Customers may be about to become less forgiving. If complaint numbers rise, how are you going to provide a service which meets rising expectations?

The prediction that customers are about to become less forgiving was made in July by Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service (ICS), which polls 10,000 UK consumers on their experiences every six months.

Even though customers believe companies have made more mistakes during the pandemic restrictions, they have been assigning them higher satisfaction scores in ICS surveys. For instance, in the utility sector, customer satisfaction is the highest since January 2019 even though the percentage of customers experiencing a problem is at its worst since 2010.

Apparently, companies have been getting the benefit of the doubt as they struggle with sick or self-isolating staff. However, Ms Causon says that tolerance is likely to change: “Customer patience has worn thin, and as we move out of lockdown, discerning customers will become increasingly less lenient.”

Adding to the potential pressure is another result of the pandemic: a reframed discussion on employee wellbeing and remote working.

Supporting colleagues to provide positive responses

Homeworkers are likely to be a permanent feature of customer contact centres – and therefore complaint handling - for many companies. But staff working from home often have access to less immediate support than in an office or call centre – a factor which can take its toll on the operator absorbing the concern (and sometimes high emotion) of customers making complaints. This can lead to high levels of dissatisfaction amongst colleagues - unsupported complaints handlers are more likely to leave, an unwelcome development for any employer in terms of reputation, recruitment and training costs, but particularly given the present tight labour market.

The other additional cost to be considered is that of falling levels of customer satisfaction and, inevitably, customer attrition: a complaints handler struggling with their role is likely to be providing a poorer service than ideal, with the result that customers become dissatisfied with their experience and resolve not to use your services again.

The latest ICS data illustrates this risk, showing the difference a high-quality complaint-handling system can make. In banks, for instance, customers who complained but received a positive reaction still recorded a 72.4% customer satisfaction rating. However, this figure plummeted to 32.1% if they complained and experienced a negative response.

Harnessing technology to improve complaints handling

Technology is a critical tool that can improve efficiency, whilst delivering better and more consistent customer outcomes. In addition, it can ensure the wellbeing of complaint handlers. For example, at Capita, we use assisted customer conversations, a revolutionary AI-assisted tool that combines technology and human expertise in a sophisticated yet intuitive system.

Assisted customer conversations adds value to the complaints handling process, using analytical tools to provide insights and guidance to complaint handlers in real-time, allowing them to really listen to the caller and reach resolutions quickly and effectively. One insurance company reported a 3.4% increase in in-call productivity and reduced call time by an average of 20 seconds using speech analysis alone.

As the technology analyses both sides of the conversation in real-time, a dashboard can inform supervisors of distressing or challenging content, allowing them to reach out to colleagues, intervene or offer support when needed, regardless of where they are located. Suddenly that agent working at home is no longer quite so alone when it comes to managing their most difficult calls.

Taking a holistic approach to improve complaints handling

The ICS data shows that handling a complaint correctly makes it possible for even a dissatisfied customer to remain a brand loyalist. Having managed more than 3 million customer complaints, we’ve experienced this first-hand and can testify over and over to the success of a holistic approach to complaints, of blending highly-trained, empathetic advisors with the latest AI technology to ensure colleagues are properly supported when the going gets tough.

There’s a clear correlation between customer satisfaction, retention, and brand advocacy. And today, more than ever, prioritising employee wellbeing - making sure your staff are supported to be at their most efficient and effective so that they can engage the customer in as positive a conversation as possible - is an essential step to long-term organisational success.

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Written by

Caroline Thomas

Caroline Thomas

Caroline Thomas CMgr MCMI has over 25 years contact centre experience working across all sectors. Part of the Innovation Team specialising in customer centric design solutions, she works closely with Clients to identify and solve business problems using innovation and or best practice. Caroline is the product owner for Assisted Customer Conversations – responsible for over seeing successful deployments across our Clients.

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