Five of the Most Common Customer Service Complaints for Online Businesses


If you run a restaurant, you can generally tell who your unhappy customers are. They’ll be the ones scowling at their overcooked food, or glaring at their phones while waiting too long for a dish. If your servers pay close attention, ask for feedback often, and work to make problems right, they should be able to turn a negative experience into a positive one before their frustrated diners turn to Yelp to write a one-star review or blast your brand on social media.

Unfortunately, online businesses don’t have as much visibility into how their customers are feeling about their company, but bad experiences can have a big impact on their bottom line: The Northridge Group found that 86% of consumers tell others about a negative experience with a brand. 

If a customer experiences a problem, an online company may not have a chance to make a correction before the customer decides to cut ties, or even expresses their anger by leaving negative feedback through a public review site or social media platform. In order to keep customer churn rates and the number of negative comments as low as possible, it’s important to be aware of the most common customer service complaints that angry customers have, and work proactively to make sure that your company isn’t falling short.

While there are plenty of things an angry customer might take issue with—maybe you sent her the wrong sized dress, or her order hasn’t arrived within 3 days as promised—the data shows that what really puts customers off isn’t the problem itself; it’s how your company handles the situation.

Here’s a look at some of the most common customer complaints that make a customer unlikely to do business with a company in the future, based on data from The Northridge Group, and how you can manage these common problems to build a better customer experience.

Long wait times to reach a customer support agent

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said that their most common online customer complaint was long wait times to reach a support agent.

How long is too long? According to an Aircall survey on this topic, when it comes to phone support, 90% of customers said that a five-minute hold time was too long, 60% said that two minutes was too long, and 29% said that one minute was the longest they were willing to wait.

Customers had even faster turnaround expectations for web chat support, with 89% of customers demanding a response within five minutes, 80% within two minutes, and 49% within one minute.

What you can do: Use data analytics to track your customers’ average wait times—even if they’re not actively complaining, you may be seeing churn if your response times are higher than your customers’ expectations. If hold times are longer than your industry benchmarks, look for ways to streamline your intake process and reduce ticket volume by routing customers to a self-service platform to address easy-to-answer questions, so that only customers who need genuine help will be routed to phone or chat support. Of course, you’ll also want to keep an eye on your staffing ratios compared to your customer base—if your audience is growing quickly, you’ll likely need to increase your customer support team in turn, but using self-service can help to reduce ticket volume even as your audience grows.

Customer support agents aren’t knowledgeable or don’t have the right context

Forty-six percent of survey respondents said that their customer support agents didn’t have the knowledge to solve their problems most of the time. And 57% said that they were frustrated when they needed to repeat information.

 When customers reach out for support, they become flustered if they reach a call center agent who can only provide scripted responses that don’t resolve the customer’s problem. They’re also frustrated if they’ve previously talked to another customer support agent, and their new rep doesn’t have the context of the situation and they need to start from scratch. 

What you can do: Make sure that your customer support tools can gather the context of your customer’s problem in advance so you know exactly where to route him for help. Consider using a self-service platform that he can use to search for relevant content in your company’s knowledge base—if he’s not able to find an answer there, you can provide directions to route him to the specific department that can help him.

Trouble navigating the automated system

Getting stuck in phone menu limbo was a serious issue for 60% of respondents, who either couldn’t access the right department easily or had no option to talk to a live customer support agent when they needed one. Another survey, from Clutch Research, found that nearly three-quarters of survey respondents encountered phone menus all or most of the time when calling a business’ customer service department, even though 88% of respondents would prefer to talk to a human.

What you can do: Consider doing away with phone menus altogether. If a customer is visiting your website and looking for support options, provide a self-service portal where she may be able to find the answer to her question independently. In the event that she can’t, your solution should route her directly to a specialist in customer support who has the subject-matter expertise to answer her question. If the customer is calling in directly, consider using a live rep who can route each question to the proper department rather than a phone menu—but if you do use a phone menu, make sure that speaking with an agent is an option that any customer can access easily with a voice command or press of a single button.

Agents aren’t friendly or polite

Rude agents were a problem for 30% of survey respondents. Customers are put off by terse communications or failure to understand or respond fully to questions. This type of online customer complaint often comes down to a breakdown in communication.

What you can do: Make sure that each of your agents is well trained in how to listen to customers with empathy, apologizing and taking accountability for problems that have occurred. Train your customer support team on recognizing the various types of difficult customers they may come across, and responding according to each one’s communication style. Taking the time to actively listen to their complaints, clarify your company’s position and plan to resolve the issue, and following up can go a long way towards smoothing over a situation.

Building a good customer experience matters—so make it a priority

Customers can respond to a bad experience not just by writing a negative review about your business or telling their friends to stay away, but by using their purchasing power elsewhere. While getting a critical review on a public review site can hurt your business’ reputation, losing customers in droves due to poor service will hurt your bottom line even more.

While customers will contact your customer support team for a myriad of reasons, such as questions on inventory, subscription problems, shipping problems, or returns, none of these problems are generally insurmountable—what’s crucial is how your team responds, and how quickly they do so.

No matter what the problem is, make sure that you make it easy for customers to resolve the issue through their choice of platform—whether that’s self-service, chat support, or phone—and if they want or need to speak with a live agent, make sure that they’re able to speak with a customer service team member who has the proper context and expertise to answer their questions.

After that, don’t simply assume that the problem is handled. Follow up, either with an automated survey or a phone call, to ensure customer satisfaction and get a better understanding of their experience. You can use a customer satisfaction survey (CSAT) to get a numerical rating of how satisfied the customer was with various elements of his support experience.

Unhappy customers can hurt your business, but if you’re able to offer streamlined customer support solutions to help them resolve their complaints quickly, you’ll often be able to impress them with your brand’s customer service so much that you’ll turn them into loyal brand advocates.


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