Why fixing a customer’s complaint really is the least you can do

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Tracey Roberts 26th July 2019 5 minute read

Why fixing a customer’s complaint really is the least you can do

Recently the Institute of Customer Services' CEO Jo Causon described how the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index showed the number of customers having problems with organisations had risen to a record high.

Tracey Roberts is Business Development Director at Capita Remediation Services and a specialist in complaint handling. Where does she think businesses are missing an opportunity around this trickiest of customer interactions?

As Jo Causon rightly said, firms have become much better at the process of handling complaints and are now generally good at it. However, they can still forget that at the other end of that process there’s a customer being impacted by it, and the situation is more complicated than it may appear.

Complaint handling cannot just be about satisfying a process. The satisfaction has to come from making that customer feel valued, and most importantly you need to reconnect that complainant with the company they were complaining about. It’s not just about fixing the problem but fixing the relationship too, so you have the best opportunity of building an ongoing relationship that remains productive for both parties.

The point Jo raised about companies not learning from the feedback they receive around complaints is something we see time and again. There is often little or no root cause analysis of the complaint, therefore there is no insight that can be used to fundamentally fix what caused the issue in the first place.

From the point of view of root cause analysis, the difficulty lies in having systems able to record the true nature of the complaint, not just some notes the agent might make in a free text system. We have those systems at Capita – three levels of them in fact - and they enable us to dig right down to the root cause of the problem.

A trio of different skills must all come together

Also it’s quite demanding of agents when they are called on to essentially do three things at once - alleviate the concerns of a complainant while trying to understand what the problem is and then taking ownership of it. That’s three separate and quite different skills, but ultimately it’s all that customers want. They want to know that you are listening and have understood their concerns; they want some acknowledgement that you’re here to help and put it right; and they want you to own that, not to say you’re going to send an email to a different part of the business who might respond in a week or two…

For us, particularly when we are putting in a dedicated complaint handling team, we don’t just explore agents’ skills of understanding, or their ability to assess and complete a complaint properly, though obviously that’s important. We are also rigorously testing their engagement skills. No matter how comprehensive your understanding of the process may be, without good soft skills, you can’t deal effectively with complaints that could be complex, that might be linked to financial services, banks or mortgages, and where it’s possible there might have been some financial detriment to the customer, or where that customer could be under some form of financial pressure.

It’s one of the reasons we’ve developed our Training Academy to help agents develop those vital soft skills. Before we put our people into a live situation there are 10 modules that take them through all the different approaches, complexities, regulatory issues and elements of dealing with a complaint.

Fighting for the client to get a second chance

For example, there are customers who will be making a complaint with a particular mindset already in place. They’ve decided that as soon as this call is over and the problem is dealt with, they are leaving that client and going somewhere else, to a competitor most likely. They’re completely dissatisfied and this is the last thing they need to do on their list before they just quit.

In that situation, fixing the problem is just the hygiene factor. To really make a difference as an agent you need to be able to turn that challenging situation around and rebuild that relationship so the customer wants to stay.

Giving an agent a script won’t work in those circumstances because it won’t come across with enough sincerity. You have to train your people well, then create the environment and generate the confidence that enables them to have a true person-to-person conversation that will rewrite that customer’s view. That can be tough. Customers will often be angry, perhaps even shouting, and being able to reconnect with them, even as they are talking over you, requires incredible skill.

Then when you’ve fixed the problem you have to follow up and check that they’ve got everything they need. It’s an easy part of the conversation to miss – especially when that conversation has been a gruelling one – but if you don’t seek that confirmation, you’ll never know if there’s anything else bubbling away beneath the surface that the customer doesn’t want to share because they’ve already had enough. That problem could lie in wait for the client further down the line, and eventually undo all the agent’s good work.

An opportunity to recruit the best advocates possible

But it can be done, and I firmly believe that when you can turn a complainant around, not only do you create an advocate for your business, but often they are the best and strongest advocates you can possibly have. They’ll be telling their friends and family: “I’d really had enough but you know what, I spoke to someone who was just brilliant, they absolutely sorted it out for me, and I’m happy to give them another chance. You should try them too.”

The potential of that sort of recommendation absolutely shows why complaints can’t be thought of as just a process to master, because the advantages of getting it right can be huge. That’s definitely an opportunity we see organisations missing, and with the right systems and great agents in place, it’s not actually that hard.

Find out more about the UK Customer Satisfaction Index.

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