Can 'marriage counselling' resolve your customer complaint woes?by
Complaining may be widely regarded as a national pastime in the UK, but the British public have traditionally been more reserved about making formal complaints to companies. However, this is changing. Data from Ombudsman Services revealed that over 66m complaints had been lodged about products and services last year – equating to a complaint every 1.2 seconds.
Interestingly, evidence suggests that this isn’t the advent of a ‘compensation culture’ in the UK and that consumers merely want to be helped. In a study by the Institute of Customer Service last year, more than 2,000 UK consumers were asked about their response when products fail or service levels drop below expected standards, with just 17% stating their default position was to seek compensation.
Instead, 35% said they voiced their grievances in an effort to let the company know what they had done wrong, while 20% just wanted to receive an apology and 20% wanted to help improve the way the organisations work.
However, problems arise when businesses fail to satisfactorily deal with complaints, forcing frustrated customers onto forums or social media where they can vent their spleens and damage the brand, or approach an ombudsman which can lead to a significant fine for the business.
“People complain because they’re fed up with poor service - they get fed up with the way they’ve been treated, and it drives them to a competitor,” says James Walker, founder of Resolver, an award-winning platform to help resolve customer issues. “As consumers, our expectations have increased and the ability to change supplier has become easier. Therefore, this means that businesses need to focus more on looking after their customers, rather than just trying to acquire new ones.”
And Walker has witnessed the financial implications of this through his work.
Data from Ombudsman Services revealed that over 66 million complaints had been lodged about products and services last year – equating to a complaint every 1.2 seconds.
“We have got a view of how every company compares in their sector and against the best-in-class, and how well that they deal with the customers’ issues. You can see that those that with good service are doing well in terms of profits, while those that aren’t so good at service are issuing profit warnings,” he explains.
“Also, what we’ve been observing is that the companies that have poor service generally seem to be spending the most on marketing. You’ll see their adverts on TV or on poster boards because they’re trying to replace the custom that they’re losing.”
The complaints process
But the complaints process can become a frustrating process for both company and customer. Customers can struggle to find the appropriate method to make a formal complaint, while companies may not have satisfactory processes in place to handle complaints when they reach them. All in all, this can lead to a damaging disconnect between the two.
If the company/customer transaction is a 'relationship', it appears there is a need for a marriage counsellor. And it just so happens that one has emerged.
Automated complaints tool Resolver was founded by Walker three years ago, with a view to helping both customers and companies with the complaint procedure.
He explains: “We’re not there to get compensation – we’re there to drive resolution. Often a complaint is seen as confrontation. But the problem is, if you carry on doing things the way you have before, you’re never going to change the outcome that you’re getting. We’re shifting the outcomes by making consumers and businesses more aware of how that they should deal with issues, how that they should expect to solve issues.”
From the customers’ point of view, the free tool takes the frustration out of making a complaint by helping them draft a formal letter, send it, monitor the replies and – if it is still not resolved – to escalate it to a complaint body or ombudsman. Over 5,500 firms and public bodies are listed on Resolver, including shops, banks, energy and telecoms firms, and even if the company in question isn’t listed, consumers can ask Resolver to add them.
“We’ve gone around the entire consumer industry to make sure that we engage with all the key ombudsmen and the key consumer organisations in the market, to deliver consumer trust,” notes Walker. And it is this independent trusted position which also helps to diffuse some potentially explosive situations at the source.
We’re not there to get compensation – we’re there to drive resolution.
“Being independent, we take the angle out of the situation. We explain what their rights are and actually what we find is that consumers don’t realise that they don’t necessarily have a case. We actually drop out as many consumers from complaining as we do raise complaints.”
He continues: “Problems arise when consumers have a complaint or are frustrated and they’re struggling to work out how to engage with that business. And the higher the frustration, the harder it is for the business to resolve their issue.
“Because we help the consumer focus on getting feedback from companies, it’s actually easier for brands to deal with a complaint that comes via Resolver than it is to deal with a case where the consumer has gone directly to them, because the consumer has more focus on resolution rather than expecting a confrontation.”
To further aid the business with the complaint process, the tool also provides supporting information in the form of profile details about the customer and their emotions – far more info than would be included in a standard emailed complaint.
To support this, Resolver has begun working with IBM and its artificial intelligence system Watson, using its impressive number crunching capabilities to examine how consumers react to different resolutions and therefore work out the best ways to resolve different issues based on profiles of consumers.
And a further valuable service offered by Resolver comes in the form of a benchmarking system that enables organisations to compare themselves to the competition.
“Resolver turns every consumer into a mystery shopper,” explains Walker. “There’s no personal data used, but the customer feeds back on how they feel when they start the case, and during every invitation that they get through the system, and then they provide feedback at the end of their customer journey about their loyalty to the business. We’ve got 50,000 companies across 150 market sectors in the system. We’re gathering the data of how well businesses are doing and we’re able to benchmark their success rates - how long it takes them to respond, and how well that they’re engaging, and how happy their consumers are across every market sector. We then report that back.”
All of the above enables Resolver to offer technical assistance to organisations to improve their complaints process, identifying where there are issues that need focus on to improve their customer service experience, and providing advice on the best ways they can improve.
Resolver turns every consumer into a mystery shopper.
This support has proven so appealing to brands, that while the tool initially listed businesses on request by consumers, organisations are now approaching Resolver themselves.
“We’ve had TrustMark come to us and put in their 20,000 builders. Buy With Confidence have put in 10,000 members into Resolver. We’ve got large organisations coming and asking to be added. That’s in addition to the 500 requests we get a month from customers to add businesses into the system."
And the sky is the limit for Resolver now – having recently scooped the top prize in the respected start-up competition The Pitch, it now has plans to bolster its roster of industries by adding all legal firms, garages and care homes, as well as expanding beyond British shores, with German and US operations under consideration.
“We’re a UK operation, but what is interesting is that we get users from all across the world,” says Walker. “We seem to be getting quite a large base of users in the US that deal with flight complaints through us now. There seems to be word spreading that it’s easier to talk to us than airlines in America. And we’ve had a couple of people approach us about wanting to license Resolver into smaller countries in Europe.”
Walker concludes: “From the small business up to the large, Resolver becomes more and more about one place to go to raise and resolve issues. I would encourage any business that wants to come to us, please do. There’s no cost to adding yourself, and our sole focus is on making the customer experience of resolving issues better. It’s all we do every day. We can actually help business to be able to deliver a better customer service, at same time taking the pain and effort out of it.”
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.