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Blog: do you understand the emotional intelligence of your complaints team?


It’s no secret that an effective complaint handler must have a host of strong interpersonal skills in order to do their job well, and it’s also no secret that your customers’ complaint experience can have a significant effect on their satisfaction with your firm.

With this in mind, how can a board be confident that complaint handlers with the right soft skills are recruited and have the right responsibilities, and how do you ensure these skills are utilised to their true potential for the overall benefit of your customers, and ultimately your firm?

In my experience there is room for firms to improve in this area; the supporting facts (compiled as part of Huntswood’s Complaints Outlook) speak for themselves:

  • 100% of firms believe complainants can be turned into advocates 
  • 49% of people thought worse of a firm following their complaints experience 
  • 71% of firms are finding it hard to recruit effectively into complaints

Firms should consider the customer outcomes they want their complaints process to deliver; as it’s through successfully delivering good outcomes and customer experience that brand advocacy can be gained. There are many relevant outcomes to be considered, for example, your customers should:

  • Be given a clear understanding of the complaint process
  • Have a choice of ways to communicate
  • Be treated as an individual with unique individual circumstances
  • Only have to tell your firm something once

Once you have a clear view of the customer outcomes to be delivered, you can ensure your complaint handling recruitment policy facilitates delivering them. Particular personal skills that match the above needs, such as empathy, attention to detail, understanding of process (including the ability to understand the limitations of process and deliver bespoke solutions) and the ability to think independently can be much more effectively aimed for.

Many firms in this space are waking up to personality profiling as a means of instilling the right skills into their complaints function, but how do you ensure your approach in this area is effective? The use of personality profiling is in its relative infancy in complaints handling, and in my conversations with firms, it seems there is potential for it to have a significant impact.

The virtues and limitations of personality profiling

Personality profiling models such as Myers Briggs are increasing in their prominence across all of recruitment, and are very powerful tools for honing in on the particular qualities your firm is looking for in its people. Does your firm’s recruitment policy for complaint handlers include the use of personality profiling? If so, and if used effectively, you can more accurately determine the qualities of a prospective candidate.

With the changing nature of the complaints landscape (moving away from a purely process-driven function to one where process may need flexibility in order to ensure good customer outcomes), how has your complaints team adapted? With further regulatory change and management pressure to contend with, it is clear that one size does not fit all in terms of recruitment success in your complaints teams.

To pose a challenge to the use of personality profiling; if you decide to look for a definitive and inflexible ‘complaints handling personality’, do you not risk homogenising the skills contained within the team, and finding it an increasing challenge to recruit quality people?

If you’re using personality profiling to find your complaints handlers, the way your firm interprets results is just as important as the quality of applicants in ensuring the appropriate spread of skills across your team.

Success in this area will be a product of strong values and behaviours in your organisation; to this end, there must be an effective dialogue between those hiring complaints handlers and those who will manage them. Specialists in HR who can interpret personality profiling results can be extremely beneficial; however, they must also be aware of the possible implications of interpreting results literally and temper their approach appropriately. Managers should understand the justification for this approach and work to incorporate it into their day-to-day management of their people.

There an opportunity, then, to enhance the complaints recruitment process to ensure long-term success – and by success, I mean improving consumer trust, gaining brand advocacy and increasing your reputation as a customer-centric organisation.

Ensuring a proportionate approach

Historically, the risk with personality profiling is that having too prescriptive an approach can limit its effectiveness. However, different tasks in the complaints handling arena lean more heavily on different skills, for example:

  • Reviewing or investigating customer cases takes thoroughness and attention to detail
  • Speaking to a customer on the phone requires clear communication and confidence in one’s own knowledge of process
  • Dealing with a ‘vulnerable’ customer or someone with power of attorney will often require empathy and a proportionate approach so as not to put up unnecessary access barriers 

The above examples serve to show the limitations of predefining a ‘personality type’ when hiring a complaint handler. The best teams incorporate the full range of necessary soft skills, and team leaders and people managers need to recognise where these skills will be best put to use. As a board, are you comfortable that this important area of your firm is operating to its full potential?

Achieving the right balance

It’s clear that personality profiling is a powerful tool for the complaints handling world, but one which needs to be applied correctly in order to yield positive results. It’s about seeking favourable qualities while ensuring that candidates are not held to unrealistically high standards; it’s about not precluding good people with key skills as much as it is about avoiding unsuitable hires.

Recruitment should be aligned to firms’ values and behaviours, and those values and behaviours should, in turn, enable effective recruitment.

Firms do not necessarily need all the members of their complaints team to have all the skills they wish to instil in their team. If the skills instilled across a team directed in the right way, then firms can deal with complaints well and relieve some of the pressure that 71% of them said they are currently feeling in building effective complaint handling teams. 

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