Poor customer service is costing us our health

We now suffer more stress and related health problems from the cumulative effects of bad customer service than from other common stresses such as work, family, debt or technology, according to a new report from first direct.

A massive 87% of respondents¹ say they often feel stress when faced with poor customer service, according to ‘From retail therapy to stress therapy’, a report examining customer service stress by stress expert, Dr Roger Henderson, consultant adviser.

The result is potentially serious physical and psychological symptoms – such as high blood pressure, palpitations, headaches, nausea, mood swings and anxiety – with a consequent impact on our relationships with friends and family.

The report identified that customers are suffering from “time-sapping”. This is when ineffective companies force us to spend our valuable time dealing with mundane service issues, causing feelings of powerlessness and lack of control.

first direct has identified five customer types and their reactions to dealing with stressful customer service:

The Ostrich: the thought of dealing with bad customer service can be enough to dissuade the Ostrich from tackling it, resulting in a greater amount of stress in the long run. They should do one thing to sort out a problem as soon as it arises.

The Bull: the Bull charges into any conflict situation with energy and self-confidence and will not rest until a customer service problem is sorted. However, Bulls should try to keep perspective when they’ve been let down by a service provider.

The Dove: the Dove is likely to float above the situation, not avoiding the issues at hand, but not allowing themselves to be affected. But they may be bottling up their emotion, and the lack of urgency may mean some situations are not sorted out as quickly as they could be. An occasional rant will lead to a better result for the Dove.

The Parrot: this personality type rants and raves about their bad customer service situations. Having released all their anger to anyone who will listen, they rarely have enough energy left to sort out the problem. Parrots should channel their energies, working out the practical things they need to do to make the situation work for them.

The Mouse: the Mouse rarely complains, however badly they’re treated, and on the rare occasion they do, they often end up apologising. But these people may be seething with rage on the inside. A Mouse should practise a few phrases to press a service provider to come up with a solution.

One in ten of us (10%) suffer sleepless nights, a similar number (9%) ends up in tears, 6% resort to physical aggression, and one in twenty (4%) experiences chest pains as a result of poor customer service. Four fifths (81%) experience frustration and half (50%) anger.

Dr Henderson said: “Paradoxically, ‘retail therapy’ is so-called due to its potential to promote wellbeing, with the average shopper seeking relief from everyday pressures while enjoying the purchase of new goods or services³. But appalling service experiences are adding to stress levels and making the nation ill.”

Chris Pilling, chief executive of first direct, commented: “Customer service stress has become the bane of our lives. Historically, stress has tended to come from major life events, like moving house, changing jobs or the break-up of relationships. But we are now seeing the emergence of a more insidious form of stress as a result of bad service in shops and restaurants, online and over the phone.

“There are more opportunities than ever before to interact with customer services representatives – from banking services to broadband, utilities to groceries, holidays to concert tickets. Because we receive great customer service from innovative companies like Amazon, Ocado and first direct, the British public has high expectations that buying goods and services can be fulfilling and stress-free.”

Topping the list of the most annoying and stressful aspects of poor customer service are: being passed around from person to person, long waiting times, automated phone services and the struggle to talk to a real person.

Tips for dealing with poor customer service and reducing stress levels are:

1. Vote with your feet. Insist on better service, and, if it’s not forthcoming, take your custom elsewhere. Some businesses will only wise up and improve their customer service when faced with the stark reality of customers leaving in droves.

2. Choose organisations you can phone at any time of the day or night and get straight through to a real person. Email contact is also important – but not at the expense of a direct phone number.

3. Ask companies if they have a service guarantee. You need to know what recourse you have if you’re not satisfied, and how quickly your complaint will be dealt with.

4. Allocate twenty minutes at the start or end of your working day to deal with any customer service complaints – then forget about them till that time arrives.

5. Don’t bottle it up – talk to a friend or partner and get their perspective on how to handle the situation.

Published On: 25th Jun 2008 - Last modified: 22nd Mar 2017
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