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Call Center Customers Are Angry - Here Is What You Can Do

by Jeff Gallino, CTO and Founder, CallMiner - November 1, 2019

Call Center Customers Are Angry – Here’s What You Can Do 

Jeff Gallino, CTO and founder of CallMiner

Profane words are not the typical expression you would expect to hear in the customer service world. Yet, research indicates that when consumers reach their breaking point on calls to the contact center, these are the most likely curse words that are used. Consumers call the contact center looking to be heard and have their issues resolved quickly and efficiently. But when this doesn’t occur, they can become frustrated and angry, directing profane language at the agent on the other end of the line. This growing consumer rage greatly impacts the customer experience, agent performance, contact center KPIs and more. CallMiner recently analyzed more than 82 million calls to determine the root causes of the increased irritability amongst consumers, what issues are getting under their skin and what happens when their frustration reaches a boiling point and the profanity begins to fly.   

Why Customers Are Angry

Eliminating consumer anger begins with knowing why they are agitated. According to the CallMiner Index, the underlying reason for angry customers is that they don’t feel like companies appreciate them or value their time. We conducted further research to discover the foundation of these feelings. The results revealed that the top sources of frustration for customers calling the contact center are:

  1. Long wait times

  2. Having to repeat themselves from one contact channel to the next

  3. Failure to resolve their issue on the first call

  4. Long messages before being routed to the right person

  5. Calls that are misrouted after speaking to a call center employee

And while these issues don’t always lead to consumer anger and profanity, they often do. When customers believe they aren’t a priority for your business their level of annoyance increases. When this is coupled with your organization’s lack of ability to handle even the most basic of issues, annoyance turns to anger. 

Research also indicates that customers want to be treated as individuals. When contact center agents rely on procedural scripts, they tend to ask questions with no relevance to the current situation. This further irritates already unhappy customers. An agent’s inability to ask the question specific to the customer’s inquiry makes it seem like they aren’t listening, or worse, lack the competence needed to resolve the situation. 

Perpetually unhappy customers do exist and, yes, there will always be a small percentage of callers who are impolite and show little respect for your agents. However, the focus should not be on these rude customers, but rather the fact that your process is failing on some level. When self-service systems are flawed or too complicated, customers have lost all control of their emotions by the time they reach a live agent. There should be steps in place early on in all customer interactions in order to prevent this from happening. When customers do come in angry, they shouldn’t stay that way – contact center agents should be able to de-escalate volatile interactions. 

The Impact of Profanity

While the use of profane terms may vary, there’s no denying that consumer profanity is bad for business. Our analysis showed that calls with customer profanity are on average 8.3 minutes longer than those without. It was also determined that for calls that contain consumer profanity, 87% of them continue using it throughout the entire call. Think about what that is doing to contact center efficiency and agent morale. 

When profanity starts to fly, it hurts your call center metrics such as first call resolution, average call length, average call abandonment rate, total calls handled and more. All these metrics, and others, are evaluated to determine contact center success. Profanity-laced calls offer important data resulting from key customer interactions that can inform your business operations. Once these types of calls are reduced, your contact center metrics can be normalized.

According to research conducted by The Quality Assurance & Training Connection (QATC), the average annual turnover rate for agents in U.S. contact centers ranges between 30-45%, which is more than double the average for all occupations. Consumer profanity can have emotional and mental effects on call center agents, leading to decreased job satisfaction and increased agent churn. This also comes at an expensive cost to your bottom line due to the time and resources it takes to hire and train new agents.

The negative results of consumer profanity don’t stop there. They also carry over to the customer experience and can impact company reputation. A positive customer experience fosters brand loyalty and drives growth. In fact, 86% of consumers say they’re willing to pay more for a better customer experience. When consumers are using profane language while interacting with your organization, they are indicating a poor customer experience and lodging an indirect attack against the heart of your brand – hitting you where it hurts most.

Profanity as a KPI?

If you aren’t paying attention to the prevalence of consumer profanity in your contact center, you may be missing out on one of the most important metrics of all.  Note that the findings referenced above are derived from CallMiner’s analysis of millions upon millions of customer interactions, and so it isn’t always possible to achieve the same depth of analysis and insight at the individual brand level. But measuring the use of profanity can help you head off several costly business problems as it is a huge indicator that there is a breakdown in your process, product or service. Reducing the presence of consumer profanity in the contact center should be an established and important KPI for your business so you can improve day-to-day performance, better serve your customers and set your agents up for success.


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