Customers who encounter an unfriendly employee are likely to harbor a bad impression that extends well beyond the offender, according to a BIGresearch survey of over 7,000 consumers.

More than half (53.4%) of the people polled felt that a bad experience with an employee not only reflected poorly on him or her as an individual, but reflected poorly on management and the operation as a whole.

The survey reports that more than 85% of consumers feel that customer service is staying the same or getting worse, not better — and 42% feel it's what businesses need to improve upon the most.

“There's a real sense of growing impatience among consumers when it comes to customer service,” says Gary Drenik, BIGresearch president.

Says Mike Thomson, a customer-relations specialist: “The bottom line is it can hurt your bottom line.”

He says businesses that “dismiss unhappy customers as ‘percentages and laws of average’ are going to see they are on the declining end of the average.”