By Louise Druce, staff writer
The Brits have a reputation for not liking to complain, but it seems that shoddy customer service has finally set our stiff upper lips all of a quiver. Perhaps fuelled by hours spent listening to soft rock on loop in call centre queues or waiting for an acknowledgement that the e-mail bemoaning a poor experience hasn’t simply vanished into the ether, a new complaint culture is emerging.
This growing intolerance is mirrored in a recent survey by YouGov, which revealed that three-quarters of adults who complained about a company ended up going back to seethe about their treatment up to five times over the year, adding fuel to the fire.
Martin Jukes, a director at Mpathy Customer Experience, theorises that the public's growing antagonism towards complaints procedures could be due to the fact that the way businesses deal with customer satisfaction has barely changed in over a decade. Whilst technology has moved on and enabled them to better capture and log complaints, most companies are still stuck with the old mentality of trying to deflect rather than actively embrace negative feedback as a tool to improve the way they operate.
“A lot of organisations flirt with customer satisfaction and complaints management but it’s more a toe in the water. They don’t make it an integral part of the business,” says Jukes, whose company was set up to help others manage all elements of customer interaction. “We worked recently with a couple of housing associations. They logged complaints and managed them from a numbers perspective but they didn’t feed any of it back into redesigning their services.”
He has also experienced the frustrations of poor complaints management first-hand recently when trying to log his own gripes with the technical services department of a large broadband company. “No one took ownership of my complaint or rang me to get a better understanding of it because everyone is working to such a rigorous process,” he explains. “People only respond to customer satisfaction when it’s very good or very bad. There seems to be lots of tactical fixing rather than putting in processes to reduce the complaints in the first place.”
A pre-emptive strike
With marketing eyes currently focused on the concept of the customer ‘experience’, there are now successful attempts emerging to redress the imbalance, even so far as pre-emptively predicting where things are likely to go wrong. One such company embracing this tactic is Airmiles, which has installed a system from Confirmit that integrates with its own CRM platform to automatically alert their team when a customer response requires action.
Airmiles customers are sent a targeted survey prompting feedback about their experience within 24 hours of speaking to the company. If a customer is dissatisfied, the information gleaned from key questions built into the questionnaire and any data relating to them already in the CRM system is sent to the contact centre for action.
“Our complaints management process was a bit disjointed,” admits Sarah Wood, director of marketing and insights at Airmiles. “We had our own marketing insight dissatisfaction tracking but it wasn’t taken from an individual survey and would take place some time after the booking. We also had complaints coming into the call centre directly from the customer.
“We wanted to understand satisfaction at different stages in the customer journey, from the individual, and what the drivers were. Confirmit allowed us to join that process up and trigger any follow-ups before something becomes a complaint.”
The results have been dramatic, with call centre teams having better and more comprehensive information at their fingertips to tackle problems before they escalate. In the longer-term, intranet dashboards allow the company to turn the real-time tracking data captured into strategic forward planning and the system has also created windows of opportunity to boost additional sales through ‘warm leads’ generated from customer contact.
Feedback in an instant
However, Rob Keve, CEO of Fizzback argues: “Box ticking is notoriously poor in terms of accuracy because however many questions you ask you’ll find all the answers will be weighted towards the customer’s overall experience.”
His company has come up with a faster way for customers to get their message across with an instant, electronic feedback service. The advantage is that not only can customers register a complaint at the exact moment they are using a product or service, the business itself gets a more honest insight into how the customer is really feeling at the time, rather than waiting for comments after they have festered over a period of time.
Bourne Leisure, which counts Haven, British Holidays and Butlins among its portfolio, has installed the Fizzback system at its resorts in Minehead, Bognor and Skegness. If guests encounter any problems, be it a missing pillow or something more serious, they can send a text message that goes straight to an onsite manager for action.
After an initial response acknowledging the complaint, another text is generated after two hours to check it has been dealt with to the guest’s satisfaction. If not, it is routed to an off-site manager to flag up.
“It’s made significant changes to how our guests communicate with us,” says Gill Benwell, director of Bourne Leisure. “Before, they had to trudge to reception or to an office. By the time they found someone to talk to, what could have been a small problem might have become a much larger one because we made it difficult for them.
“We do have people with clipboards knocking on doors but it can get confrontational and you can’t be everywhere at once or in the right place at the right time as far as our guests are concerned. So it’s either very labour intensive or inefficient from their point of view.”
Since installing the system, the volume of communication has gone up, but Benwell says the company is welcoming all the feedback, rather than encouraging a situation where it sits on problems it is not even aware of. “There is nowhere to hide, which is good. It’s the only way we’re going to know where we’re falling down,” she concedes. “But if we manage those issues correctly we get a thank you back, so everybody wins at the end of the day.”
The weather is one thing…
It’s not so much the fact that they have to complain that really angers customers, it’s when they feel they are being ignored altogether – the YouGov survey, commissioned by RightNow Technologies, points to telecommunications, ISP providers, banks, insurers and utilities companies as being particular culprits.
As Keve points out, regardless of industry, if customers have an issue and the company is able to resolve it quickly and efficiently they are likely to be far more loyal and trust the brand, greatly improving retention rates.
Cognitive behavioural psychotherapist Gladena McMahon reinforces this message. “Although the British have a reputation for complaining about the inclement weather, in reality, the majority of us don’t enjoy making a complaint and it usually takes something relatively significant to drive us to that point,” she says.
“However, once we reach that point we do expect empathy and action. It’s like most things in life, when we have a problem we seek a ‘listening ear’ – companies need to be mindful of this and act accordingly.”
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