A complaint is a chance to turn an unhappy customer into a brand ambassador as well as an opportunity to improve your services…but only if handled correctly.

In my previous article, I talked about us moving into a world where customers may become less forgiving of company failings and why now is a key time to review complaints procedures to ensure they’re robust – and empathetic – enough to reassure customers that you care.

The need to ensure you’re handling complaints in the most effective way is evidenced by the data from the recent UK Customer Satisfaction Index. This data shows that customers in the telecommunications sector who complained, but received a positive reaction - which includes a complaints handler apologising, being sympathetic or taking responsibility - still recorded a 69.8% customer satisfaction rating. However, this figure plummeted to 39% if they complained and received a negative response, such as if the complaints handler seemed uninterested or made excuses for the organisation failing to do x or y.

It’s clear that, for any organisation, a complaint is a chance to stand out. That’s why good complaint handling should be led from the top down and made a business priority.

Don’t hide

Contrary to popular belief, when customers find it easier to complain, they are more likely to remain customers – making the complaints process a vital and positive experience for both the business and the customer.

This is why it’s a short-sighted tactic to try to prevent complaints by making it difficult to find the telephone numbers and other channels that customers can use when they’re dissatisfied. We’ve all been there – irritably googling the best way to speak to an adviser after not being able to find the details easily on the company website. We’ve also all experienced the resulting frustration, which is why using this tactic – although still prevalent - is always a mistake.

For the customer, the complaints process should be readily accessible and easy to follow. This means no more hidden phone numbers. Publishing clear, accurate and complete information about complaining and customer rights on your website is the first step to happier customers. 

Get to the root cause of complaints

It’s easy to think of complaints handling as reactive. It’s right there in the name: the customers complain, your company handles them.

But this thinking ignores the real value that can come from a proactive approach. An understanding of the underlying causes of complaints can not only help to reduce volumes but should also create an increase in customer satisfaction. This in turn should lead to increased revenues. Complaint prevention is one of the most effective tools companies can use to not just survive but thrive.

Root-cause analysis and trend-spotting tools allow companies to get on the front foot with customer service by providing insight for senior managers so that they can identify and fix the systematic failings that may be responsible for many complaints. For example, at Capita, we analyse complaints data and set up the technology to create feedback loops to support improvements, with the result being reduced complaint volumes and an increased number of satisfied customers.

Listening and communication are key (with a little help from technology)

A crucial element to the customer journey is that they receive a fair, proportionate response and resolution to their complaint, incorporating honest, evidence-based reasons for decisions regarding the outcome, as well as excellent communication about the complaint status. Across all sectors, the UKCSI data showed that just 25.9% of customers who complained thought the company listened carefully to their complaint, and only 14.7% of the companies said how long it would take to resolve.

The best complaint handlers should be good listeners who can empathise, preventing an issue from escalating into a public relations disaster or into a complaint to a regulator. They should be absolutely focused on the customer - being mindful of a customer’s preferences, situation and experience can turn complaint handling into a much more positive experience—for both customer and customer service agent. This leads to faster resolution and helps gain the customer’s trust. 

But before the customer even speaks to one of your people, it’s worth considering whether you receive a number of base-level queries which could be managed by one of the sophisticated chatbots now available, powered by intelligent conversation technology. Offering a huge efficiency boost by instantly answering certain types of queries, these chatbots can ensure complaints handlers’ time is focused on dealing with more complex customer problems whilst potentially offering quicker query resolution.

If the complaint does require handling by a human agent, there are still a number of ways you can support them. First and foremost, they need access to the right resources to be empowered to offer and execute a solution – this will likely mean that you need to review your communications channels and system capabilities, including considering multilingual technology and speech analytics which can help organisations to spot a complaint emerging early on in a customer conversation. This latter allows for a rapid shift to a more trouble-shooting conversational mode and can deflect the potential complaint.

Speech analytics also recognises vulnerable customers – there’s now a formal definition of a ‘vulnerable customer’ and it’s becoming increasingly important to understand and provide action for their individual circumstances in order to successfully support them during their difficulties. Even if your industry does not have such a definition, there are strong ethical reasons to identify these customers at an early stage of handling a complaint, giving them the extra support they need. 

Some of these concepts might sound futuristic but they should be high on anyone’s shopping list when looking to improve the customer complaints journey, to prevent complaints from spiralling and reduce the overall number of complaints across the organisation.

Discover how we transform all areas of the complaints process

Written by

Ian Elam

Ian Elam

Business Development Director, Capita Customer Management

Ian has spent the last 25 years working with regulated businesses, helping them improve customer outcomes, reducing costs whilst remaining compliant. He is part of team responsible for Capita’s collections, complaints and rectification proposition development. Prior to joining Capita he has held senior leadership and board roles in consultancy and outsourcing businesses.

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