Eight tips for more effective complaint handling

Neil Davey
Managing editor
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Poor complaint handling is costing firms millions in fines and lost business. Yet there are some simple steps that can be applied to improve complaint management, says Carl Adkins.

In October, the energy regulator Ofgem fined Npower £2m for failing to handle complaints properly. It said that the company hadn’t recorded complaints properly or given dissatisfied complainers details of the Energy Ombudsman's redress service. Ofgem fined British Gas £2.5m in July for the same offence.
As we all know, badly managed complaints can seriously damage customer relationships. But worse still, if poor service experiences are related to others, they can quickly lead to a PR disaster.
So what can organisations do to handle complaints more effectively?
  1. Create structured complaint-handling processes: Obvious, but it’s surprising how many organisations don’t have them! Your processes should provide clear guidelines to staff on everything from what information is collected to how complaints are recorded, what actions are taken, ‘why, when and how’ complaints are escalated, and who is responsible for what. This is not only important to ensure complaints are efficiently handled but also to ensure full compliance in regulated environments and raise quality standards.
  2. Establish complaint priority levels:Recognise that every complaint is different, so a ‘one-size fits all’ approach isn’t an appropriate complaints-handling strategy. Also ensure your responses are appropriate to the circumstances - and prioritise complaints. For example, into complaints that are time-critical, those that relate to customers on different service level agreements, and those that can be efficiently handled using self-service. In addition, recognise that while agents can resolve most complaints by addressing problems in a structured manner, there are others that no amount of work or positive reinforcement will resolve – and occasionally even those that are best ignored!
  3. Pre-empt complaints by keeping customers informed: In certain situations, such as a network outage or a product recall, it’s better to take the bull by the horns and broadcast a proactive service message. This can be done by phone, email or text – and backed that up with a web posting - even before customers are aware the issue exists. The same logic applies to keeping customers informed during complaint handling processes. Keeping customers informed can help stop minor issues turning into major problems.
  4. Make it easy to complain: Many organisations hide behind their web sites, making it very difficult to find service contact details. Customer-focused organisations usually do the opposite, making it easy for customers to raise service issues or complain via whatever channel is most convenient to them – phone, email, online, in writing, text – and receive a prompt response.
  5. Learn from every complaint:Don’t just resolve a complaint and then forget it ever happened. Learn from your mistakes, and if necessary, fix processes, re-train staff, and eliminate faults.  Reviewing recorded customer contacts using modern quality assurance products such as Infinity QA can be a highly effective way of achieving this. Calls of abnormal duration, or calls to particular customer types can be automatically reviewed and flagged for corrective action to ensure compliance and improve future customer experiences. 
  6. Monitor social media channels to ensure you quickly pick up on problems: Identify social media platforms where customers gather and monitor conversations for references to your company, both positive and negative. Where appropriate, encourage customers to interact via Facebook, Twitter etc. The power of social media is huge. A complaint sent to your organisation via a traditional channel is bad enough; but a complaint seen and read by thousands of individuals on a social media site can be a hundred times more damaging to your corporate reputation.
  7. Show empathy: Using empathy to understand the other person's situation and standpoint is an important element in successfully resolving any customer query. In the case of a complaint, empathy, trust and understanding are even more important. Good listening skills, combined with an ability to act proactively to make the customer feel better about a situation are hugely important to successful complaint handling.
  8. Empower your agents: Empathy isn’t the only skill agents require to be good at complaint handling. They also need good communications and call handling skills, product knowledge and a good understanding of relevant complaint handling processes. Empowering agents with the tools to do the job are vital if you want them to respond to complaints with confidence.
Proportion of calls received that are complaints: by vertical market 2011

Carl Adkins is managing director of Infinity Contact Centre Solutions.


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