That's the takeaway from a new survey by Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports (subscription required to view full results).
Let's get right to it.
1. Can't get a human on the phone
2. Salesperson is rude
3. Many phone steps needed
4. Long wait on hold
5. Unhelpful solution
6. Salesperson is too pushy
7. Extras are pitched
8. No apology for unsolved problem
9. Can't find store salesperson
10. Boring hold music or messages
11. Wait at counter or checkout
12. Wait for scheduled repairer
Consumers Union surveyed almost 1,000 consumers nationwide to find the customer-service problems that infuriate people most. Respondents rated 12 practices on a scale of 0 (not annoying at all) to 10 (tremendously annoying).
In other words, customers are very annoyed at the lack of phone support or snippy salespeople. Waiting in a line at checkout or for a scheduled repair? Hardly annoying at all, but still somewhat annoying, according to the survey.
There were some differences in age and gender, according to the poll. Women and seniors were particularly irritated by the inability to speak with a real person. Younger people had the lowest tolerance for repair people who didn't show up on time.
What it means
The findings offer a glimmer of hope for companies that believe improving customer service will be too expensive. In the top half of the list, a majority of the gripes -- salesperson is rude, salesperson is too pushy, extras are pitched and no apology for unsolved problem -- actually cost a company nothing to fix.
Also noteworthy: Customers hate the way corporate America handles phone calls. It's not just the top complaint (can't get a human on the phone) but #3 (many phone steps are needed), #4 (long wait on hold) and #10 (boring hold music or messages).
The findings beg another question: What annoys employees about their customers?
The comments are open for nominations. I'll post a poll soon.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He also covers customer service for the Mint.com blog. You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.