Claire PampeClaire PampeApril 15, 2019
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6min525

Nobody wants to receive a complaint about their product or service, but the reality is that we can’t please all of our customers all of the time.  

The time when customer complaints were hidden is now thankfully long gone. Appearing as a judge at the UK Complaint Handling Awards, which celebrates the innovative ways organisations manage complaints, I saw this first-hand.

Receiving complaints, responding to them effectively, and most importantly, learning from them can be challenging.  However, achieving this is critical to the success of any business that is focused on providing the best Customer Experience.

For every customer who complains, there are 26 other unhappy customers who remain silent (source: Lee Resource Inc.). Customers who care enough to tell you about their negative experiences are scarce, but they afford you the opportunity to turn that customer into an advocate and ultimately, retain their business.

Often, complaints are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but it is critical to take a step back and undertake a root cause analysis, otherwise the opportunity to improve is lost. One of the most effective ways to undertake this process is to plot the journey of the complaint, thereby mapping all the touchpoints, both direct and indirect. 

While a customer journey map (CJM) is a tool often used by marketeers to plot the customer engagement story, from brand awareness through to (hopefully) a long-term relationship, it is also a great resource for complaint management. 

Rather than dealing with the fallout of the complaint on a case-by-case basis, the CJM process enables an organisation to review and map the complaint from beginning to end and identify the root causes. Instead of resolving the complaint from an internal point of reference and making assumptions, the CJM empowers the customer by putting them front and centre. 

One of the major strengths of adopting this method is the ability to view the complete journey when putting into place processes to prevent it happening again. The visual artefact highlights potential gaps, inconsistencies, and the volume of touchpoints – all of which have the potential to contribute to the complaint in the first place. 

More often than not, the solution does not sit at the complaint ‘fallout’ stage but much earlier in the journey. It may be that expectations were set incorrectly at the outset of the journey, or specific information was not provided in marketing collateral etc. By focusing on the complaint as a stand-alone issue, any process changes may have little or no impact. Only by viewing the complaint as a part of the whole journey can you be confident that changes made will have the greatest impact.

Another advantage of a CJM is the people involved in the mapping activity. Too often complaint management is focused on the team that receives that complaint – but any mapping workshop should include representatives from all parts of the business. This level of collaboration reaffirms the importance that every role plays in an organisation’s Customer Experience, whether directly or indirectly, and it also provides the perfect forum for some ‘outside the box’ brainstorming.  I’ve run journey mapping workshops where the ‘lightbulb’ moments have come from unexpected sources, such as software developers, finance teams, and HR.

We know that customer loyalty is one of the key determinants of an organisation’s success. By viewing complaints as learning opportunities and actioning solutions via a customer journey map, you increase the likelihood of turning that customer (and all those that kept quiet) into an advocate. As data from the Jim Moran Institute and Lee Resources showed, 95 percent of customers will give you a second chance if you handle their complaint successfully and in a timely fashion, and that translates to an improved Customer Experience for your current and future customers.


Will ArcherWill ArcherMarch 7, 2019
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6min609

So, you have an effective complaints procedure in place; you are engaging with customers, finding problems and working through solutions, but just one important question remains: “How well are we doing?”

There is, of course, one clear sign of an effective complaints procedure, and that is a happy customer. Yet it can be a bit more complex than that. The typical reward for good complaint handling is increased sales and improved customer retention.

However, it is not always apparent whether these factors are down to your complaint handling alone. So how can we reliably measure success?

One possible measure is reputation. For the last three years, the UK Complaint Handling Awards has sought to recognise organisations that have made a success of their complaints procedure. The event is hosted by Awards International, and for many companies that have received such an award, industry acknowledgement is a reliable mark of success. The results can also be surprising.

“It’s interesting, if not ironic, that when it comes to winning awards, the most competitive industry sectors are also often the most complained about sectors,” explains Donna O’Toole, CEO of awards consultancy August.

“The rail networks, banks, loan providers, insurance companies, telecoms, and utility providers that the public so often love to hate are also the businesses leading the way in transforming their complaints handling processes – and in turn, improving the overall Customer Experience.”

Donna explains that in recent years there has been a rise in businesses realising the long-term value of how they handle customer complaints in the short-term. When shortlisting companies for the awards, successful companies are typically those that demonstrate transparency, better communication strategies, and have implemented innovative tools to help employees respond faster and more effectively.

Industry peer recognition is a valuable indicator of success but there is also a data-driven method of measuring complaints performance.

The Resolver platform is constantly monitoring user feedback throughout the complaints process. It does this by asking users to rate their experience at each stage of the complaint, thus enabling the data team to generate a score on how effective each company, and each sector, is in complaints handling. As with the awards, the results are not always what one would expect.

“It is really interesting because sometimes a lot of the things are counter-intuitive,” says Michael Hill, Resolver’s lead complaints management consultant.

“Sometimes people will give a company a high satisfaction score, despite the fact they have not achieved full resolution of their complaint.”

This highlights the value that customers place in being able to actually express what is really upsetting them. People are more likely to feel better if they have had, at the very least, a fair hearing or, at best, feel they have been treated fairly after going through the process.

On the other end of the scale, Michael notes, there are customers who have been very upset with their experience despite getting their complaint resolved. This is either because they still feel their complaints have not been listened to, or that the company did not follow up.

“We get quite a few companies that have failed to pay out compensation, having agreed to pay, or just take too long to deliver on their promises,” Michael explains.

“Businesses get right up to the end of the line, and technically everyone should be walking away happy, but people are still dissatisfied. It can get complex.”

When it comes to which sectors perform well by user satisfaction, it is usually those industries with a strong regulator or a free escalation service, such as an ombudsman. This is often because it inspires more confidence in the consumer that their issue will be resolved. Again, these can often be the industries that get the most complaints, such as financial services. On the other hand, you have sectors like retail where there is no established ombudsman or regulator, meaning many customers are left feeling very frustrated.

Having a high volume of complaints doesn’t necessarily mean a business is getting things wrong. It is the satisfaction score that matters. Michaels notes that the best-performing companies are those which have strong lines of communication with the public and are quick to respond and engage with customers when a complaint is received, regardless of complaint volume or, in some cases, eventual outcome.

Michael adds: “We would say any business that encourages complaints is going to see more coming through the door, but this is simply better visibility of the problems caused for customers. If they resolve them quickly and effectively, then they will keep their customers. If they don’t, customers will vote with their feet.”




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