Customer impatience

Why North American Customers are Impatient with Complaint Management

Fuelled by market research, customer service departments are desperately trying to shrink the time it takes to respond to customer complaints. The latest study to mark a growing demand for quick customer complaint management found that almost 70 per cent of respondents expected their complaints to be addressed within 24 hours. Those figures, and others like them, have companies spending more and more on customer outreach.

Research has show that a person’s blood pressure rises the minute they’re put on hold, with anger substantially increasing each minute they wait on the line. On social media, 42 per cent expected a response within an hour, according to the survey conducted by Convince & Convert. And Amazon.com is going even further, adding a new feature to their tablets that guarantees customer support within 15 seconds. When Amazon’s “mayday button” was unveiled on Christmas Day last year, the service surpassed its own expectations with an average response time of nine seconds.

Near-instant complaint management has quickly become the norm in the customer service industry – and questions usually revolve around how to provide it, not why we need to provide it.

The Study of Impatience

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But a little-known academic discipline has attempted for decades to explain our insatiable desire for fast interactions. According to some students of Chronemics, North Americans have been hard-wired to feel small and inferior when others force them to wait.

“Somebody will feel they are of lower status than the person who’s making them wait,” said Patti Wood, author and non-verbal communication specialist who has harnessed Chronemics to train customer service agents and call centers.

“Research shows that waiting time is the single most important factor in customer satisfaction,” says Wood, who uses a cross-breed of psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain the need for prompt complaint management.

The theory traces back to 20th century anthropologist Edward T. Hall, who dubbed most Western cultures as “monochronic” – meaning they view time as a linear “road or ribbon extending forward into the future and back into time.” It’s difficult to think of time any other way, but Hall says other cultures are “polychronic,” so they don’t structure their daily activities around a concept of time as much as they do around personal interactions. In those cultures, which Hall claims are found in the Middle East and Latin America, missing scheduled appointments isn’t often taken seriously.

In the North American model, however, time is almost always segmented into appointments, which has led to it becoming a commodity. We speak of time “as being saved, spent, wasted, lost,” Hall writes in his 1983 book Beyond Culture.

“Important things are taken up first and allotted the most time; unimportant things are left to last.”

The Black Hole Effect

In a customer service context, forcing people in monchronic cultures to wait for a problem to be resolved is equivalent to “stealing from them,” Patti Wood said in a recent interview with i-Sight.

“You feel like they’ve come into your house and taken something from you that you won’t ever be able to get back,” said Wood, author of SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions and Body Language. “You’re subservient to them.”

When a customer is waiting on hold, the tendency to resent the company is made worse by what Wood calls the “black hole effect” — where time “wasted” is amplified because “you’re in isolation.”

“You are in a vulnerable position. You don’t know the end result, you don’t know the person and you’re stuck,” she said.

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