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Blog: Building a ‘smart’ complaints function – The role of technology in complaint handling

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While researching for our Complaints Outlook 2019, we found that only a third of customers believe firms are embracing technology to improve their complaints processes.

You would, of course, expect any business nowadays to be taking full advantage of the technology on offer. After all, we are currently living through the information revolution, a time in which companies around the world are embracing automation, digital technology, and other robotic wonders to improve their customers’ daily lives.

However, it seems a majority of UK customers aren’t seeing their lives as positively impacted by the information revolution as they could be. They are still struggling through sub-optimal processes, frustrating forms, and nightmarish call queues simply to make their voices heard.

Why aren’t we there yet? Perhaps there is a lack of understanding about and disinterest in investing in some of the technologies that can really make a difference. So, let’s take a look at what is on offer.

The ‘next industrial revolution’ has already happened

The technology of today allows firms to detect emerging issues long before they are referred to the regulator, helping them mitigate against problems that would cripple businesses without such foresight. Technology-based solutions can also collect vast amounts of valuable data, automatically monitor customer and operational activity and trigger alerts that lead to tailored fixes.

But this is certainly not the limit of technology. There’s still space for many more solutions to be developed.

It is predicted that by 2025, for example, there will be a significant increase in the number of firms making use of a mix of service channels. Customers will be given more power to complain to their provider via the channels that they really want to use.

However, managing these channels will add a layer of complexity to operations. Customers frequently change their channel preferences, meaning businesses will need to use specific technology to keep track of customer journeys.

According to our research, complaints in financial services and utilities were most commonly made through phone, email and webchat channels in 2018 - 2019. All of these channels are used with the expectation of receiving a more or less immediate response and resolution, though email and webchat also offer a comfortable detachment from the complaint handler that many customers take advantage of (especially when they are particularly busy). Webchat, specifically, offers customers the ideal combination of immediacy and written evidence, and it is more than likely that we will see this channel used a lot more in the future.

The information revolution has enabled firms to better understand their customers, to monitor every journey and maintain complete digital records that meet both regulatory obligations and allow reviews and investigations to take place. On the other side, it has allowed customers more choice, greater agency and access to a much vaster range of products and services.

It is crucial that firms make the right investments in monitoring technology and communication channels now, especially if they are aiming to achieve ‘complaints excellence’.

The importance of a ‘single customer view’

With firms on their way to offering multi-channel complaints experiences, complaints handlers will find they face a slightly different challenge: compiling all the information collected through different channels into a coherent ‘story’ so that the real issue can be identified and resolved.

Being able to develop a ‘single customer view’ will be absolutely necessary for complaints teams. If complaints handlers can have a complete record of every interaction the customer has had with the business, regardless of the channel, they will be able to focus on having valuable conversations and make informed decisions.

When a ‘single customer view’ is available to all frontline staff, they will also have a much higher chance of being able to demonstrate their understanding of the issue and, therefore foster deeper relationships with the customer they are interacting with.

It’s fair to say that if a customer isn’t kept waiting and doesn’t have to explain themselves multiple times to multiple people, they will be much more comfortable and confident that their complaint is being handled well.

Have you considered digital conduct risk?

Complaints received about a product sold digitally may take more time and resources to resolve than others as firms will generally need to pull together data from disparate areas of the business to confirm the cause of the issue. Firms may be accused of not considering conduct risk if their processes and online forms are found to be confusing or leading customers astray.

This is where another important technology comes into play: Record and Replay (R&R).

Such technology allows the immediate retrieval of complete user journeys so that complaints can be investigated thoroughly. With R&R technology, a complaints function may very well identify the exact point an issue crystallizes – a customer may not have read terms and conditions, for example, or have made a small but critical error in an online form.

Session recordings can also be sent to regulators as evidence of compliance with conduct risk rules or sent back to the customer in the event of disputes. Retrieved sessions can also assist with root cause analysis, quality assurance, and future training sessions.

Huntswood’s partnership with Glassbox enables firms to automatically monitor all digital activity and set up real-time alerts that automatically identify individual sessions where specified events occur. This can help identify high-risk customers and any potential risks to the delivery of fair outcomes.

The benefits of complaining to robots

Technology already exists that can interpret unstructured language, either through voice or text, and identify not only what customers want to achieve but also how they are feeling. This advanced technology opens up new possibilities for triaging customers directly to people who are best placed to help them.

Making use of emerging technologies to resolve issues can significantly lower customer attrition rates. In fact, using artificial intelligence to look for patterns in complaints and identify future needs can prevent complaints from being made at all.

That said, when a complaint is raised, these same technologies are vital in providing the right agents with the right information at the right time.

Our Complaints Outlook 2019 revealed that nearly 1 in 10 of customers felt that being passed around multiple departments was the most frustrating aspect of the complaints process. We can easily see, then, that any technology that provides a speedy turnaround for customers, stops them having to repeat themselves and delivers a high-quality service is vital to increasing customer satisfaction.

Customer-centric innovation

Ultimately, when it comes to making a business case for investing in complaints technology there are a few key considerations. Cutting costs will, of course, be a key driver for investment, but perhaps the most important one is the impact the technology will have on customers.

Businesses need to keep their customers happy and loyal if they are to beat out the competition, and technology can help them achieve that in just about any area of their operations. But it is in complaints operations that technology will have the most powerful impact.

A ‘smart’ complaints department will use effective data gathering, R&R technology and automation to make any complaints journey as short and effective as possible. In this way, they will start turning complainants into advocates. 

However, we also can’t forget that technology is not a ‘cure-all’. Though it can help improve interaction logging and give complaints handlers the information they need to better serve their customers, people with strong interpersonal skills will still be needed to keep the conversation ‘human’.

Empowering and upskilling staff on the use of new technologies is key to getting the most out of your ‘smart’ complaints function.

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