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The good news about complaining customers is that they’re getting happier

That’s according to the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI 2019) and it’s because organisations have become much better at handling complaints

But organisations still need to prepare for a world where regulation will demand even greater efforts to ‘treat customers fairly.’

One of the more gratifying statistics to have come out of the latest UKCSI study was a continuing improvement in complaint handling. While complaints are still a decisive factor in dragging down overall customer satisfaction levels, organisations have shown a marked improvement in how seriously they take this element of customer service. At 5.9 out of 10, satisfaction with complaint handling now stands at its highest ever level since the survey began.

So yes, this is partly driven by external regulatory pressure, but also by internal awareness of how important it is to set the benchmark for how you deal with consumers when there’s concern around product quality or the integrity of the sales process.

In recent years we’ve noticed three significant changes in attitudes towards complaints:

  1. Businesses are much more on the front foot around handling compensation than they used to be.

  2. As an industry, we’ve got better at it. For example, at Capita we now have a specialist complaints management operation that grew out of our partnerships in the financial services sector, dealing with PPI redress, mis-selling redress, etc. It was a valuable learning opportunity in what’s becoming a specialised and critical field.

  3. Organisations are more willing to hold themselves to account, and they realise that handling a complaint well can actually drive advocacy rather than just reduce dissatisfaction. A growing number of our clients actually have targets around how many complaints they deal with per day, per week, per month, and how quickly they get resolved – much more so than they used to.

Structurally, developments like GDPR have also made brands more aware of how they deal with consumers in the event of a systemic crisis failure. It’s now, rightly, higher up on the CEO agenda, rather than being an issue for corporate affairs or the press office. The risks involved in getting it wrong and failing to redress customers correctly are just too serious.

There’s a growing mood to regulate

As for the issue of regulatory pressure… I think we would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t expect it to bleed out of financial services into other sectors that so far have remained relatively untouched. Mobile phone contracts are now regulated by the FCA, not Ofcom, because there’s a consumer credit agreement at their heart. More imaginative regimes are coming into the water sector, linking customer experience to the ability of those businesses to increases prices and invest. There is definitely a stronger regulatory mood.

We should assume that the phrase ‘treating customers fairly’, which is familiar in the financial services sector, will increasingly become the standard in many others. The mis-selling agenda is destined to become bigger within traditional fast-moving consumer goods, for example.

Complaints management should embrace everything from how you handle the complaint itself to root cause analysis to improve the underlying process and stop it happening again.

It’s a real skill set, one that has been honed in financial services where scrutiny is intense, but getting it right, is vital so it can be carried through to other sectors when that scrutiny falls on them, without then turning their customer experience into a dry, characterless, box-ticking compliance exercise. That is a real danger and could ironically have a detrimental effect on the levels of customer satisfaction the UKCSI regularly sounds rather than improving them.

Fortunately there’s some interesting and innovative technology we can use to deal with that. For example, we’re looking at ways where that traditionally horrible disclaimer can be part of a digital conversation, displayed on customers’ phones in a simpler and more engaging way. It also comes with the benefit of a digital stamp to show the customer has properly understood it, rather than offering a nonchalant ‘yeah’ to an advisor.

The important thing is to help clients strike the balance that makes their customer experience compliant, but still rich, on both sides of the conversation. And that will be a sure way of helping complaint handling to continue on its welcome upwards course.

First published by Capita Customer Management

Photo of Mike Barnard

Mike Barnard

Executive Officer, Capita Customer Management

Mike Barnard is executive officer for our Customer Management division which provides market leading contact centre, data, analytics and digital services to prestigious UK brands such as O2, Samsung, BBC, John Lewis, M&S, BMW, British Gas and Dixons Carphone. He is also responsible for support operations in the UK, Poland, India and South Africa, across the Utilities, Retail, Financial Services and Telecoms/Media sectors. Prior to joining Capita in March 2012, Mike was director of business and people transformation at Cable&Wireless Worldwide. Before this, Mike worked at The Boston Consulting Group as a management consult.

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