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Complaint management 2.0: Seven lessons from the frontline

13th Aug 2010
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To mark National Complaints Day, a panel of experts shared their thoughts and experiences about the impact of social media on complaint management. 

To mark National Complaints Day, an open session was held earlier this week to explore the impact of social media on complaint management. Chaired by Guy Stephens, senior consultant at Foviance, the roundtable discussion featured a selection of representatives from the public and private sectors who spoke frankly about their experiences of complaint management in the dawning of the social media age.
So what were the key takeaways from this educational discussion? Here are seven of the key themes that emerged from meeting of minds.

1. Complaint management's value is no longer underestimated

"Over the last couple of years, companies have started to recognise that social media is an opportunity, and particularly where they have had a particular crisis or issue that has impacted a number of customers, it is an opportunity to not only go back to those customers but also provide a chance to say ‘OK, we got it wrong, here is what we’re going to do about it.’ And that is where companies can reap rewards in terms of their reputation in the marketplace. Complaint management helps organisations to drive their reputation on the high street and in the marketplace. A few years ago, Warwick Business School conducted some research into high street reputations and looked at those companies that had the best reputations in terms of customer perception, and those that had the worst. The key differentiator was complaint management - the companies that were seen to handle complaints well were the ones with the best reputations. And that is also going to drive a lot of what we’re seeing in social media and how complaints are raised." Michael Hill, founder, ComplaintsRGreat
"All the evidence indicates that handling complaints well has a huge impact on the customer and has longstanding benefit. Organisations that get social media right and really build it into the future shape of the organisation will have a really powerful advantage." Rob Skinner, head of PR, PayPal UK

2. Social media will fundamentally change the nature of complaint management

"We have to respond in real-time now so we have to start looking at how we can become more effective and change our business model to allow that. Smartphones changed everything because until I had a smartphone I wasn’t online as much. Now I’m online always and our customers are online always. You can’t think ’when do we want to work’. You have to think ‘when do customers need to contact us’. Our shifts allow for coverage as long as we can and our Twitter handle in the US has shifts that cover it 24 hours a day." Heather Taylor, social media and community manager, PayPal UK
"We’ve been in this a little while and when we first started, social media was secondary – customers had already tried to ring us or email us and it was a genuine complaint where we had failed in first contact. Now we get people who tweet us as a first point of contact. They will come on and expect us to answer. So it can’t be part-time. It can’t be something we do now and again. It has to have just the same approach as with the call centres." Warren Buckley, managing director, customer service, BT

3. Customers aren't just voicing complaints on the obvious platforms

"Things are changing so rapidly these days. With tools like Google Sidewiki, which came out last year, it means that customers now have the ability to comment on your website in public whether you like it or not. If you can integrate that into your customer service approach and get back to them using the tools they use then they will respect that." Sullivan McIntyre, professional services manager, 6Consulting
"Somebody has gone to BT Centre and BT Tower in Google Maps and where you can comment – which is obviously built more for writing ‘isn’t the Eiffel Tower wonderful, I had a lovely day there’ – I found a whole set of complaints as well as some positive comments. That would never had occurred to me except that somebody was coming to visit me and looked up where we were and found it and told me. Now I have somebody in our community environment working out how we start to answer in Google Maps. I also get complaints on LinkedIn. So you have to go where customers choose to go. It is hard but you can’t stop this journey." Warren Buckley, managing director, customer service, BT

4. There is still confusion over responsibility

"Some businesses say ‘you go and do social media because you’re the intern and because there’s nothing else for you to do now’. That happens a lot. And then they don’t look at the back up and procedures. You might get a complaint, but maybe it is a product issue, so who in the product team is going to be responsible for the query that comes in? Who is the person in compliance? Who is the person in legal? Who is the person in customer service? Where are the channels? You have to have that hierarchy." Heather Taylor, social media and community manager, PayPal UK
"For our clients, social media either sits in customer service, marketing, PR or technology. And where it is put simply depends on what the outcome is. If they are ultimately concerned with reputation issues, it is a PR concept. If it is a cost-related issue in that there are complaints about the product or a specific service and the customer is potentially leaving, it becomes a customer service thing. If they see social media as a new technology concept then it sits under IT. And if it is about brand and getting the name out there then it tends to be under marketing. But few organisations are enlightened enough to have true working across the organisation." Qaalfa Dibeehi, COO, Beyond Philosophy
"Customer service is the biggest interface you have with a customer, particularly in a retail organisation like ours, and therefore it has a role at the front line. And so the line I take around social media complaints and analysis is that it belongs to customer service. That is the role we play in the organisation and we have to work very closely with our marketing colleagues, and PR colleagues and sales colleagues. But everything we do in the social media environment and everything we do in complaints is done by customer service." Warren Buckley, managing director, customer service, BT

5. Customer expectations will rapidly increase

"All the research suggests that a complaining customer who has their expectations exceeded is the most loyal customer you can get. He is far more loyal than a customer without a problem. We’ve just done some work with a bank and their research showed incredibly clearly that their most loyal customer base within the business is the customers who made a complaint and the bank delivered top level satisfaction. Social media at the moment provides opportunities to create fantastically loyal customers - but this could change over time as customer expectations increase in terms of how businesses engage with them on Twitter and so on." Michael Hill, founder ComplaintsRGreat
"Customers don’t necessarily have expectations of how businesses should or shouldn’t handle it. So when you do something that is more or less along the right path they are shocked and pleased. Customers are surprised that somebody is listening, and coming back to them and cares. But at some point that will no longer exist and there will be an expectation that when they put something on Twitter they will get a response of a particular kind. We haven’t reached that point yet. But the businesses working out what those responses should be will be the ones with the advantage." Qaalfa Dibeehi, COO, Beyond Philosophy

6. Some organisations are hesitant to dedicate resources

"One of the biggest quandaries for companies is whether or not to dive in and respond to each and every mention of dissatisfaction on social media, and whether they have the resources to do that - are they set up to be able to respond to every issue? That comes back to a company’s strategies, what it is set up to do, but it does need to have some means to engage with individuals on these channels." Michael Hill, founder, ComplaintsRGreat
"You have to make that investment. I would be very critical of my colleagues in the customer service industry for not making the investment. I have got 10,000 staff and 20 of them are permanently managing our community environment and managing the wider forum environment, dealing with Twitter, trying to deal with Facebook, though it is a harder environment to manage. Yes there is cost, but what am I going to do? Am I going to leave customers at the end not being dealt with? You bear the cost somewhere. Either a customer complaint gets resolved or they leave you, so you can either pay in losing a customer or you can pay in 20 different contacts over three months of trying to resolve it, or why not actually just make an intervention much earlier and deal with it then. It doesn’t cost you any more." Warren Buckley, managing director, customer service, BT

7. Measuring ROI remains an issue

"We are building an ROI case because I want to start to expand this and the key element that we find in this environment is the difference between ROI in terms of direct cost and indirect cost. We have started with the direct cost and the key thing that I look at is the effectiveness of an advisor in a social media environment against a call. I take a call centre worker as a benchmark because that’s where the majority of my staff are. And then everything –whether it is email, live chat or social media – is measured against that to see effectively whether it is cheaper or more expensive. In terms of how we look at that expense, it is a combination of three factors: Volume (what is the volume of work that I am managing in a social media environment) X Productivity (how many customers do I manage within an hour taking into account things like shrinkage and those things that we always have in a customer service environment) X Unit Cost (which applies to the skillset of the advisor at hand – so my social media advisors have a slightly higher skill set so I tend to pay them slightly more). The combination of these things then allows me to see if the channel is more expensive or less expensive than a call. And I call tell you that at the moment social media is slightly more expensive than a call. So we started with something that already is a good existing ROI model for call centres and that is the model that we’re working from that has effectively allowed me to expand up to the 400 people that we have working in that environment. Then we are looking to apply more of the indirect – and that is what we’re working on currently with our marketing team to work out what the true effect is around advocacy and brand loyalty." Warren Buckley, managing director, customer service, BT
"We built a model called the Walky Talky model based on defections. In our model it is quite simple, you start off with expectations, and ask a sample if their expectations are met or not. If their expectations are not met then it moves into how many of them will just sit silently and how many will take some kind of action. And then the action of course is either walking or talking. Walking is defection. And the talking is either sending you a one-to-one traditional complaint or something one-to–the-world, for instance through social media. The back end is what is the effect of complaints handling and complaint outcomes on defections and loyalty. If we know our ARPU, we kind of know what a customer means to us, and if we prevent the customer from leaving then we know more or less what this is worth. So on a very basic level this allows companies to say that if they invest in social media they have a pretty decent idea that it will effect X amount of customers who represent that much. This simple model has allowed some of our clients to talk to the rest of the organisation in a way that makes face value simple enough to grasp and then to work with." Qaalfa Dibeehi, COO, Beyond Philosophy

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