Why We Get Angry About Customer Service

The peril of ignoring customers' psychological needs.

Posted Jun 06, 2012

The goal of the customer service is to ensure customer satisfaction and to enhance customer loyalty. But despite the billions of dollars companies spend on customer service programs, our interactions with customer service representatives often leave us feeling frustrated and angry. What is the customer service industry getting wrong?

The Psychological Needs of the Customer

Companies spend millions of dollars researching their customers’ needs, yet when it comes to the psychology of customer service, consumers have only one—respect. Feeling disrespected is the primary cause of customer attrition. Despite this basic principle, corporations and companies consistently and blindly institute customer service practices that convey disrespect to their customers in various ways. Let’s break them down:

1. Respect for our time.

For many of us, time is a valued commodity. When we encounter a problem with a product or a service, when we have a question, or when want to place an order, making us go through an automate menu obstacle course, making us key in responses to multiple questions only to have a representative repeat those same questions when we finally get a human on the line, keeping us on hold for ridiculous amounts of time, or giving us the runaround when we have a problem, is disrespectful of our time. We don’t only feel annoyed when this happens we feel disrespected and it is that which will make us go elsewhere in the future. Good customer service means hassle-free, efficient systems, especially when it comes to complaint handling.

2. Respect for our dignity.

Most of us don’t tolerate being treated rudely by other people. Surely treating customers with dignity should be a priority for any company. Yet, so many of the customer service and sales representatives with whom we interact in person or on the phone come across as impatient, rude, haughty, bored, or sarcastic. Mangling our name when it is written on their screen, making it purposefully difficult for us to resolve simple problems, and forcing us to beg for services we’ve paid for and been promised (I’m looking at you, health insurance carriers), is not respectful of our dignity. Treat us like the valued customers you tell us we are.

3. Respect for our intelligence.

Few of us enjoy being patronized or manipulated. Keeping us on hold for thirty minutes while we're told how much the company values our time, having automated message that sound like Judy Dench when the person answering the phone sounds like Judy Tenuta, forcing representatives with thick foreign accents to pretend to have fake American names, and hoping to buy our loyalty with free pens, useless knick-knacks and logoed lollipops, does not convey that a company respects our intelligence. Just treat us like adults.

Respect should be the cornerstone of customer service. It should be the one concept that is emphasized throughout corporate ranks from C level management all the way down to frontline employees. In fact, frontline employees who are treated with respect by their companies are far more likely to treat their customers with respect as well.

Of course, respect is a two-way street. If we as consumers want to get respect from companies, we have to be willing to give it to the representatives with whom we interact (read about how we typically treat customer service representatives here—it isn’t pretty).

Our complaining psychology is complex in many ways, but in this one regard it is simple. If companies want more loyal and less angry customers, they should make the changes necessary to treat all customers with respect. If they did, far fewer wheels would find it necessary to squeak.

For more about our complaining psychology and its impact on customer service read The Squeaky Wheel.

For articles dealing with anger management search this site or this one.

Copyright 2012 Guy Winch

Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch