Is Britain a nation of complainers?

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We've all been left disgruntled by a company – whether it's an order arriving late, being overcharged, or simply being unimpressed with a staff member's conduct – and subsequently vented our frustrations over the phone. But it seems such interactions are on the rise.

Consumers have more contact than ever with companies now. Once just faceless corporations offering a one-way onslaught of promotional messages, brands now pride themselves on being personable and forming an alliance with customers to ensure brand loyalty. However, it's not all plain sailing and there are bound to be some grievances along the way, no matter how much you try to be your customer's friend. Complaints, like corporation tax or Karen in Accounts, are a perennial component of life in a company. And, with consumer-facing business under ever more pressure to be on-hand 24/7, there’s even more opportunity for customers to complain.

At alldayPA, we handle calls for over 24,000 businesses in the UK, ranging from law firms and accountancy companies to veterinary practices and online retailers. We recently analysed our call data and found that over the last five years, calls of complaint made to our clients have trebled, now accounting for almost a fifth of all enquiries we receive.

But what’s behind such a dramatic increase?

We believe it’s down to influence from across the pond. It appears we’re beginning to lose our traditional British reserve and adopt a somewhat American culture of blame and complaint. Grievance calls accounted for just one in 20 calls a few years ago and now it’s one in five – a figure that more closely resembles statistics from the USA.

Advances in technology and changes to consumer habits could also be a contributing factor. The quick pace of life we’re now accustomed to has led to customers demanding immediate responses and excellent customer service – if you can’t offer this, complaints will come your way.

A digital impact

Probably quite surprisingly, we also consider social media to be an influencing factor. Ostensibly, it would seem that social media would supplant some of the complaints previously carried out over the phone, but in fact we think it is driving additional traffic to phone lines.

Social media has, of course, become the go-to platform for people to vent their frustration or give negative feedback directly to businesses. As such, you’d expect the more traditional phone call of complaint to have declined. However, with social media facilitating quick and easy ways to complain to companies, and these companies aiming to immediately divert the issue away from the public domain by giving out phone numbers, calls of complaint have boomed. Not receiving a quick response on social media can also exacerbate the customer’s dissatisfaction, leading to a not-so-nice conversation on the blower!

Our analysis also found that general inbound information enquiries are on the rise. Over the same period, 2011 to 2016, this sort of call also rose by 300%, which we believe can be attributed to the growth of e-commerce and customers seeking to validate the authenticity of a website via confirmation phone calls. As consumers, we’ve certainly become more ‘digital’ and are buying products online now more than ever. However, with the removal of a face or voice from a brand comes scepticism, meaning people are now ringing up a company for reassurance that the information they’ve seen on their website is correct, or to simply check they’re genuine.

What can companies do about it?

As a result of changing communication methods and the ever-growing prominence of online platforms, call centres must now adapt their approach accordingly. Our research suggests that British companies should invest in improved provision of customer service in order to reduce unwanted and time-consuming calls of complaint – and be able to handle the ones they do get quickly and effectively.

Of course, many of the extra calls will be down to the shift in more exacting consumer expectations; however, the part businesses play mustn’t be ignored and, in order to tackle the problem, they may need to revise their approach to customer relations to handle complaints with care and efficiency.

Here are our top tips for handling a customer complaint on the phone:

  1. Listen carefully to their grievance so that you fully understand the situation.
  2. Repeat their problem back to them to demonstrate that you acknowledge their frustration and can therefore respond accordingly.
  3. Stay calm and measured – remember: it’s not a personal attack on you.
  4. Empathise wholeheartedly with the customer, imagining how you would feel in the same situation.
  5. Apologise, assure the customer that you’re going to help them and tell them how you’re going to do that. If the customer wants something that simply isn’t possible, explain why that isn’t an option and offer them the alternative resolutions.
  6. Try where possible to resolve the issue at first response level – whether that’s processing a replacement order or sending out a gift card, for example. Leaving a customer to go away before solving the issue will only exacerbate their anger.
  7. After the complaint has been dealt with, rather than treat it as an isolated event, assure the customer that their feedback will be used to improve future service.
  8. Leave the customer with your name and offer as many contact methods as possible, making it easy for them to get back in touch if they need to.

By employing these techniques, you can really turn somebody round and should be able to minimise the number of customers who defect to a competitor. And if we all adopt a similar approach, who knows – we could take ourselves back from the brink of becoming a nation of complainers!

For more information about alldayPA, visit www.alldaypa.com.

About alldayPA

Reuben Singh

Reuben Singh is CEO of telephone answering service alldayPA.

A specialist in the outsourced telecommunications industry, alldayPA has helped over 24,000 clients with 160 million calls to date. Its client base ranges from lawyers and accountants to vets and e-commerce companies.

Businesses that use alldayPA acquire additional time in their day to focus on their business, instead of needing to answer the phone. Its unique blend of services, which are fully designed to suit each client’s individual needs, ensure that they never miss a fee-earning opportunity, customer service call or enquiry from the public, as alldayPA’s PAs can answer calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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