I’m guessing you don’t have an ancient, automated phone system which requires aggrieved customers to press number 7 on their keypad, followed by numbers 9, 6, and 4 only to subject them to twenty minutes of pan-pipe classics before cutting them off. I’m hoping you don’t have a customer service desk staffed by someone who spends all their time on the phone with their back to the world. What about your website? Does the link to ‘customer service and returns’ crash your customer’s computer with a 126-page pdf of illegible small print, or confront them instead with a ‘404 – Page not Found’ error?
Of course not. Nobody in business goes out of their way to make life difficult for their customers, do they?
Yet the horrors described above do exist in real life. And I’m not talking about small companies either. One prominent UK retailer, very well known for their ‘excellent customer service’, handed my astonished mother-in-law the telephone handset when she went in to complain recently about a horribly uncooperative washing machine six weeks after purchase: the bright spark on the service desk at least dialled the manufacturer’s number for her.
Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.
Nobody likes it when customers complain, so if it’s possible to minimise complaints by offering great service first then that’s exactly what we should all do. Yet no matter how great your customer service is someone, somewhere, will be dissatisfied with it and will want to let you and the rest of the world know exactly how they feel. Leaving customers in limbo post-sale helps no one and in the age of rampant social media, making life difficult for complainers could be disastrous for your business.
Therefore, it follows that developing a strategy which deals with complaints fairly, quickly and ethically is a worthwhile undertaking.
So here are a few essentials to think about:
1. Make it easy for customers to register a complaint or risk a trolling on social media.
Making your complaints process difficult will just aggravate people further. Research suggests that around 40% of unsatisfied customers are irritated by not being able to speak to a ‘real person’ right away , and nobody likes being kept on hold. In a recent survey conducted by Dimensional Research, 87% of respondents said they would share a great customer experience on social media, but around 95% of them said they’d share a bad one, proving that the line between love and hate is a very thin one indeed on Twitter and Facebook.
2. Ensure that your complaints handlers are well-trained.
Emotional intelligence is critical for people handling complaints, and whilst it may be obvious that your complaints team (if you have one) needs to be well-trained, think about your staff on the shop floor who may have to deal with a customer’s fury before the issue is escalated to the experts. Make sure they know exactly what to do when faced with a complaining customer, that they know to stay calm and be understanding, and also that they know exactly who or where to escalate the issue to.
3. If you don’t have a dedicated complaints team…
…then everybody needs to know how to deal with complaints, and the method has to be consistent. The last thing you need is a customer coming in to take it up with Colin because Colin’s the only one ‘sensible enough’ to deal with her properly. Customers will always have their favourites, sure, but everyone expected to resolve a complaint should be equally empathic and proficient with your process.
4. Establish core efficiencies
It doesn’t have to be complex, as long as it works. Monitor your complaints process regularly and change it if it isn’t efficient. I was called into a business recently whose customer complaints team were overwhelmed by emails, phone-calls and historic complaints yet to be resolved. It was a mess because not only was there no internal process enabling the team to sift through the complaints and deal with them properly, but both genuine complaints and general after-sales questions, plus requests for refunds and returns, were feeding in from a single phone number and email address listed at the top of the company’s customer services webpage. This created a nasty bottleneck which aggravated customers, placed the handling staff under stress and angered the management who couldn’t see what the issue was because the process worked fine in the old days – when they were a much smaller company.
5. Be proactive. Seek out and invite your dissatisfied customers to complain.
Calling someone up to potentially invite a complaint? Why not? By understanding the reasons for peoples’ unhappiness with your services, you’ll have the intelligence to fix issues that you might not be aware of. Not everybody makes a complaint: many people remain silent and just quietly disappear from your shopfloor, never to return. Wouldn’t you like to know why?
Finally, it’s worthwhile spending some time thinking how you could incorporate social media into your complaints strategy. Yes, it can be a risk where you’re exposing yourself publicly to humiliation and ridicule for something that really wasn’t your fault, but if you have a company Facebook page, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever, you’re out there anyway, so why not use it to show people how great you are when it comes to putting things right?
Installing an excellent complaints strategy from the outset, monitoring it and changing it where necessary, can have massive benefits to your business, because if your handling efficiencies and processes, combined with the talent and skills of your staff, are good enough then your biggest complainers can become your biggest advocates; and then instead of tweeting to the world how rubbish you are, they’ll be tweeting how amazing you are instead, and they’ll be insisting that others buy from you too.
Modern Retail Editorial Board
Director, T21 Training and Development