MIAMI—Companies trying to create positive customer experiences are stymied by more vocal customers, lack of trust, and slow response times according to the second annual Breakout Brand study, released by rbb Public Relations at the Global Public Relations Summit.

According to the research, 88 percent of consumers will speak up regarding a product or service problem, and according to Christine Barney, CEO of rbb Public Relations, “These bold consumers put pressure on brands to not only deliver good products and services but to provide a positive experience or face losing not only one customer, but everyone he or she influences."  

The survey found that customers most often reach out to companies about a product or service problem via email or chat (50 percent) and that they want immediate communication: 59 percent expect a response immediately or within 24 hours.

Moreover, only 28 percent of consumers who reach out to a company with a complaint report receiving satisfaction most of the time. That means companies miss the communications mark with nearly three-quarters of consumers.

Perhaps as a result, eight out of 10 consumers lack trust in company claims, and 20 percent of them believe that most company claims about personal service and high quality are untrue.

"Other surveys reported that 78 percent of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase due to poor customer service, while 59 percent of people were willing to try a new brand or service for reported better customer service," said Barney, who says this translates into $83 billion in lost sales.

A panel from “breakaway brands” companies including AnneMarie Mathews, vice president of public relations at Norwegian Cruise Line; Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment; and Eileen Sheil, executive director of corporate communications for the Cleveland Clinic, who discussed their own customer service experiences.

At Norwegian, for example, there has been an emphasis on gathering customer feedback to ensure that employees meet the highest standards; at Feld Entertainment, there is an emphasis on tailoring both communications and the experience to different shows—from Disney on Ice to monster truck rallies—to specific audiences, and on ensuring cultural sensitivity; while at Cleveland Clinic, senior executives walk the halls and as a result are able to hold employees accountable for their customer service, something the Clinic implemented after receiving alarmingly low marks in a customer survey.

“People were getting the highest level of care but they just didn’t like us very much,” says Shiel. The Clinic appointed the first ever patient experience officer, and focused on its culture, making sure that every employee felt like a caregiver.”

All panelists agreed that in this environment, a closer working relationship between public relations (which is responsible for corporate reputation) and customer service (which has a profound impact on corporate reputation) is increasingly essential.