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Survey: The Effects of Bad Customer Service and How Brands Can Fix It

Executive Summary

Poor customer service is pervasive. The problem in contact centers is especially dire with long wait times and staffing issues. With customer service often being the frontline of a company’s brand and reputation, there is a lot riding on ensuring the customer experience is exemplary and reflective of the company’s mission. 

As customer service inquiries have surged over the past year and inadequate staffing has caused backlogs, Replicant surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older in the United States who have interacted with customer service within the past 6 months to see how they feel about recent contact center woes, their willingness to have technology replace real people, its impact on brands, and more.


Poor Customer Service is Pervasive…and the Pandemic Didn’t Help.

According to the research, 91% of consumers reported they have experienced poor customer service in the last six months. To complicate things, the research also suggests it’s not getting better, with one in three consumers saying customer service is worse than before the pandemic. Meanwhile, only 8% of consumers say their recent hold time with customer service was shorter than before the pandemic.

Thirty-two percent of respondents reported the average time they spend waiting on hold has doubled compared to before the pandemic; with half of the people waiting on hold more than 15 minutes during their most recent customer service experience.

While no industry was immune to poor customer service, the travel industry saw a significant impact on consumer behavior with 25% of travelers saying they’ve rethought future travel plans because of poor service.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part.

Thinking back over all experiences with customer service over the past six months, respondents noted long wait times, needing to re-explain issues several times and being transferred between agents as the top challenges they’ve experienced.

Additionally, waiting impacted generations differently, 5% of Boomers report long wait times for customer service, compared to 55% of Gen X, 53% Gen Z, and 48% of Millennials. 

The length of hold time matters when it comes to the emotions of customers. The research shows 44% of people report being annoyed, irritated or angry with a 5 – 15 minute wait time.

The Problem in Contact Centers is Especially Dire.

The most common form of poor customer service, according to 56% of those surveyed, was long wait times, and 70% of respondents said it’s harder to reach a real person now than it was during the beginning of the pandemic. 

Of consumers who report customer service is worse than before the pandemic, 82% blame staffing issues. Sixty-two percent of people say brands could solve their own staffing issues if they’d just pay higher wages and offer better benefits.

But Consumers Are Open to Speaking to Conversational Machines.

The survey found that consumers are open to speaking to conversational machines (an AI-powered machine that can hold a human-like conversation and respond to questions quickly and accurately in a natural-sounding voice).

Nearly 80% of consumers indicated they would speak to a machine to avoid long hold times. Moreover, 57% of consumers would speak with a conversational machine even if the hold time was only five minutes. 

Forty-four percent of people say that they are more comfortable with AI-based customer service solutions now than they were before the pandemic because they’ve become accustomed to digital interactions. 

Consumers are most favorable towards AI-based customer service solutions in the travel and retail industries but want to talk to a real person if dealing with insurance or banking.

Leveraging AI for Multiple Customer Service Scenarios.

A majority of consumers are willing to talk with a conversational machine instead of a real person when making typical customer service requests like scheduling an appointment, starting or stopping a service, or making a reservation.

And, 28% of American consumers have no hesitancy around talking with an automated system instead of a real person when making a customer service request.

Time is Money.

Seventy-four percent of consumers surveyed said they would be willing to lose $15.72 on average to avoid waiting on hold or dealing with poor customer service.

Consumer Brand Loyalty is at Risk.

Brand loyalty is at stake for many companies affected by poor customer service and conversational AI may help as the research shows that consumers are willing to speak to a machine to avoid long hold times to resolve specific issues.

Overall, brands that don’t address gaps in customer service are at risk, with 76% of consumers saying a poor customer service experience negatively impacts their perception of a brand and one in three saying it affects loyalty.

Seventy percent of consumers are irritated or angry with a hold time of more than 30 minutes. One in five consumers reported waiting on hold for at least 30 minutes during their most recent customer service experience.

AI is the Answer.

The data shows that customers are looking for better service. AI provides an opportunity to become the first line of support for overburdened contact centers to give customers quicker and more efficient customer service.


Replicant conducted this research using an online survey prepared by Method Research and distributed by Dynata among n=1,000 US adults ages 18+ in the United States who have interacted with customer service within the past 6 months.  The sample was equally split between gender groups, with census reflective age groups and a nationally representative geographic spread of respondents. Data was collected from July 30 to August 3, 2021. 

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