Up until a few years ago, the only way for customers to tell an organisation that they were unhappy about a service was to write in or to call. Now social media is changing it all.
Helen Rutherford looks at how to change complaining customers into fans.
Quite often a written complaint would never be received. The customer’s frustration might well have died down by the time it came to writing a letter, or the act of writing might have proved cathartic and relieved the frustration, meaning that the complaint would never be registered.
When it came to making a phone call, call automation technology in contact centres has also often acted as a deterrent, meaning customers are left with an even more negative view of the company.
Couple all this with the fact that most people feel that switching service providers (e.g. gas, electricity and broadband) is an overly complex and time-consuming task, and customers are left feeling that many key utility and communications companies have been “getting away with it” when it comes to customer service.
However, with the emergence of social media the rules of engagement have changed. The growth in popularity of the likes of Twitter and Facebook means customers are able to complain in real time. As a result, corporate communications teams in medium and large companies are more actively monitoring social media channels, watching out for anything that may be damaging to their brand. When an issue is spotted, the best companies will proactively identify and respond to customer complaints – offering the customer an appropriate channel through which they can voice their grievance.
Social media also offers other benefits to the consumer. Seeing complaints on Twitter can instil confidence in others who may have thought twice about complaining. In this way a customer community can be galvanised, applying more pressure on the organisation in question not only to address the issue, but also to make a statement on how things are going to improve. For utility providers especially, speed should be of the essence when it comes to addressing customer complaints, particularly with the rise of price and service comparison websites.
Improving service levels
So what could consumer-focused organisations be doing to ensure that customer service levels are improved and that complaints are dealt with in a more timely manner?
Expanding the number of channels
First, we need to think about the channels that are available for customers to voice their views. Websites, emails and social media can all support the traditional telephone call and written word. Are the ways to contact an organisation clearly advertised and is it easy for a customer to get through if they really need to make that call? Or could the organisation perhaps offer real-time chat as a support device?
What happens to the customer?
The next point to consider is what happens to a customer when they do contact an organisation to make a complaint? They are already frustrated and, if they choose to contact the organisation by phone, this can be exacerbated by having to verbally respond to a number of prompts as part of an automated system to get access to help.
With this in mind, we need to think about routing calls from upset customers quickly. Today, there are even software tools available to detect the tone in a caller’s voice, allowing those who are distressed to be directed to help more quickly.
Service level agreements
Another thing to look at is whether our service level agreements are clearly labelled and are they being adhered to? Having more channels available means that customers may send in an email complaint and if they haven’t had a response in a few hours, they might also follow that up with a call. This can increase the frustration for the customer and increase the overall cost for the service provider in dealing with the complaint.
Therefore, when customers send in an email complaint, for example, there should be a process in place to ensure they get a clear response detailing what is going to happen next to address their complaint.
The same principle applies to social media or any other method of communication between the business and the customer. There need to be steps in place to move the complaint along and keep the customer happy.
The people issue
Dealing with customer complaints is also a big internal staffing issue for services companies. Contact centre attrition is high, hitting 25% per annum in some companies. This is largely because customer service representatives are being made unhappy through having to deal with problem after problem.
It is vital that we invest in the necessary training and technology so that our staff have the tools to do their job effectively. At the same time, we must question whether our staff are under too much pressure to meet call-answering targets rather than improve customer satisfaction.
The right measurements
This in many respects is the crux of the issue. How is the performance of contact centres being measured today? Are we being driven too hard around quantitative metrics and hitting those call targets, rather than being measured on how effectively we respond to complaints and how happy the customer is at the end of the process?
These questions are likely to be the starting point for many service-oriented organisations. We need to balance the cost of running our business against the benefits of retaining loyal and happy customers year after year.
Helen Rutherford is Marketing Director at IT consultancy 2e2 (www.2e2.com)