Simon Hunt, Director of Customer Experience, Firstsource

Customer complaints are an unavoidable part of business. No customer is 100% happy 100% of the time and they are often not afraid to let product and service providers know when things go wrong.
Whilst complaints say a lot about a business, how they are handled says even more. Badly handled complaints can turn customers off a brand for life. Global research by Accenture found that two thirds of customers have switched providers due to poor customer service. On the other hand, complaint handled well can lead to increased customer loyalty and advocacy.
With so much riding on complaints, what do you need to do to ensure that a customer’s experience has a positive rather than a negative impact on your business?

Empathise with your customer

Generally speaking, customers don’t want to have to contact you, so when something has gone wrong the path to resolution needs to be obstacle free.
Despite many businesses moving to digital customer management models, 65% of consumer contact still happens over the phone and 15% over email. The latter is growing in popularity; in a world increasingly dominated by informal social media channels, customers still rely on the formality of email whenmaking complaints.
Understanding who your customers are and why they make contact is vital. The most effective way to handle and resolve complaints is to use an omnichannel approach that supports the many different ways customers get in touch and receive resolution updates.

Recognise the impact of social media

In a 24/7 world customers expect complaints to be dealt with efficiently, with little or no hassle to them.
Social media is the go-to channel for many disgruntled customers to vent anger and disappointment. Research shows that up to 45% of consumers now share negative reviews online, not only to instigate a response from the company they are unhappy with, but also to warn their personal networks. When Stephen Fry famously took to Twitter to complain about bad customer service at Fortnum and Mason his complaint went viral in a matter of hours.
There is no room for error. Businesses must have watertight processes in place to address complaints in a way that eliminates the risk of them reaching a wider audience on social media before finding a resolution. Whilst they cannot control what customers post about them online, they should monitor sentiment, track recurring themes, and always aim to address issues rather than ignore them.

Think with your brand

The type of experience customers have when complaining can have a huge impact on their perceptions of a brand and how they engage with it in the future. Contact centre agents are on the frontline when it comes to dealing with customer complaints. This means that they have a huge role to play in presenting your brand consistently, authentically and appropriately.
Businesses should ensure that the way they handle complaints mirrors their brand voice and values and avoid too narrow a focus on average handling times and process. Empowering agents by giving them the flexibility to determine solutions and how they communicate that solution, will in turn help you protect – and even enhance – your brand. 

Motivate customer contact agents

Even with advanced technology, complaint handling is still an area where person-to-person interaction tends to be more effective.
In Customer Experience research, Dr Daniel Kahneman explores ‘peak end’ rule – a concept that states that the way in which we remember an experience is largely defined by how good or bad it was at its best or worst and how it ends. In the case of complaints, if the interaction ends with the complaint being resolved, as long as the experience wasn’t too painful, a customer will often remember the experience positively. This cannot, however, negate damage done by a customer telling wider audiences about the complaint whilst you are resolving it.
I believe that happy, skilled and motivated agents are one of the best guaranteesof satisfied customers. Creating a culture where those dealing daily with customers can thrive gives companies the greatest chance of delivering the best possible experience to their customers.

Build brand ambassadors

In the battle of the brands, great customer experience can make all the difference. When it comes to complaints, the stakes are even higher.

In the case of Fortnum and Mason and Stephen Fry, effective resolution and keeping the customer front of mind turned a disgruntled consumer into a brand advocate. Complaints can even offer opportunities for collecting feedback about your business that can make it better. By taking this approach and applying everything that your customers love about your brand to how you handle your resolution procedures, you too can find the silver lining in customer complaints.

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