, according to Hug Your Haters book (Jay Baer), more than 40% of Millennials prefer to reach out to brands using social channels. This means that brands who don’t offer great customer experience run the risk of getting negative reviews.

However, if brands would get a fair opportunity to fix the issue and interact with the customer _before_ they get rated, the ratings would look very different. Here’s a case example.

Ralph Jacobson

The more opportunity you give shoppers to communicate with the brands, the more communication both positive and negative you will have. So it doesn’t surprise me that shoppers with access to all the communication channels take advantage of them, especially when it’s more fun to complain than to complement. Just ensure you respond in a timely fashion to serious, justified complaints.

"I encourage retailers to take a hard look and determine if there is any truth to the complaints."
"Is it a national pastime? As much as outsourcing has become a corporate pastime, I suppose."
"The best approaches by the retailer to respond to low star ratings or poor online reviews is to address them directly, one by one if possible."

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