Posted: 21st November 2019

In September, we officially launched the Complaints Outlook 2019, the definitive guidebook to the UK’s regulated complaints handling industry.

If you’ve been following Huntswood Insights for any amount of time, you will have enjoyed the selection of expert articles, opinion pieces and analysis that has emerged from the research undertaken. But even then, there are still plenty of questions to be answered and analysis to be undertaken.

We opened up discussion on the day of our launch event and during the webinar that followed, inviting clients, friends and audience-members to ask our speakers questions on the matters most important to them. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time at either event to answer every question with the level of thoroughness we would have liked.

But we’ve now had the time to digest some of the more common or significant questions raised. With the assistance of some of our experts from around the Huntswood office, we’ve answered your burning complaints questions.

“How do you define ‘complaints excellence’?”

'Complaints excellence' represents a state of high efficiency and consistently positive outcomes delivered through a great experience in the handling of complaints.

A truly excellent complaints department will be delivering fast resolution, dealing with the core of customer issues in a way that is satisfying to the complainant and delivering good customer outcomes through an all-round excellent experience.

Those businesses that make every touch-point of the customer journey a pleasurable experience will find that their customers come to trust them and even advocate for them.

If you can make the often frustrating experience of complaining simple and enjoyable – whether this be through enhanced technology, investment in complaints channels or trying to improve resolution times, you will be well on your way to achieving ‘complaints excellence’.

But we should clarify, when we say ‘complaints excellence’, there isn’t really any hidden meaning. We just mean ‘a really excellent complaints experience’!

“What complaint handling qualifications are available? And do they really help with competence?”

There are plenty of qualifications – and a range of certifications – that career complaints handlers can undertake. Even part-time contractors can benefit from seeking these out and completing them. The London Institute of Banking & Finance, the Chartered Banker Institute and Institute of Customer Service all offer varying levels of qualification, and this is certainly not a comprehensive list.

It always pays to have some level of qualification on your CV when applying for a role in one of our Centres of Excellence, for example. Some roles, particularly for projects related to complicated products or vulnerable customers, require complaint handlers to have a certain certification.

When it comes to seeking out training, however, there’s no going past actual complaints experts. Huntswood’s training team offers e-learning courses based on the best practice we have developed over 22 years of complaints handling in regulated sectors. You can also reach out to us for bespoke guidance from leaders in the field, and plug-in competency testing or training to any Huntswood service.

And yes, of course, qualifications certainly can help complaints handlers deliver a better complaints experience. But, as in other areas of education, a title is not the ‘be-all-and-end-all’. As long as competency tracking and continuous personal development is made a significant part of any case handlers day-to-day, they will find themselves at the forefront of their field. 

“What’s more important, outcomes and compliance, or satisfaction and customer experience?”

We’d have to say “outcomes and compliance” are simply a non-negotiable here, however, regulatory compliance should be an absolute minimum for firms rather than a goal in itself.

Outcomes are important (you don’t want customers who rightly deserve a refund walking away feeling cheated out of it), and we do see outcomes as a large determiner of overall satisfaction rather than something to work towards achieving.

In the end, however, it is the experience that a customer will remember and value. If they walk away feeling as if the complaint handler didn’t empathise with them, or didn’t offer the solutions they were expecting, they will be much less likely to continue buying from the company in question (see the ‘Driving deeper, more valuable relationships with existing customers’ section of the Complaints Outlook for more).

“In the social media world, how have customer expectations changed when it comes to complaints?”

Surprisingly, despite the ubiquity of social media, only about 1% of complaints are made through such channels.

When customers come to make a complaint, they will usually want to make it as directly as they can to their provider. Making a social media post or sending a message to a company’s corporate page simply does not feel as direct. Many customers, particularly those within financial services, also probably do not want to share private details or data via a platform that is so notoriously public.

We’ve definitely seen social media used more to ‘call out’ firms for their service or perceived failings, especially within the utilities and telecoms markets. With the barrier of the keyboard and screen, as well as the platform offered by social media, customers feel that they can be served by making issues public and almost shaming companies into action. It’s certainly not a bad strategy, from the customers’ side at least, but it can be a challenge for businesses to keep up and minimise damage to their brand.

We know that customers want a more multi-channel experience in general, however. They want to be able to talk to their companies through their preferred mediums and expect their customer data to allow for quick identification and quick resolution of their issues.

“Do you think FinTech firms and online banks who solely operate via an app should be allowed to accept consent for closing of complaints via the app?”

Following on from the answer above, we think firms should be able to resolve complaints in the way that is most efficient and effective for them and provides the best experience for customers.

However, because of the distance of the relationship between bank and customer in this example, we would usually advise for explicit consent or understanding to close a complaint from the customer, or look for other forms of settlement and redress. This is a particular challenge for app-based finance firms, many of whom are not investing as much into their customer contact function as they probably should be.

“Do you feel that technology is able to replace humans in elements of the complaints process?”

Technology has evolved rapidly over the past decade, to the point that robots are causing human employees to rethink their role within the workplace. In fact, we’ve just started publishing a series on the current revolution within the workplace, positing that technological evolution will bring plenty of benefits, but plenty of challenging change at the same time.

There are certain technologies that may very well boost the efficiencies of your complaints team, particularly within the triage part of the journey. Webchat is a popular technology being implemented across many businesses, giving a single case handler the ability to deal with a number of customers at once and allowing for better documentation of conversations. 

Smart AIs that are able to understand not just the message of written communication but also the tone and emotional cues of them are also beginning to be employed in the complaints space to great effect.

However, we don’t think technology is ready to replace human complaint handlers just yet, nor will it any time soon. As one of the biggest customer gripes identified in the Complaints Outlook was a lack of genuine empathy from some case handlers, putting robots in their place would only serve to exacerbate the issue – until the technology evolves further, at least. 

The continuing journey towards ‘complaints excellence’

No business, operation or process is perfect, and it will be a long time still until we see ‘complaints excellence’ become the norm across our various industries and sectors (if it is ever achieved). After all, there will always be stand-outs and examples of less-than-effective operations.

But this shouldn’t discourage us from trying. We all need to take proactive steps, every day, to deliver better outcomes for customers and improve the commerciality of our businesses.

We’ll be sharing more questions and answers in future articles. Sign up for Huntswood Insights now to stay up to date with this series.

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