“The times, they are a’changin’…” but are they changing for the better? A recent study conducted jointly by Customer Care Measurement and Consulting (CCMC) of Alexandria and Arizona State University found that customer satisfaction, when it comes to resolving complaints and related issues, has not improved since the mid-1970s. In fact, it has declined.

The survey, a follow up to a White House study conducted from 1973 to 1976, replicated questions from the original effort, and the returns were stunning. While in the earlier survey 32% expressed dissatisfaction when it came to resolving complaints with a company, that number jumped to 47% in the more recent one, with more than half of those stating they got nothing for their efforts. This is despite increased attempts to create and improve customer relations and the resolution of issues.

What makes the issue of complaint resolution even more problematic is that the internet age has provided disgruntled customers with more avenues for expressing this dissatisfaction. In the CCMC report, customers will tell anywhere from ten to sixteen people about their problems if a satisfactory resolution is not reached.

In the original study commissioned by the Nixon/Ford White House, it was suggested that companies could improve on their services by dedicating resources towards customer satisfaction. While that suggestion was followed, the effort has not had much success. According to the director of the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University, Mary Jo Bitner, businesses not only need to invest in customer service programs, they  “…need to do it right, or don’t do it all.”

So what constitutes doing it right? According to the study, the answer seems simple and is tied to quick resolution of the problem, with 77% citing product repair or service fixed as most important. However, there were other factors that were as or more important to customers, and that would make them happy. Among them were:

  • 90% expected to be treated with dignity, but only 40% felt this was not the case
  • 73% wanted an explanation for the problem but only 43% received that information
  • 70% wanted to be thanked for their business, but only 30% said they received such a response
  • 62% expected an apology for the inconvenience or the problem, but only 38% received one

How customers’ complaints are handled can impact future business. The study showed that while only 5% of dissatisfied customers will remain loyal to and conduct further business with the offending company, 58% of those whose issues were resolved to their satisfaction said they would definitely remain brand loyal.

The survey concluded that the problem lies not in the initiation of customer satisfaction and complaint resolution policies and practices but, rather, in their implementation and in the fact that best practices are not being followed. Cited as areas of particular concern were a lack of training for customer service personnel, failure to use the results of customer satisfaction surveys and responses, and not evaluating and improving existing policies for handling complaints.


Brooks, Chad. “Customer Satisfaction Still at 1970’s Levels,” Business News Daily. December 2, 2013.

Grainer, Marc and David Beckenhacker. “Customer Rage,” Modern DC Business. April 30, 2012.