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The Top 10 Consumer Complaints of 2016 and 5 Lessons to Handle Them

Christine James
Christine James
Nov 05, 2016

Here are the most popular complaints of the year and what you can learn from it.

A customer’s expectations are always growing. Yet, your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. This is especially true when consumerism meets technology. There is a bigger chance to let them down, and an increasing penalty for failure.

We know that for every one customer who complains, there are 10 more that feel the same way and didn’t take the time to speak up. Companies like Comcast cable know this all too well. In 2016 they have had to effectively double the number of staff who respond to support issues on social media.

It is not just headcount, upset customers cost businesses millions of dollars in revenue. If you don’t think complaints are costly, think again. More than $131 million was saved or recovered last year by state and local consumer protection agencies.

That is why when the Consumer Federation of America came out with this year’s list of top consumer complaints, I took notice. It is a strong signal of what is happening with customer service and consumer behavior.

Here are the top 10 consumer complaints, followed by what I have learned and how you should implement these lessons into your business:

1. Auto

We have all been there. You depend on your car to get you where you need to go. And when it doesn’t work, you feel let down. Auto complaints include misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes.

2. Home improvement

The second most popular type of complaint related to construction. From shoddy work, failure to start, or delays complete the job, this list has it all.

3. Utilities

Utilities like water and power came in third place on this year’s list. Common issues included service problems or billing disputes with phone, satellite cable, Internet, electric, and gas service.

4. Financial

Money is everything. So it’s no surprise that financial services and credit cards made the list. There is a long list of complaints related to finance such as billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, and abusive debt collection tactics.

5. Retail Sales

Both online and offline shopping companies continue to grow. But with that growth comes growing pains for many retail companies. These complaints were largely related to false advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, and failure to deliver.

6. Services

Common issues with consulting and hired services and made the list at number six. Customers had little to no tolerance for misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, and failure to perform services.

7. Landlord

If your car gets you from point A to point B, then your home is where you expect to be safe at night. Complaints against landlords and renters were also very popular this year. Feedback included unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, and illegal eviction tactics.

8. Household goods

Household goods relate specifically to appliances like a dishwasher, refrigerator, or microwave. There were many problems with home appliances on this list such as misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.

9. Health products

Coming in at number nine on the list are health products that contained misleading claims, or unlicensed practitioners. I think we have all experienced something that claimed to do something incredible for our health that did not deliver as promised.

10. Internet fraud

Last but not least, internet fraud and internet related sales complete the list at number ten. This includes misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, and failure to deliver online purchases. There is no shortage of examples here from bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, and fake check scams.

These complaints cover many industries, but these patterns of discontentment contain lessons for business owners.

Here are five lessons to take away:

1. Advertise exactly what you are selling. Business owners should modify their website to allow consumers to comment online and post real reviews. You should not simply refund unhappy customers, but dig for the root of their discontent. This will build your brand equity over time.

2. Finish what you started. When struggling to follow through on something, you should run the “CEO test.” This is a useful figment where you pretend that you are completing a job for the CEO of a company. Your sense of urgency and attention to quality is inevitably and magically renewed. You should also close the loop on any customers waiting for an answer within 24 hours.

3. Honor gift certificates and coupons. Read up on the laws protecting consumers with gift certificates in your state. In fact, most business offers cannot expire within five years of activation date, due to Congress’ 2009 Credit Card Accountability Act. You should triple check that current promotion codes are live and work on your website and budget for accepting competitors’ coupons.

4. Protect your customer’s data. Encrypt customers’ data to safeguard it from cyber attacks. They have entrusted your company with their personal and financial information, and you have a duty to keep it safe, confidential, never open to being scammed and never for sale. If leveraging their data for future sales, you should go beyond generic mailing lists, and try to generate value for them by personalizing offers. 

5. Ensure people working for you represent your best values. No matter how good your product is, it will be derailed if the person on the front line is rude to a customer. Your employees must also know the products and protocols, as well as their own birthdate. They also need to be committed to treating every soul with courtesy.

Even the mom pushing a double-stroller with a screaming baby and restless toddler deserves as much respect, empathy, and patience as the CEO. And some customer is going to have a problem that you simply cannot solve. But overall it’s important to take complaints seriously when they happen.

If you take a step back and look at the big picture there are much more than just these five lessons to learn

Photo credit:

Image Credit:

Ridofranz / Getty Images

Christine James
Christine James
Christine believes that every customer has a voice. She is the Community Manager at (a customer complaints website) and loves talking to customers on social media about their challenges with Fortune 500 companies. Her work has been published on Huffington Post, Inc., SocialMediaToday, and Thought Catalog.