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Customer service leaves buyers irked, survey says

Shoppers put bags in a car at a Walmart store March 29, 2011, in Valley Stream, N.Y. Getty Images

Updated at 11:44 a.m. ET

Companies wanting to boost their bottom lines might want to first improve the kind of service they provide their customers, according to a Consumer Reports survey released Tuesday.

Most American shoppers told the magazine in the nationwide survey that customer service was frustrating with 64 percent of those polled saying they'd left a store because of poor service and 67 percent hanging up on a service line without solutions to their problems.

The survey particularly took to task big-box stores Sam's Club and Walmart. The magazine reports one or both stores' customer-service operations ranked lowest in eight industries, including appliances, cell phones, electronics and supermarkets.

The publication recalled the story of a commenter on its website, Mabel Eng of Bellerose, N.Y., who wrote that a Walmart customer-service rep spent 20 minutes searching for a supervisor or a written version of a store's policy that books were not allowed to be returned. (Eng had mistakenly purchased a different version of the Bible than the one she wanted.) Finding neither, the worker took the Bible back and credited Eng's credit card.

Walmart didn't respond to Consumer Reports' questions about Eng's story as of early May.

The publication found that "tremendously annoyed" described the way 71 percent of respondents felt when they couldn't reach a person on the phone. Rude salespeople prompted 65 percent of polled consumers to also use that phrase. Having to maneuver a lengthy automated phone system irked 56 percent of respondents in the same way.

By contrast, many shoppers prefer not to go back to the store for help with a problem. Only 16 percent of respondents said they wanted to resolve an issue face to face. Using the phone was how 20 percent of surveyed shoppers wanted to hash out a remedy.

But 60 percent of respondents said their preferred method of customer service depends on the problem, which might motivate companies to prevent problems from happening in the first place.