Customers to CEOs: "Can You Hear Us NOW?"

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By AMA Staff

CEOs worried about customer satisfaction had better think again. What’s brewing in the marketplace is akin to customer discontent, accompanied by an increasing state of customer RAGE.

Customers are finding it’s more and more difficult to get acceptable levels of service from the companies they do business with—regardless of how much they spend, how long they’ve been a customer or how profitable they are. What isn’t difficult, however, is customers’ ability and willingness to share their pain via the Internet. Websites such as, and provide customers with a place to gripe and to search for companies who can serve them better. Customers are griping loudly and in great numbers: as of July 14, 2006, Rip-off Report™ alone had 7,213,811,464 visits!

Many organizations have included paeans to customer focus in their mission statements for years and have spent billions of dollars on customer satisfaction surveys. Yet despite these Herculean efforts, customers still feel as if they’re being treated badly.

The fact of the matter is that many companies still haven’t gotten their act together on behalf of their customers. Too often, each silo (marketing, sales, operations, etc.) does its own thing, forcing the customer to navigate their organization charts just to do business with them. According to Jeanne Bliss, author of Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, what most companies deliver are defaulted customer experiences, where disjointed and conflicting actions delivered from each operating area or silo land in a heap in the customers’ lap. As marketing cooks up offers the front line knows nothing about, sales makes promises that can’t be delivered, and the back office zaps them with policies, customers are forced to navigate organization charts to get issues resolved and beg for services they thought they had.

Stranger Than Fiction (This Stuff Really Happened)

Take the automotive company that began to charge customers for loaner cars, regardless of what car they had purchased, how old or new the vehicle was, or how many vehicles the customer had purchased with them. An insurance company cancelled a customer’s service for nonpayment, then solicited that customer the next day for a different product. A packaged goods company sent out empty boxes to customers who had purchased out-of-stock products and sent the product later under separate cover. Each of these occurred as the outcome of separate silo objectives intersecting and falling in an awkward heap in the customers lap. And each was approved by the CEO separately under the banner of "improving customer satisfaction." Tilt. This exposes CEO’s flawed and fatal approach to customers and driving customer ‘initiatives’ that is backfiring and resulting in customer dissatisfaction and rage.

In the automotive business, one accountant becomes a hero by running the numbers on savings to be had by disallowing free loaner cars without the benefit of understanding the customer assets they’re being taken away from. In the insurance example, one part of the business makes actuarial decisions about whom they will and will not insure. Another is doing acquisition marketing to add its line of business to customers’ portfolios (even those asked to leave by another part of the company). For the packaged goods company, the operations department had its incentives tied to fulfillment rates. As long as they sent something out to the customer (even an empty box), they could say that they had achieved them.

And the perplexed customers? They burned up the phone lines wondering what was going on and thought twice about buying again from that company. The grand result of all this clashing and clanging of silos together haphazardly is customer disbelief. “What are they thinking?” “Do they talk to each other?” and finally, “Why should I continue to take this?”

What’s laughable is that we’re still talking about customer loyalty. As if customers are supposed to be loyal to us! When we treat them that way! The even sadder truth is that we don’t know we’re doing it. We frequently find out what we’ve done to customers only when they call in to complain. And CEOs have the false sense that their company is customer focused and is making progress.

"Customer Rage" Is on the Rise

An increasing number of Americans report being extremely upset with how a “serious” complaint of theirs was handled by customer service, according to a survey by the Customer Care Alliance. Specific findings include (Customer Care Alliance, 11-14-04):

  • 73% of customers that had a product or service problem experienced what the CCA termed “customer rage,” a five percentage-point increase from the group's 2003 report.
  • Only 16% of the respondents said they felt completely satisfied or received more than they asked for. More than half of the complainants felt that they received nothing from the companies that caused their problems. This is due to the "hot potato" scenario that many customers are treated to when they call in for help and are passed around from person to person.  No one wants to help, can help or is given accountability for helping and "owning" the customer who calls.
  •  More than half of the respondents decided never to do business with the company again, or threatened to talk with management. A quarter yelled or raised their voice, while 6% cursed or used profanity.

Message to CEOs: What Customers Want Is Simple

Customers want companies to keep their problems to themselves and to provide a seamless experience to them when they call or attempt to buy something. Customers—regardless of industry, geography or product/service—want the service they receive to be(AchieveGlobal, 9-1-2004):

  • Seamless.  The company is able to manage behind-the-scenes service factors so that they remain invisible to the customer.
  • Trustworthy.  The company provides what is promised, dependably and with quality.
  • Attentive.  The company provides caring, personalized attention to customers, recognizing both their human and business needs.
  • Resourceful.  The company efficiently provides flexible and creative solutions.

So, here's the message to CEOs and companies out there:  you'd better get your act together for customers. Help your employeees learn how to work together in the corporate sandbox. If not for your own sanity, do it for your customers and (hmmm) for your company's profitability. Otherwise, your business practices will drive your customers away!

If you’d like to learn more about the state of customer service in today’s marketplace, read “Magnifying Customer Focus,” a new study conducted by Human Resource International and AMA:

About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.