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Two service strikes and you're out

A new survey shows just how bad service has to be before customers will jump ship.

A new survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers found that most will withstand a maximum of two negative customer service experiences before seeking out another vendor to meet their needs.

The survey, which questioned respondents about their recent dealings with the banking, cable, retail and telecommunications industries, also found that three-quarters of consumers will hang up on calls placed to customer service departments after being kept on hold for longer than five minutes.

St. Louis-based Amdocs Ltd., a provider of CRM and billing software, commissioned the survey and said that it proves that consumers want to hold companies accountable for poor customer services.

Among the survey's other findings:

  • More than 80% of consumers said they would rather visit the dentist, pay taxes or sit in a traffic jam than deal with a poor customer service representative.
  • Seventy-five percent of respondents will spread the word about negative experiences to friends and family.
  • Eighty-five percent said negative experiences will definitely prompt them to switch providers, regardless of the product.

Sheryl Kingstone, program manager for customer relationship management strategies at Boston-based Yankee Group, said that while she agrees with the survey findings in general, it's important to remember that consumers don't always have the option to move after bad customer service experiences.

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For instance, Kingstone said, customers of technology companies might have a large investment at stake and simply can't afford to switch providers because of a poor call center agent.

She added that some telecommunications customers only have one provider to choose from for a particular service and couldn't switch vendors even if they wanted to.

"It really depends on the barriers to moving," Kingstone said. "While customers may complain, if they're locked in they might not move in the end."

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