Customer service – it really can make or break your business.


Our recent survey found that customer service is the key driver when it comes to securing and maintaining brand loyalty. Whether you’re interacting with the public in person or speaking to consumers from around the world through a virtual number in a call center, getting customer service right is vital to ensure ongoing success.


With this in mind, we wanted to look at customer service and complaints across the US, focusing on states and cities to highlight any hotspots for complaints. Read on to see which areas excelled, which came out worst, and how you can ensure business success by handling complaints successfully.

How we did it

To identify the ‘worst’ areas for customer service, we wanted to look at consumer intent as well as actual complaints. We used two metrics: location-based Google search trends for ‘complaints number’ over the past year (April 2020 – April 2021), and actual FCC complaint figures for each state/city.


Once we had the FCC complaints figures, we needed to work out a relative complaint rate for each location. To do this, we factored in each state/city population* and calculated the number of FCC complaints in relation to the location’s overall population.


Each location was then given a score out of 50 based on complaints figures, and a score out of 50 based on complaints search intent. These were combined to give a total score out of 100 – the higher the score, the more complaints in that location.


*We used World Population Review, meaning we analyzed the top 200 biggest cities in the US.


Worst cities for customer complaints

Our calculation and scoring system meant we were left with a list of the 50 worst cities in the US for customer complaints and customer service. So, which city came out top?

Worst cities for customer service

The city that scored the highest was Pittsburgh with 81/100, followed by Baltimore and Atlanta, both with 74/100. The top ten cities with the most complaints, and their scores, are:


  1. Pittsburgh (81/100)
  2. Baltimore (74/100)
  3. Atlanta (74/100)
  4. Richmond (73/100)
  5. Sacramento (72/100)
  6. Orlando (69/100)
  7. Las Vegas (68/100)
  8. Jacksonville (66/100)
  9. Miami (62/100)
  10. Tampa (59/100)


Looking at the location of the top ten, eight of the cities are eastern with a majority located on the east coast. We spoke to Annalisa Nash Fernandez, intercultural specialist at BecauseCulture to explain these results:


“East coast culture in the US does tend to be more direct and outspoken, with people comfortable expressing dissenting and negative opinions, while west coasters take a more collectivist approach to preserve harmony.

There are many factors driving these cultural differences, from politics, historical immigration patterns, to the types of dominant industries which set the tone.”


So, it may not necessarily be that customer service is worse in these areas – it could be down to cultural differences and complaints culture in these cities.

Best and worst states for customer complaints

As well as cities, we wanted to look at customer service across US states. As we had data for all 50 states, we not only calculated the worst states but the best too.

Best and worst states for customer service

Top ten worst states for customer service

The states with the most complaints were:


  1. West Virginia
  2. Maryland
  3. Florida
  4. New Jersey
  5. Georgia
  6. California
  7. Virginia
  8. Pennsylvania
  9. Colorado
  10. Arizona

Top ten best states for customer service

The states with the fewest complaints were:


  1. North Dakota
  2. South Dakota
  3. Utah
  4. Alaska
  5. Rhode Island
  6. Idaho
  7. Hawaii
  8. Montana
  9. Vermont
  10. Maine

Again, looking across the worst-performing states, we saw an eastern trend. Coastal states, on the whole, tend to score worse for customer service, with central states scoring higher.


As mentioned, this could be down to customer service being genuinely worse in these states, but could also be the result of cultural differences meaning people in these areas feel more comfortable making complaints.

Why do people complain?

The question of why people complain may sound obvious – usually, it’s because of bad service. However, there are a multitude of reasons why someone may make a complaint other than simply having a bad experience. We spoke to clinical psychologist and Chief Clinical Officer of JourneyPure, Dr. Brian Wind, to find out more.


“From a psychological perspective, complaining provides some relief from stress and can be a way to get reassurance and sympathy from others to validate the experiences they have.


Complaining may be done with the hope that someone will recognize what they’re going through and be a way to achieve some satisfaction.


On the other hand, some people might be chronic complainers out of habit. People with high self-confidence have been linked to a greater incidence of complaining because they think that if they complain and speak up, they’re more likely to get what they want. Complaining may also be a way to show that they have high standards so that other people won’t try to short-change them.”

How to handle customer service complaints

How to handle customer service complaints


Whatever the reason customers are complaining, a complaint is never good for business. In this digital age, social influence is huge, meaning a public complaint can lead to a negative perception of your brand – even from those who have never interacted with your business.


It’s not just lowering complaints that is important, but how you handle them when they occur. With expert advice from a therapist and psychologist, here are our top tips:

Listen to complaints and be genuine with your response

When people complain, they often want validation – to know they’re being heard and that their concerns are being understood. The worst thing you can do with a complaint is to be defensive. Instead, keep calm, try to understand what has gone wrong, and what can be done to put things right.


Begin by apologizing for the issue and thank your customer for reaching out – a little politeness can go a long way when it comes to demonstrating you care and that you’re listening to a customer’s concerns.

Respond quickly and offer solutions

Once you’ve established the issue, you should work to quickly correct the fault or offer an alternative solution. This could be resolving the complaint if possible or offering some form of compensation.


Psychiatrist and executive coach Rhonda Mattox, MD, offers staff the following advice when dealing with a customer complaint:


“Affirm the customer’s feelings/concerns and predetermine an acceptable strategy to resolve specific types of concern (if the patron hasn’t already stated their preference). Perhaps pre-approve 1-3 options to choose from of how they would most appreciate their concerns being handled.  (Perhaps talk to a manager, get a gift card/discount for their next purchase, provide a freebie, apologize, etc.)”

Learn from complaints

As well as handling complaints well in the moment, it is important to understand why they occurred and how you can avoid them in the future. Dr. Mattox offered further advice for businesses when dealing with complaints:


“The complaint may be a signal that you have the wrong staff in place; they aren’t trained, or your products/services are missing the mark. You eliminate or reduce complaints by RAPIDLY addressing and learning from each previous complaint and then proactively putting protocols, systems, processes, and scripts in place to avoid those reasonable complaints in the future. Ensure that your staff are trained and aligned in their areas of strength/knowledge.”

Understand boundaries

For most people, complaints may be well-intentioned. Customers may want to highlight bad service, an unsatisfactory product, or simply want validation after a bad experience. However, sometimes complaints can be linked back to a customer trying to assert themselves and, if you’re a manager, you need to be aware of the line between a genuine issue and staff intimidation. Therapist Kasia Ciszewski, MEd. LPC told us:


“Unfortunately, you may not satisfy everyone. You will find people who will expect you to cater to them.
If after trying to fix the problem or offering them other compensations they still are unhappy, it’s okay to set a boundary at this point. A complaint should never leave someone feeling degraded and belittled.”

Whatever the reasons behind them, customer complaints are an inevitable part of a business. While avoiding complaints in the first place is ideal, how you react to genuine complaints can also say a lot about your business and the service you offer. Taking comments onboard, learning from them, and using them to improve your service or products is key to great customer service and ongoing business success.