Jo Causon, ICS: What the 'complaints culture' means for customer service

5th Apr 2013 caught up with ICS chief executive Jo Causon to discuss the growing ‘complaints culture’ in the UK and why the future of service is internal.

Customer service is evolving, driven by consumers’ ever-changing demands. Recent research from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) revealed that despite facing less problems buying goods than five years ago, consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the level of service received - the number of consumers making a complaint during this time has risen to reach 76% in 2012.

Complaints culture

According to chief executive Jo Causon, social is one factor fanning the flames of this new ‘complaints culture.’ She explains: “When we complain we tell more people because of the use of social media and we're far more aware of what our rights are now and more so likely to complain immediately.

“And that's very important in terms of the complaints resolution because we know from our research that if you have an issue or particular complaint, it's really important to deal with that as soon as possible and to be clear about what you're going to do, how long is it going to take and the escalation of that complaint.”

From the ICS’ report, Handle with Care, also emerged a growing number of ‘silent sufferers’, those that have experienced a problem but chose not to make a complaint, which account for nearly a quarter of all customers. “It depends on different sectors so how people are complaining is different in different sectors, and there's quite a wide variation,” explains Causon.

“But we’re seeing that in certain sectors, some people not prepared to complain, and the main reason why is because they don't think anything will change as a result of the complaint – a key message for organisations out there to consider.”

She adds: “The complaints procedure is only one part of the customer service experience. Also, try and understand or anticipate once something is likely to become a complaint. This is really important in terms of employee engagement and also empowering people to make the right judgement decisions at the right time.”

Causon highlights National Grid, one of the speakers at the ICS’s recent annual conference, as an example of an organisation that saw direct correlation between customer and employee satisfaction. By better engaging employees through recognition programmes, the electricity and gas company raised satisfaction levels by 6% which had a direct impact on customer satisfaction rise, rising by 17%.

“Ultimately, if you have engaged and happy employees you tend to have better customer satisfaction as we become more productive, interested, more aligned to the business and want to make a difference,” says Causon. “So this focus is absolutely critical in terms of the culture of an organisation, how we reward and recognise our people in that organisation and how we try and focus on employee engagement.”

But this is no mean feat. Causon believes the biggest challenges for organisations lies in the structure of the business that was historically built looking inside-out. What’s fundamentally changed, she says, is a shift in the balance of power away from the organisation and to the customer. “As a customer you and I don't enter neat departments or functions any more - I'm not interested in whether I’m in marketing, operations or customer service – if I have a particular question or issue, I want to get that sorted. And I’m now coming in with multiple routes of channel too.”

So how do we measure what’s important for our customers? “Often we use measures and metrics but we need to question that, we need to use metrics that understand what's important to the customer.”

Causon draws on the ICS’s UK Customer Service Index that measures the quality of customer service across 13 business sectors to rate organisations on five factors: professionalism, quality & efficiency, ease of doing business, problem-solving and timeliness. “The issue for me is about the whole customer journey across an organisation and when you hand over to somebody else to deal with that particular issue, which comes back to complaints.

“The three things that really irritate us on the complaints side are: staff attitude and competence, feeling that nothing is going to be done and organisations not keeping promises. That's why when we build our structures and think about how we recruit for the right people put the right people in place, we need to think about the customer journey. So it may mean completely realigning our business.”      

Future of service

And restructuring the businesses around the changing nature of customer service, as well as the big trends such as consumer demand for transparency, will be the key for the future. “As consumers we have much higher expectations and therefore organisations that respond in terms of being transparent and open, we can trust.

“What’s changing in customer service is that the customer is now inside the organisation. Historically, we communicated outwards, we sent messages externally from the organisation to the customer. What’s happening now more and more is the customer is coming inside and helping us to create products and services. That has been a really big shift helped by social media but also because we're more interested in actually making a difference and wanting to have that input,” says Causon.

Forrester analyst Kerry Bodine recently championed the use of co-creation as a way for businesses to gain insight about people’s true needs and wants; an efficient way to provide solutions that really work; and as a catalyst for organisational change. She said: “You can leverage co-creation to improve countless aspects of your customer experience, focus business process improvements where they matter most, and answer many other open-ended business questions.”

Causon continues: “We’ll also see the need for collaboration in the future. It's not good enough just to be seamless across your organisation. The airport is a classic example of this: When I go to an airport I don't differentiate between who carries my bags, which checks me in, what the coffee was's an overall experience. So now not only are we seeing things like co-creation, we're seeing the need for organisations to collaboration in order to deliver that seamless journey.

“And finally, it's about choice as a consumer, being able to control what I do, when I do it. So personalisation of services too, is a big message going forward,” she concludes.

Replies (3)

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By LinkedIn Group Member
10th Apr 2013 15:39

Comment on this article from the MyCustomer LinkedIn Community

Whether they are on the increase or not ? Complaints give organisations a massive opportunity to turn an angry customer into a fan for live if they deal with it in the right way.

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By Neil Davey
10th Apr 2013 15:50

Hi John, completely agree - and complaining customers are also a valuable source of insight, provided the information is piped into the organisation. Definitely lots of positives to be taken.

But there does appear to be a growing 'complaint' culture that has emerged in line with social media - customers that will take to, for instance, twitter to vent about any little thing in the hope that they'll be compensated. Or is that a cynical view?

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By LinkedIn Group Member
10th Apr 2013 21:09

Comment on this article from the MyCustomer LinkedIn Community

Neil, as often with these things a small minority spoil it for the rest of us. I love social media and it is a great source of customer feedback for organisations. Shame a a small minority abuse it.

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