How Should we Complain? And, How Should Companies Respond?


This week it was announced that BT will be fined £42m by Ofcom for breaching contracts with telecoms providers. The regulator found that BT had cut compensation payments for delays in connecting high-speed business lines.

According to research from the Obudsman Services, complaints in the UK escalated by more than 3 million to 55 million in 2016.

One would think with all the talk and trends about having a customer centric approach to business, companies would be starting to get customer service right, but statistics show otherwise.

So, who is dropping the ball? Are companies not learning from their mistakes or is there something about the way customers complain that results in the real issues being ignored?

Who are the Poor Performers?

The retail sector received the highest volume of complaints (24%) at an estimated cost of £10.5 billion to the industry. Second in line was Telecommunications contributing to 13% of the complaints at a cost of £2.98 billion.

While the energy sector came in at 10% the cost was significantly higher at £5.2 billion. Other sectors all contributing 7% and less included transport, banking and financial services, leisure and tourism, tradespeople, post, parking, and property services. Combined the cost of poor service delivery was estimated at £37 billion!

These figures are quite mind boggling and clearly demonstrate that as much as we think we are getting it right, we still have a very long way to go. The research also uncovered a few more interesting facts:

Most customer seem to think that complaining isn’t worth it because unless they kick up a major fuss no-one will notice, so it simply isn’t worth the effort. Particularly in the retail, transport, banking and financial services sectors 79% of customers said they’d go elsewhere if their complaints were poorly handled.

What this means is that the vast majority of customer are resigned to accepting poor service delivery. The simply don’t believe that businesses can get it right.

While this is a sorry state of affairs, it does also represent a massive opportunity. With service levels so low, it won’t take much to stand out from the crowd, especially if you find yourself in one of the 10 industries listed above.

There is also an opportunity for customers to go about things differently to get a better response from businesses.

Tips for Customers:

When things go wrong it’s easy to get emotional about it, but customers need to be fair and give companies a chance. It’s difficult to uncover the problem when someone is all fired up.

Try to explain the issue calmly and stick to the facts. Be clear on how you expect the problem to be resolved and be firm. But, at the same time, know what your rights are and what may or may not be possible.

Also, try various channels and keep a log including names of people spoken to, dates and times of calls so that you can track progress.

Can Big Business Start to Get it Right?

As challenging as customer service can be in big organizations it is not impossible, however, it does require a focused and strategic approach and key people to drive it forward.

Better customer service starts with strong leadership. When it’s driven from the top-level customer service becomes part of the company culture and that is what businesses should be aiming for.

Too often in large corporations the blame is shifted from one department to another. If each person takes ownership of the problem and feels a responsibility towards the customer then the culture can start to change.

Customer service is not a role fulfilled only by the contact centre, it should be part of every customer interaction, whether that is with sales or the accounts and admin departments.

Have good integrated operational systems. As big data starts to get integrated with Customer Relationship Management systems, employees can have easy access to customer history as well as product and service information.

This information can help improve customer service by giving people the information they need to quickly resolve queries.

Empower staff and allow them to take initiative. Instinctively most people want to do the right thing, but in big corporations they are often constrained by hierarchy and rules.

Allow your top people some flexibility, and when they get things right, celebrate these moments using them as examples to inspire others to take the initiative too.

Have clear boundaries in place. There are some customers that are chancers and who will try take advantage of a situation. In these instances, having good data and systems will help clarify the facts.

Sometimes it is necessary to say no to customers, and it should be done in a firm but polite way. Let them know you do value their business but won’t be taken advantage of.

Imagine the boost to the economy if that £37 billion lost to poor customer service could be curbed.

Carolyn Blunt

Carolyn Blunt

Imagine the impact it could have on society if more things were going right than wrong. It may seem idealistic, but every small step in the right direction can make a difference.

Carolyn Blunt is Managing Director of Ember Real Results, a consultancy that works with contact centres to improve performance. 

Carolyn is especially renowned for identifying opportunities to improve customer experience and sales whilst creating efficiencies.  Carolyn is co-author (with Martin Hill-Wilson) of the book ‘Delivering Effective Social Customer Service’ published by Wiley.  

Published On: 30th Mar 2017 - Last modified: 6th Apr 2017
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