Complaints and how to handle them

Complaints and how to handle them

What are the golden rules of dealing with unhappy customers?

Complaints – why they’re a good thing

The phrase ‘I’d like to speak to the manager’ has become a long-running joke across social media – and (unfairly) associated with the name Karen, an entitled attitude and even a particular style of haircut. And while some customer complaints and demands may be unreasonable or unfair, it’s in any business’s best interest to win over unhappy customers, turning a negative customer experience into a positive one.
Satisfied customers are not only more likely to remain loyal, but they’re also more likely to increase your bottom line. 
Complaints are part and parcel of running a business. And, while no one looks forward to them, they serve a useful purpose. They help uncover flaws and glitches in processes and can ultimately improve the quality of products and services. How you deal with complaints however can be make or break for your brand. Get it right, you’re proving to customers just how much they mean to you. It’s your chance to dazzle them with your customer care, and an opportunity to strengthen their loyalty. Get it wrong and you risk not only losing that customer, but you risk word about that bad experience spreading. Research shows that 62% of customers say they share their bad experiences with others – while one third consider breaking up with a brand, and another 65% have boycotted them completely, because of poor customer service.

Customers hold the power

The phrase ‘the customer is king’ has never been more true thanks to social media. In the past, the customer’s power lay in the ability to stop buying from you, or using your services. Today, social media channels give their dissatisfaction a huge voice. That’s why savvy organisations are serious about their complaint management, and truly understand the benefits of consistently providing superior customer service. But with the post-pandemic world in such a state of flux, customer service requests are more complex and, customer demands and expectations considerably higher.

Customer complaints are on the rise

In July 2022, The Institute of Customer Service’s biannual UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), found the number of customers experiencing a problem had risen to 17.3% – the highest level since the survey began in 2008. And, while the latest UKCSI from January 2023  shows that figure has fallen slightly to 16.5%, it’s still higher than before the Covid-19 pandemic. But why? The ICS’s  latest survey revealed an increase, across all sectors, in the number of problems reported by customers relating to the quality/reliability of goods and services. And it’s no coincidence that this is against an ongoing backdrop of stock and supply chain issues, and the current shortage of labour and skills. BDO’s ‘Rethinking the Economy’ survey, in December ‘22, revealed that 71% of those surveyed say skills and staff shortages remain a problem for their business. And staff shortages ultimately have a huge knock-on effect – on productivity, manufacturing, logistics and, of course customer care. Meanwhile, the situation in Ukraine, combined with the fact that COVID-19 is still affecting large parts of the world – Asia in particular – means there are serious supply chain issues for many businesses. Customer expectations are rising too According to Zendesk, there are three main trends in what customers want today:
  • Seamless online transactions – during the pandemic, everything shifted online, and with giants like Amazon out there, the bar was set very high. From product availability to the ease of buying and speed of shipping, matching up to the level of such giants is tough.
    • 65% of customers want to buy from companies that offer quick and easy online transactions
  • Companies to share their values – they want to buy from companies that reflect their own values, and show more empathy.
    • 49% want more empathy from customer support agents
    • 54% want to buy from companies that prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion in their communities and workplaces
    • 63% want to buy from companies that are socially responsible
  • Companies to meet them wherever they are – 64% of customers say they tried a new channel, like live chat, to engage with customer support teams during the pandemic – and 75% plan to keep using them. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger jumped in popularity too, as did SMS/text. Customers also said they want a seamless experience across these channels – so they can switch from one to the other, without having to repeat themselves.
What’s more, an international study from PwC, showed that two-thirds of consumers believe that companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience, and three-quarters want more human interaction in the future. Add to that concerns around high inflation, high energy bills and food prices, and it’s no wonder customers are feeling disgruntled and more inclined to voice their concerns.

Why is it so important to manage complaints well?

Managing complaints effectively, efficiently and sensitively just makes sense. When it comes to your customers, it’s simply the right thing to do – but it’s better for business too. Here’s why it matters:

It’s all part of good customer experience

You should look upon complaints as a fundamental part of good customer service. And good customer service means good customer experience, which, as we know, is the holy grail. PWC found that 73% of customers point to experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions, beating price or product as the key differentiator. 42% would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience and the majority of customers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising. The UKCSI measures customer satisfaction in terms of key areas – including employee professionalism, product / service quality, ease of dealing with an organisation, complaint handling, and an organisation’s customer ethos and ethical behaviour. And the biggest gaps between the organisations that scored in the top 50 for customer satisfaction, and those that didn’t, lay in how customers rated the speed of resolving their complaint, the handling of the complaint, and the attitude of staff when it came to complaints.

Turns unhappy customers to happy and loyal ones

Most customers understand that things can go wrong – and often they just want to be listened to and for it to be put right. Over 73% of customers say that an easy resolution to their complaints is the thing that impacts their satisfaction the most. While a study by the Harvard Business Review found that people who complained to a company or wrote negative comments on social media – and then received a response – were more loyal to the brand in question afterwards than those who never complained at all. Bearing in mind that acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing one, this is yet more evidence for companies to take their complaints strategy seriously.

Stops things turning ugly (and expensive)

Effective complaint management also reduces the chance of complaints dragging on and, ultimately, being escalated. Ideally, when a customer contacts a supplier to complain, the agent should be able to sort it there and then, on first contact. Complaints not resolved immediately tend to cost significantly more to service, not to mention fees and compensation if it’s escalated further to the relevant ombudsmen, or regulatory bodies in the case of regulated sectors such as financial services, utilities, telecoms, transport, travel, government, and healthcare.

What are the most common customer complaint pain points?

  • Longer than average wait times
As a customer, when you have an issue with a product or service, there’s a high chance that you’re already frustrated. If you then call a contact centre, the last thing you want is to add to that frustration by being held in a long call queue. Research has shown that after an average of 1 minute 55 seconds of hold time, most callers hang up – and 34% of callers who hang up won’t call back.
  • Unable to speak with a human
Chat bots are an amazing tool and can be great if you have a straightforward issue – they’re quick, efficient and easy to use to solve common questions or problems with a product or service. But they aren’t perfect and are limited in what they can do.  Customers with a complaint can get stuck in a loop without any way to talk to a live person.
  • Multiple call transfers
It can be equally annoying when you do get through to a live person, but they turn out to be in the ‘wrong department’, or they don’t have the knowledge or seniority to solve your issue. You’re then passed on to another team – and another – and have to repeat your problem all over again. Once a customer is through to an advisor, they don’t want to have to explain their complaint on numerous occasions to numerous different people.
  • A disjointed experience
The same can happen if you start your complaint journey on one channel, eg, an email or a chatbot, then move to a call. These days, we want to be able to pick up we left off to avoid having to start from the beginning.
  • Lack of communication
If a complaint can’t be resolved on the spot, and needs following up, different customers will have different expectations about what will happen next. Some will expect daily updates, while others will be more relaxed. If the communication path isn’t clear, customers may think they’ve been forgotten.

What does good complaint management look like?

As we’ve seen, good complaint management has to be a priority. If it’s managed properly, it can increase customer satisfaction, reduce customer churn, prevent lengthy and costly escalation – and serves as an opportunity to improve your processes off the back of the feedback that you receive. We believe there are certain key elements that are essential to not only resolving common frustrations and designing a successful complaints strategy, but also act as stepping stones for the ultimate goal achieving resolution at first contact:
  1. Communicate clearly and with empathy
Clear and empathetic communication has to be at the core of any complaint management strategy. It’s essential to a customer service teams’ ability to uncover and understand the issues, and then to solve them quickly. In times of difficulty, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, and the current cost-of-living crisis, more and more people will be struggling financially. Managers can help agents to be better prepared to handle complex, and often distressing, issues and complaints with the right skills training. The more empathetic and flexible agents can be, the more likely a customer’s issue can be resolved. The customer agent must also be clear about what happens next, (eg, a repair, refund, or a replacement) and the timeline within which it will happen.
  1. Make the most of analytics
Use analytics to seek patterns and commonalities in complaints – and identify the root cause. This helps to spot potential areas for improvement and ensures that customer agents are aware of any frequent, quick-to-fix problems – and are fully equipped to deal with them quickly. And, in some cases, root cause analysis will spot glitches in operational processes and procedures that can be fixed permanently, so they never happen again.
  1. A dedicated line of communication for customer complaints.  
By having a specific channel for complaints, with specialist resolution agents, customers will always have the option to speak to someone in person. They’ll hit the right destination first time, reducing the amount of information they need to repeat, and ensuring that complaints are handled in the most efficient way.
  1. Give customer service agents the right tools
Continuous training makes sure that your team is knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the business’ products and service, so it’s much easier to solve customer problems or queries on the spot. If they’re not sure, then they also need to know which team or department has the answer. Providing teams with automation tools, such as omnichannel ticketing systems, also helps. Omnichannel ticketing collects support tickets from different channels and organises them in one place, so agents can see everything that has already happened on the customer’s journey. Being armed with this information means that agents can demonstrate to customers that they’ve been listened to, and their issue is in capable, knowledgeable hands.
  1. Offer a call-back service
Reduce the pain of wait times for customers, and handle complaints better, by offering a call-back service when wait times are high. Customers won’t need to hang around for an available agent, as the team member will call them within an agreed time.

Is outsourcing the answer to your complaint handling challenges?

We’ve spoken at length about how important a complaints strategy is and the financial and reputational consequences if it’s not up to scratch. When a customer’s experience is already challenged, their complaints need to be resolved quickly, thoroughly, fairly and professionally. So you may be wondering if you could trust another organisation with something so delicate. The main reason many organisations – big and small – outsource their complaints is down to their own internal resources and capabilities (or lack of). To achieve those key elements in successful complaint management you need robust systems and processes, highly skilled agents, clear authority, strong management, omnichannel technology and insightful reporting, which includes analysis pointing to the root cause of complaints. Many organisations, particularly at the moment, choose to outsource their complaints handling due to staff shortages and high attrition, coupled with increasing call volumes related to the rise in the cost of living. For others, it’s because their internal systems, software and infrastructure are less than ideal. For some, it’s all of those things. Meanwhile, many businesses have excellent complaint handling teams, and strategy, and are considering outsourcing as a way of keeping up their high standards during peak periods, through overflow arrangements. And some businesses simply want to keep their costs down, as the necessary investment in people, training, IT infrastructure and the latest software is just too high. With an outsourced complaint handling solution, you’ll have:
  • a dedicated team of specialist, highly trained, agents at your disposal, whenever you need them
  • scalability that enables you to ramp up and ramp down to meet levels of demand effectively and affordably
  • access to state-of-the-art omnichannel engagement tools
  • access to AI and automation tools
  • a powerful data analytics and insight service to help identify immediate issues, as well as look at performance and spot patterns over longer periods of time.
But, crucially, you need to find an outsourcing partner that shares your values and ethos, whose management you can trust and work with, and who will positively enhance your brand and reputation. Partnering with a specialist outsourcer – with the scale and focus required to invest heavily in developing systems and training programmes specific to complaint management – will massively reduce any risk to your reputation, and increase the loyalty and lifetime value of your customers.

If you’re considering outsourcing your complaints, talk to us

We’re not just another business process outsourcing provider. We’re a people company, built on the power of human connections. To us every connection important. Because better connections mean better outcomes for all. At Sigma Connected we’ve been managing complaints on behalf of our clients for a long time – and we approach things a little differently, charging you based on the complexity of the complaint. Whether we’re increasing closures at first point of contact, preventing the need for escalation, clearing backlogs or providing root cause analysis – we’re committed to improving your complaint handling, to help you keep your customers happy. Our expert customer service teams are on hand to assist you in handling customer relationships, whenever you need them – whether it’s temporary, or longer term. But you don’t just get our people– you get our technology too. With our state-of-the-art omnichannel engagement tools, you can be sure that your outsourced complaints handling team is well-prepared for anything that comes their way. If you want to learn more about how our team can help your business to manage complaints, get connected with Sigma Connected today.
Leave your comment