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Kamloops News

THOMPSON: Frustrated with today's customer service? You're not alone

January 08, 2024 - 12:00 PM



How can customer service be so bad, when virtually every company offering goods and services has entire departments dedicated to it? But the truth is customer service hasn’t gone downhill so much as it has fallen over a cliff.

When I started my first job out of university in 1976 at then consumer and industrial giant General Electric, 35 percent of us said we had a problem with a product or service that year. Today, 74 percent of us report such a problem.

GE was known for handling problems with customers quickly, and almost always to their satisfaction. If someone called me at GE about trouble with their dishwasher, even if I worked say, for the company’s aircraft engine group, I was expected not to just get them another telephone number for major appliances, but get the facts and report it to the GE person who could best resolve the problem.

Sadly, things have changed. Today, you’re more likely to get transferred to another line (often the wrong one), before being placed on hold for 15 minutes, and then being cut off. It is - I admit - maddening.

The W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University has conducted its National Customer Rage Survey for 20 years. Besides tracking satisfaction in how companies handle customer complaints, the 2023 survey measured customer incivility, the level of rude, all-too-often violent behaviour.

It seems today’s politically divisive world has slopped over into conflicts between customers and businesses…with the handling of a complaint about products or services evolving into name calling and threats based on differences of opinion about politics, sexuality, culture and faith.

There are some troubling trends. By the time customers reach someone who can perhaps satisfy them…they’ve gone through what amounts to a belt line of folks eager to answer “No!” to most any request. The contact rarely begins with a real person…but with a chat bot or AI version of a human…that doesn’t often provide much more than frustration.

Just a decade ago, 50 per cent of customer complaints were handled by phone…today more than 50 per cent are handled digitally…up from five per cent in 2013. Consumers are twice as likely to shame companies on social media as they were in 2020. And the number of people who admit seeking “revenge” has tripled in the past three years.

Arizona State University estimates that companies lost $887 Billion in future business last year due to mediocre customer relations, up from $494 Billion in 2020.

Much like politics in America, consumers are split roughly 50/50 on what constitutes civil vs. uncivil behaviour when complaining to companies. While half of survey respondents consider “yelling, ranting, arguing, giving ultimatums, and social media character assassination” as uncivil…the other half say, not at all…these are civil responses.

What’s darkly humorous is that survey respondents largely blame uncivil complaining on society. Hmmm…we have met the enemy and he is us.

The most troubling trend is that you’re less and less likely to get what you want with companies that you believe gave you a raw deal. That’s why I’m going to offer you a strategy and some tactics that will lead to more satisfactory results.

This might sound ridiculously obvious, but as our moms advised us when we were kids, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” In other words, if you start by looking for trouble with a customer relations representative…you’ll likely find it.

One side note, as a child I remember aggravating my mom by asserting, “Why would anyone want flies?” Anyway, start with a good attitude, maintain your cool and things are generally less likely to go sideways in that first written contact.

Remember, you’re not likely to speak to a real human at first, but what you write will shape that eventual conversation with someone who reads your complaint and can say “yes” or “no”.

Another bit of sound advice: Don’t start by writing some rant to the CEO. You’re more likely to be considered unreasonable…and 99.9 percent of the time it will be rerouted elsewhere. There might be a time for that if you run into too much resistance, but this isn’t it. And don’t write someone and copy a dozen executives in the Legal, Logistics, Communications and HR Departments.

The starting place is a clearly stated explanation of your problem to the senior customer relations or customer service contact…then wait a week for a response. If you get none…write the executive next level up the food chain, and keep going until you reach someone who’ll put themselves in your shoes. Never lose your cool in these letters or emails…it won’t help your cause.

Now, you’re probably saying, “Where do I get these names?” Company websites either bury them so deeply you either give up or end up with a “Dear Sir or Madam” note to info@goodluckreachingus.

You might want to bookmark this website address……a non-profit organization that “empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't.” They do it through direct advocacy, journalism on an ad-free website and maintaining the largest database of executive contact information on the Internet.

You’re welcome. offers an impressive array of useful data and information about virtually every company in every industry imaginable…with real email addresses and telephone numbers of who to contact. And if you follow their advice…you’re more likely to get your favourable outcome. If this self-help gets too frustrating, you can even hand it over to them to help resolve your issues…all for free.

Meanwhile, don’t be shocked if customer service increasingly seems more like customer disservice. I suggest you do as I do…be thankful when someone at a company stands out from others by actually solving your problem. It will bring a smile.

Now get busy contacting the company that made the thing your Aunt Sharon bought online and had shipped to you by a third-party for Christmas. At least now you have a place to start.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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