Why is customer complaint handling so important? | Blue Sky

Why is customer complaint handling so important?

Despite significant investment from many organisations in digital and CX transformation, why do we see customers ‘experiencing a problem’ at its highest ever level?


Customer complaints; unpredictable, uncomfortable to handle and tricky to squeeze into a reliably effective process. They drag down overall satisfaction ratings, erode customer loyalty, drain the morale of your people, poison your reputation and ultimately impact on your bottom line.

And they’re about to become an even bigger issue than ever before.

For one thing, crisis planning has exploded out of the press office and become an everyday customer experience concern. Thanks to the speed and stickiness of social media, combined with stringent new rules such as GDPR, every front-line employee needs to know how to handle customer complaints effectively because the risks of getting it wrong are just too high.

Then there’s the growing trend towards tighter customer-focused regulation.

Mobile phone contracts are now regulated by the FCA, not Ofcom, because there’s a consumer credit agreement at their heart. Water service providers are governed by a regime linking customer experience to the ability of those businesses to increase prices and invest. It’s likely that the regulatory emphasis on customer fairness, so familiar in the financial services sector, is likely to spread.

All of which makes it unsurprising that complaint handling is rocketing to the top of many a CEO’s agenda. In the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI 2019), satisfaction with complaint handling is the lowest scoring dimension of satisfaction in the UKCSI at 5.9 out of 10, however this is the highest ever level.

Those organisations at the top of the rankings aren’t just figuring out how to handle complaints; they’re turning anger into advocacy by focusing their attention on the key behaviours that make a real difference to customers.

For these industry leaders, complaints expose the gaps in their cultural values to show what’s really going on, reveal essential information about where their actions are falling short of their goals, and provide them with an opportunity to convert detractors into passionate advocates.

There are four human behaviours that keep UKCSI top 50 organisations outperforming the competition when it comes to customer complaints.

Whether their people do what they say they do; their attitude; their understanding of the issue; and the outcome of the complaint.

Forget apologies or freebies – how are you scoring on these four factors? Where are your strengths and weaknesses?

Complaints handling is an agile business.


Top tips on how to improve your customer complaints handling policy

Clients such as BT Enterprise jumped from the bottom of the CX rankings to the top ten using the Blue Sky Culture Code methodology – and we’ve pulled out three top tips for how to turn your complaints from a profit-sink into a potential goldmine.

1. Get clarity

First, you need to get really clear on what your complaining customers really want.

In a classic case study from one of our clients, a leading national supermarket, a customer was charged 6p too much for two croissants. He complained to the customer service manager (CSM) that the overcharging kept happening, and that he didn’t have the time to keep queuing up at the helpdesk or calling in. The CSM refunded the customer the standard ‘double the difference’ (i.e. 12p) and, thinking he was going above and beyond, sent him a £2 gift card in the post. And yet the customer, who was incredibly frustrated, scored the interaction at a C-sat 1. Why?

Because the CSM, well-meaning as he was, failed to truly identify the customer’s objective. This croissant-lover didn’t want a 12p refund; he wanted the root cause of the overcharging to be addressed.

And why did they do that?

Because that was the process, the way things were done, the organisations preferred way of working when it came to complaints missed out the vital step in enabling the CSM to close the loop and fix the mis-pricing problem.

As a result, we worked with the top team to develop a compelling story for how ‘we manage complaints around here’ with focus on experience rather than process. This gave customer facing people clear direction on what senior leaders wanted them to do and clarity on the permission they had to do the right thing, in the right way for customers.

2. Shift your climate

Complaints can bring out the micromanager in us all. Faced with a deluge of negativity, leaders can be tempted to impose ever-stricter frameworks and processes to try and ensure their people have a consistent response when under threat. However, while some boundaries and guardrails are always important, it’s crucial to foster a climate of trust and empowerment too.

You can never fully systematise complaint handling, and nor should you. Although there will be themes, each complaint comes from a unique person with a unique set of experiences and emotions. Your people need to feel free to use their judgement, flex their response and take the time they need to achieve the best possible outcome. The only way they’re going to do that is if their leaders give permission, making it clear that in-the-moment decision-making and creativity will be supported and valued; and provide relentless, positive on-the-ground role-modelling and encouragement.

If you’re really struggling with complaints, don’t go straight to your front-line staff. Begin by examining the cultural climate you are creating.

3. Upgrade your conversations

Yes, your people undoubtedly need skills to navigate a successful complaints conversation – especially in a landscape where Google turns everyone into an expert, and Twitter allows them to instantly spread their dissatisfaction far and wide.

But which behaviours are you going to focus on cultivating in order to move your metrics? Have you conducted deep-dive analytics to understand which exact behaviours are most effective in turning around your complaints around?

If you’re going to become one of the best, you need to identify the things your people can say and do to turn a complaint into a positive outcome. When you’ve got that nailed, bottle it and replicate so every customer feels you’re taking their complaint seriously.

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Blue Sky - Experts in People Change. All rights reserved 2019.

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