Posted: 3rd September 2019

It’s no secret that an effective complaint handler must have a host of strong interpersonal skills in order to do their job well. Neither is it a secret that how these handlers interact with customers can have a significant impact on their satisfaction with the whole complaints experience (and their perception of your firm).

In fact, the Complaints Outlook 2019 suggests that complaint handlers’ emotional intelligence is far more important than previously thought. Currently, 61% of customers across financial services and utilities are dissatisfied with the empathy displayed by the complaint handler that dealt with them. 41% stated that they were “extremely dissatisfied” with how valued they felt as customers.

What’s, perhaps, even more telling is the fact that 1 in every 20 customers rated the interaction with the first person they spoke to (more often than not a front-line complaint handler) as “the single most frustrating thing about the complaints process”.

You know what they say: “first impressions really are everything”.  

Your firm needs to have total confidence in your complaint handlers, ensuring they have the right soft skills and the right responsibilities, if you are to really deliver complaints excellence (and reap the rewards of that).

In our experience, there is still plenty of room for firms to improve in this area. Complaints Outlook 2019 called on complaints teams to make customers’ experience their first priority, with speed of resolution, initial interaction and continuing service quality made core performance indicators.

Loyalty to your brand and increased advocacy are at stake, after all.  


Firms should first consider the customer outcomes they want their complaints process to deliver – and there are plenty of these 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 recruitment and training policy facilitates the delivery of them.

So-called ‘soft skills’ are vitally important to a complaint handler, and to the complaints team in general. It’s these interpersonal skills that will really ensure that customers at the other end of the phone (who may already be in distress) receive the reassurance and quality service that they need.


The initial interaction in a complaints process is perhaps the most important in the whole journey, so you want to be sure that your complaint handlers are putting their ‘best foot forward'. It’s important to test the customer experience before making any new hires or investing in training.

You can do this by:

  • ‘Mystery shopping’ across all channels that impact customer experience
  • Completing a cultural assessment to understand if internal culture is effectively supporting a ‘customer-first’ focus
  • Ensuring current performance indicators are not inadvertently driving poor customer experiences. For example, a focus on reducing call waiting times may mean complaints handlers are rushed and customers are made to feel unimportant
  • Introduce customer experience metrics that drive the positive behaviours needed


When recruiting for complaints professionals, you’ll certainly want to be looking (and testing for) people that can display high levels of empathy and patience, have a strong attention to detail, a deep understanding of processes and the ability to think and act independently. In short, you need people with a high degree of emotional intelligence. 

Many firms are waking up to personality profiling as a means of identifying people with these skills for their complaints department. But how do you ensure your approach in this area is effective and fair to potential employees?

The use of personality profiling is still in its relative infancy in the complaints handling industry. It seems though, in our conversations with firms, that there is great potential for it to have a significant impact.


Personality profiling models – such as Myers Briggs or the Personal Profile Analysis – are becoming increasingly popular across all areas of recruitment. They are very powerful tools for homing in on the particular qualities your firm is looking for in its people.

To pose a challenge to the use of personality profiling, however; if you decide to look for a definitive and inflexible ‘complaints handling personality’, do you not risk homogenising the skills contained within the team? It could make it increasingly difficult 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 made clear 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 here. 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’s an opportunity, then, to enhance the complaints recruitment and training processes to ensure long-term success – and by success, we mean improving consumer trust, gaining brand advocacy and increasing your reputation as a customer-centric organisation.


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 best teams incorporate a full range of necessary soft skills and hard skills. There is certainly no ‘one-size-fits-all’ team nor team member. Leaders and people managers need to recognise where these skills will be best put to use and apply them effectively.


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.

A complaints team should be built in alignment with your firms’ values and behaviours, and those values and behaviours should, in turn, inform effective recruitment and training.

Firms do not necessarily need all the members of their complaints team to have all the skills they wish to see. If these skills are spread effectively across a team and are directed in the right way, such teams will be able to exceed customer expectations on the regular.