Keeping Track: Customer complaints

A doubling in the past half-decade

Ever felt compelled to pick up the phone and tattle about a bum deal to the Better Business Bureau? Millions of consumers do just that, according to the Arlington, Va.-based organization.

What kinds of businesses take the most heat? Among 3 million complaints tallied last year, 17,686 were aimed at franchised new- and used-car dealers.

Computer dealers were second with 9,538 complaints, followed by home-furnishings stores (9,123), auto-repair shops (9,049), mail-order/catalog retailers (7,804), and general contractors (6,230).

According to e-Satisfy, a Web-based organization that tracks customer satisfaction, about half of consumers who feel they've been wronged don't bother to complain. But they make their dissatisfaction felt. Between 50 and 90 percent of these "silent critics" are likely to take their business elsewhere, says e-Satisfy. Only a tiny fraction of complainers (1 to 5 percent) take their beefs to upper management.

E-Satisfy adds that some 95 percent of consumers who have a "minor" problem (one with less than $5 at stake) resolved quickly are likely to keep doing business with the company involved. When the problem was "major," involving more than $100, that number dropped to 82 percent - despite quick resolution of the problem.

Dissatisfied customers typically tell between 8 and 16 other consumers about their problem, the organization says, adding that negative word of mouth carries twice the weight of positive passed-along information where buying decisions are concerned.

But the news isn't all bad. Even in the most maligned sector - car dealers - there are bright lights.

A customer-service survey last week by auto-industry consultant J.D. Power & Associates polled 52,000 people who had bought or leased a new vehicle in the past three years.

The 10 companies with the highest marks for servicing vehicles: Lexus, Saturn, BMW, Daewoo, Volvo, Cadillac, Infiniti, Acura, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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