Mandy HolfordMandy HolfordMarch 21, 2018


Mandy Holford is Director of Customer Services at contact centre solutions firm Echo-U, and recently judged at the 2018 UK Complaint Handling Awards. Here she describes, in her own words, how she went from an award winner herself, to a judge deciding the fate of others seeking recognition for their own business success…

Happily, I have felt the pure joy of hearing my business announced as winners on a number of occasions throughout my career in customer service and customer service outsourcing; heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, pure delight at achieving such success.

It’s such a wonderful feeling and, like a proud mum, I have seen similar excitement and pride in the faces of the teams around me when they realise they’ve won. That always touches me the most – seeing others relish in that moment of confirmation, of achievement, of brilliance. It’s such a powerful blast of emotion when you and your team connect with the winners’ announcement and release that tension of expectation, of want and urgent desire to win.

So it was with some early reluctance that I decided to leave entering awards to others in our business and challenge myself to sit on the ‘other side of the fence’ and judge whether or not people like me got to have that rush of positive emotions and achieve award success.

Has it delivered on emotion and excitement? Has being an awards judge offered a buzz and a sense of success and accomplishment? Bizarrely, yes!

I didn’t expect it to; I am not sure what I expected of the judging process but it’s been a great and different experience I have relished, and one I’d recommend.
My first choice for judging was the recent 2018 UK Complaints Awards, hosted by Awards International. Why complaints? Well, who in the consumer world doesn’t get complaints? Where there are customers, there are invariably complaints, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to engage in a world with a common purpose of learning, implementing new ideas, and managing complaints better. I have no problem with pinching great ideas and making them work for my business. Why re-invent the wheel, eh?

I really connected with the opportunity to learn from other great brands and emerging businesses. What did they do that was worthy of entering an award process? How did they manage complaints differently? Was it good processes, new technology, strong leadership, emotional intelligence, or emerging training techniques that offered them a different perspective and approach to managing unhappy customers? And so it began – I paid my fee to judge, followed the webinar to learn ‘How to Judge’, and set about enjoying my new responsibilities.

The first stage of this judging process was online – reviewing documented submissions with standard entry forms, presentations, and accompanying support materials. To be honest, this was an uninspiring start to the process; I wanted to see and hear people, feel their energy and emotions, but I had to wait a few weeks for that to happen.

On day one of the judging process, I and the other judges, had to be happy with a webportal, downloads, and endless paper spread across my desk. However, it didn’t take long though for the ideas and concepts to captivate me. In a category of just four entries, I spent two afternoons reviewing the content several times – I wanted to be sure I had understood, fairly evaluated, and not missed a single thought from those precious entries.

While the judging process itself was in full swing, there was another hive of activity going on with Awards International promoting the event. There was a real social media flow of new names, new connections, and great conversations happening with likeminded people. My LinkedIn pinged several times a day with ‘new connection’ requests and fabulous messages from these new contacts. Several online magazines @mentioned both the awards and specific judges and Twitter was alight with award promotion. There was quite a party going on!

The awards finals date – February 22 – arrived and at the gorgeous Park Plaza Hotel in London there was a buzz of activity and energy as the registration started. So much noise for 8am! After a coffee and chat to get to really know my fellow judges, we took our seats and the entry presentations began. I loved this part of the process – real people sharing their precious stories of challenge, determination, and success all in their own unique ways.

Entries that I had scored conservatively in the documented stage suddenly emerged as new favourites – video clips, storyboards, and animated presenters captivated us with their uniqueness and personalisation.

I have to admit to being energised and exhausted all at the same time when the final number went onto the final scoresheet. I thoroughly enjoyed the morning and with a rumbling hunger, ate our delicious lunch and waited to see if my favourites won their categories.

It’s important to note that we as judges do not see anyone else’s scores, either in the documented review or on the day. All scores are kept private, giving a real sense of fairness to the process, so I had no idea who would win.

With over 400 people in the room, the winners were announced and excitedly took to the stage with all of those trembling emotions I have enjoyed many times before. I felt so happy for the winners; to see their faces and excitement was such a reward. One of my category favourites won several awards which also made me incredibly happy (and validated that I had judged appropriately) but another one failed to make either winner or silver (runner-up). I was personally gutted for them and made a point of offering some personal thanks and thoughts to this team, who had given us a really worthy entry. Some you win, some you lose as they say!

There were many whoops of joy, fist-pumping moments, and a few tears of shock, and I wouldn’t have missed it for a moment. I thought I would miss being a winner but felt so connected to the event and its purpose that I was totally elated with just being a part of a special day for so many.

One of my mottos is, ‘when you give, you gain’ and this is so true of the judging activity. I paid my fees to judge, costs of travel to and from London, hotel costs, and gave a couple of days of my time, but in return I gained so much more. The buzz and emotion is priceless, the opportunity to connect and talk with likeminded people is highly rewarding, and there were great opportunities to learn and bring new ideas back with you. I even picked up two leads for our business on the day, so all in all, judging was a superb experience, highly emotional, and blooming exhausting!

However, I shall be back and look forward to many more special moments with other excited and anticipating audiences.

Mandy HolfordMandy HolfordFebruary 14, 2018


Customers are paramount to business success, and ensuring your business maintains customer satisfaction throughout the entire customer journey is a complex and important process, as the cost of getting it wrong and creating a disgruntled customer can be huge.

Here we outline the affects it can have on a business and the steps a company can take to avoid them.

1. The effect of ‘word of mouth’

Love them or hate them, complaints exist in just about every consumer business. With so many channels available for consumers to use to voice an opinion, it’s incredibly easy for consumers to share unhappy experiences with others, and why shouldn’t they? In today’s consumer environment, with the advent of social media, dissatisfied customers now hold increasing power and can affect the reputation, and future sales, of a business through one negative review.

Studies have found that customers are three times more likely to tell their friends about a negative experience than a positive one. Word of mouth is a powerful influence, and businesses should be aware that disgruntled customers will voice their frustration to those around them, which will have a negative impact on your brand’s reputation and success.

Every customer-serving business has been there, cringing at the failures a consumer has experienced, holding its frustration in at the barrage of issues a customer is sharing. The modern consumer is highly vocal and active when it comes to complaints, so to avoid the cost of disgruntled customers, businesses need to be prepared to listen, learn and act.

In today’s consumer environment ‘word of mouth’ is no longer just shared at the dinner table, it’s now on social media and consumer voice platforms so your customer service solution needs to be ready to respond, in the appropriate channel, as the clock is ticking from the moment someone hits ‘send’ on the keyboard or gets an answer on a call, there’s simply no time to waste when dealing with disgruntled audiences.

2. The impact of a negative experience on future sales

Statistics show that 80 percent of people will not buy from a business that has negative reviews. Reviews are therefore a powerful tool for frustrated customers and can impact on future sales for a business. It is likely that those reading the review would switch to another business because of it. In fact, a survey found that poor customer experience cost UK brands £234 billion in lost sales in 2016.

No matter how quickly your team resolves a complaint, a posted review is never going away and the damage is forever visible. Not only does this cause others to think about whether or not they agree with the negative comments, it can, and often will, result in retweeting or sharing on social media and therefore is costly for the brand.

It’s fair to say that the converse is also true – a great tweet from a highly followed consumer is worth its weight in gold and can drive your consumer interest up in moments. The message is clear – aim for your team to resolve issues at the first point of contact, listen to the frustrations, learn from them, and refine your business processes where possible to eliminate the problem.

3. The opportunity cost of dealing with disgruntled customers

A disgruntled customer can not only cost a brand in terms of future sales or reputation, but it can strip time away from your business as you are required to deal with negative experiences. More time spent resolving negative reviews and issues is less time spent on furthering a business’ growth, investing in employee development or marketing the business to potential clients.

Alternatively, senior management could plan and invest in research and development to ensure we are always on our game. Reviewing our products and services by mystery shopping our own businesses and really evaluating if they remain the best processes and experiences for our customers is invaluable insight.

4. The cost of new customer acquisition to replace the lost business

Did you know that it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one? The first rule of any business is to retain customers and build a loyal relationship with them.

Recognising the differences in their demographics and how they like to be served is also vitally important. Gone are the days of one size fits all, thankfully. Emotional intelligence, timeliness, consumer demographic, and contact channel preferences will be different for every complaint. Review and understand the profile of your consumer at just these levels and you are already in a good position to resolve first time and really effectively.

5. The impact of a disgruntled customer on employees

Finally, it’s important to remember our customer service advisors as they are our best asset and vital to business success. We must consider their morale when assessing the costs of a disgruntled customer as dealing with demanding, angry, or frustrated customers may have a negative impact on employee wellbeing over time.

It’s important to a business’ success to invest in recruiting personnel best suited to this role, ensuring they are trained and equipped to deliver the best possible customer experience and enjoy wellbeing benefits to enhance their experience and ultimately their performance.

Consumers want to be ‘served now and served well’ and the same is as valid with complaints. The cost of leaving a consumer disgruntled is far too significant on a business’ bottom line, brand and reputation for any of us to ignore.

Mandy HolfordMandy HolfordFebruary 8, 2018


The Customer Experience industry is changing at an unprecedented pace and businesses must prepare for dynamic developments throughout the year.

Here are the major trends shaping the industry in 2018 in order to help businesses to understand the current challenges and develop strategic plans to enhance Customer Experience.

1. Brexit will drive consolidation

Many industry-leading companies with a European presence are reviewing the impact of Brexit on their profitability post-2020. As a result, they are planning a more efficient consumer experience by consolidating their channels and service centres to a single multi-lingual operation that provides a ‘follow the sun’ service.

This year, businesses should echo this technique in order to enable a more enhanced customer journey, reduced costs, improved efficiencies, and far better consumer insight.

In addition, because of the uncertainty that Brexit brings, there is a huge gap between those companies that have confidence in their industry and are continuing to invest in their customer service experience, and those who do not. The gap between the leaders and the laggards is widening, with leaders increasingly investing in technology and culture to drive the customer experience, while the laggards choose to stand still. We foresee that Brexit will only continue to fuel this gap.

2. The future is not all chatbots – we need to blend our technology for best effect

Last year’s hot topic was artificial intelligence (AI)/digital self-serve and there was a focus on the advantages that digitisation can offer to customer service provision; it allows our industry to reduce costs whilst growing our service and is critical to remaining competitive.

Looking ahead, we believe that there will be a further shift, not just to advanced digitisation, but to a hybrid workforce which combines existing customer service advisors with digital solutions. Contact centres will be able to combine the strengths of their teams and digital solutions whilst using them to compensate for their respective weaknesses.

The 2017 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report reveals that many businesses are facing an ‘uncomfortable truth’ when it comes to the digital transformation of their customer experience. While the overwhelming majority (89 percent) of organisations claim that this is critical to their survival, over half (51 percent) are failing to act.

Outsourcing Customer Experience provision can offer a business a cost effective and cutting-edge solution without the ongoing investment in strategy, people, technology and premises.

3. Open all hours (and all channels)

Today, businesses are supporting an average of nine customer contact channels to deliver a multi-channel experience, a number we predict will rise to 11 this year. It’s therefore not surprising that delivering a seamless customer experience across all of these channels is an ongoing struggle for most organisations.

In order to provide efficient customer service, organisations must be able to react to communication that doesn’t fit into their traditional contact centre model. When adopting a mobile first strategy, businesses need to consider whether their networks can support an increase in this kind of traffic. These channels need reliable and highly secure network connections, rapid response times and must be available beyond the traditional ‘opening hours’.

4. Show me you know me

Gone are the days of ‘one-size fits all’ marketing. This year, there is a need for businesses to focus on the buying habits and behaviours of the individual customer. Customers invest a lot of time and money in their buying decisions, and want to know that they are valued, so it’s important for a business to be aware of who and where its customers are, what time zone they are in, and what preferences they have as well as what channels they like to use. This will drive greater customer engagement and help to create more targeted marketing campaigns.

We predict that increased use of wireless beacon technology will enable businesses to take customer experience to new heights in 2018. Already being used in the retail sector, this technology allows stores to track customers in real-time and then push timely, personalised messages and content to them. Going forward, it’s all about showing customers that you know them.

5. Keep it simple

We know that today’s customers expect superior service, a plethora of channels, the opportunity to choose when to speak to an advisor, and 24/7 service. But what happens when they can’t get an answer?

One of the top three customer service challenges today is when customers expend moderate-high effort trying to resolve an issue. A customer may not be able to find the information that they need online, might be passed around on the phone between numerous advisors or receive no response from webchat or email enquiries. A simple enquiry can therefore escalate into frustration and potentially even a complaint from the customer.

Businesses should take time to examine the customer journey and experience it through the customers’ eyes.


Mandy HolfordMandy HolfordDecember 6, 2017


With the festive season upon us, shops and websites get busier, deliveries can take longer, and inevitably tempers can flare.

Mandy Holford, director of customer services at Echo-U, shares her top five tips for any business preparing for Christmas on how to achieve customer satisfaction scores as high as Santa Claus himself.

1. Stay positive

Christmas can be a stressful time for all, but if the person on the front-line of your business creates a positive experience for the customer it will go some way to alleviating tensions. Although the customer may not see their face, they can often detect mood in their voice or correspondence.

Whoever handles your phone calls, social media, and emails should be able to stay cheerful in tone, but also be good at getting straight to the point and acknowledging quickly if something’s not gone to plan.

2. Listen 

Your customer service team should take notice when people are dissatisfied or downright angry and find swift solutions to their problems, putting procedures in place to avoid a complaint escalating. Ideally every business should plan ahead and make sure they have their processes in place – they could hold a customer focus group ahead of the Christmas rush, ensuring they are aware of the issues that customers find most frustrating and putting procedures in place to make sure that these do not occur.

Customer feedback gained in quiet times should be turned into tips for making light of the very busy spells. Businesses should make use of what they learn from Black Friday, taking note of any issues that arise and finding solutions in time for Christmas.

3. Get social

Everyone is busy over the festive period, not just Santa’s elves! Customers may be reluctant to pick up the phone for fear of long wait times. Instead, they may well turn to social media to find troubleshooting tips and answers to their questions, or simply to vent. If there is no swift reply to customer queries on social channels, customers will voice their frustrations online.

Avoid unwanted negativity and protect the reputation of your company by interacting with customers on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, through web chat, private messaging, or via pre-answered FAQs. This will boost customer satisfaction and make for a stress-free festive period – a customer whose issue is resolved quickly will often share their satisfaction on social too.

If you manage your social media channels yourself, it would be wise to beef up this resource over the busy festive build-up period.

4. Focus on your employees

Happy customers are a priority, but it’s important to remember that staff must be happy too, so while you go through busy spells, you should make an effort to boost the morale of the team and reward employees for their hard work.

At Echo-U, we focus on creating a festive, happy and healthy work place through simple and effective initiatives like ‘12 Days of Christmas’, where we celebrate with incentives and games to keep advisors happy and morale high, and we encourage the team to look after their health and wellbeing especially when it’s a busy, stressful, and cold time of year.

You could take part in simple charity activities which will motivate the team, especially if they have a choice of charity to support – the ‘feel good factor’ that will come from this will last for the whole Christmas period.

As the busy festive season approaches, businesses should let their customer service advisors know how their actions affect Customer Experience and the wider company at a peak sales period. They should be made to feel like they are a vital part of a team keeping everything moving and supporting the rest of the company who are handling high demand.

5. Be honest and don’t over-promise

Lastly, customers will understand that Christmas is a busy time of year for everyone, so your frontline staff should be honest rather than over-promising and ultimately under-delivering.

For example, if you are an e-tailer, you should be clear about any delays to Christmas deliveries and keep the customers informed. If there is any failure in customer service, and you act quickly and provide quick updates, they will see this as a bonus.

Mandy HolfordMandy HolfordSeptember 27, 2017


In the customer service environment front-line advisors should be fully equipped, not only in terms of product, systems and service knowledge, but in their “EQ” or ‘emotional intelligence’ which can make a dramatic difference to the user experience.

Today’s contact centre advisors need to be much more than good listeners, they must be mindful of how fast-paced people’s lives are and how technology can be a barrier as much as a help to the user experience.

By the time a customer reaches an advisor, be it by phone, email, webchat or social media they will have probably interfaced with several touchpoints. We live in an instantaneous technological world and consumers expect their enquiry to be dealt with immediately, sometimes with agitation.

It is essential that our front-line brand ambassadors are able to sense their customers’ needs and deliver the very best user experience. Advisors must be able to establish a human connection through a screen, foster trust and be able to read people’s emotions without being able to rely on their facial expressions or tone of voice.

At our dedicated training centre we support our advisors in achieving a high EQ by helping them to understand self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and physiological motivation. This allows our people to manage the myriad of emotional interactions in talking with a wide range of customers across platforms.

With so many variances of thought, behaviours and actions in an average contact centre shift, we must ensure our people are emotionally fit to manage the complexities and dynamics of each enquiry.

For the optimum user experience, we believe we need to invest in emotional intelligence training and awareness in our contact centres. Making certain that our people strategies have the right investment and support to ensure the very best people are trained and retained so we are able to deliver a quality customer service.

In the world of customer experience, the talk of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is growing, but in our opinion one thing that AI will never be able to replicate is the emotional intelligence of a well-trained customer service advisor.

 To conclude, here’s a list of my top 4 tips for emotional intelligence:

1. Consider the situation from every angle

When engaging with a customer it is vital not to focus on the rights and the wrongs but rather take time to understand the situation from their point of view, what they believe has happened and how they might feel about it.

2. Think before you speak

Simply taking a moment to stop, take a breath and think before you act instead of rushing in can make all the difference in turning a tricky situation around.

3. Empathise with others

Try to see the situation through the eyes of others rather than making assumptions that could be incorrect or judging. Consider why the customer feels the way that they do and you’ll be able to create a stronger emotional connection.

4. Don’t be afraid to say sorry

“I’m sorry” can often be difficult to say, but it can make a huge difference in a negative situation. You should acknowledge any mistakes in a meaningful way and apologise, if it is appropriate. By displaying humility and authenticity to the customer it will increase the level of trust they place in you to help resolve their situation.


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