American customers have it bad – but here’s how it can be better

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By Christopher Elliott

Did you know that when it comes to customer satisfaction, the United States falls short of the top 10, behind Russia, Poland and Chile? That the worst industry for service is social media? Or that the worst time to contact customer support is after 6 p.m.?

Well, now you do. The findings come courtesy of Zendesk’s latest report on customer satisfaction, which measures service across 6,000 companies and 125 countries to determine the best and worst countries, industries, and even time of day for customer support.

The research paints a bleak picture for American consumers, suggesting that we’re often ignored when we ask a company for help. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Let’s hit a few highlights of the Zendesk data. For those of you who don’t know Zendesk, it’s an app and website that helps companies handle service requests, so it’s in a position to know who is getting the best service — and who isn’t.

Here are the top 12 countries for customer service:

1. Canada
2. Australia
3. Russia
4. Norway
5. Denmark
6. United Kingdom
7. Israel
8. Poland
9. Chile
10. Sweden
11. United States
12. Brazil

Which industries deliver the best service?

Here are the top 12

(Social media ranks dead-last, at number 17, in case you were wondering).

1. Information technology
2. Government/nonprofit
3. Education
4. Real estate
5. Web hosting
6. Health
7. Manufacturing
8. Web apps
9. Software
10. Marketing
11. Travel
12. Business support

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And then there’s the timing of your complaints. Zendesk reported that support tickets submitted outside of normal business hours have the slowest first-reply time. The process speeds up when tickets are submitted around 9 a.m., after the tickets submitted from the night before have been processed, but before the tickets from the day have begun to accumulate.

The worst time to call the support desk? Around 6 p.m., when much of the support staff leaves for the day and non-urgent tickets may have to wait 12-14 hours before the next fully-staffed shift begins, the process tends to be at its slowest.

So what does all of this mean to you? I asked Sam Boonin, Zendesk’s research lead, to break it down for consumers.

Time of day is very important

“If you go through the day, you can see that companies are very responsive to their customer requests at the beginning of the work day,” he says. So if you want to contact a company, the early bird gets the worm. If you can get your support request in by lunch time, you’re likely to get a fast response. The longer you wait, the longer you’ll wait.

Calling tends to yield better results than using social media

Many companies field their customer support requests via social media, but for pure speed, nothing beats a voice call. “Our data shows that the phone is the happiest channel,” says Boonin. Having a direct conversation leads to the most satisfaction. (Note: this doesn’t eliminate the need to keep a careful paper trail on some more complex requests.)

Choose the company based on its ability to give good service

“It’s easy to choose the cheapest company,” Boonin says. “But the best bet for consumers is to choose companies that value you through your entire lifecycle.” We spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to find those “best” companies, but a good place to start is the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which ranks companies based on their service scores.

So, time your service calls. Remember that not all companies — or industries — value good service equally. (Here’s how to get hold of the CEO if you have to resolve a problem.) And keep in mind that if you’re reading this story, you probably live in the United States, which is not a service superstar.

Can America do better, when it comes to customer service?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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