Posted: 5th August 2021

The insight we receive from our expert call handling teams is invaluable. Their input helps us to constantly refine our service offering and learn new ways of adding value. We share these insights with our customers so that they can improve their own operations, customer experiences and complaint journeys.

We’ve spoken to three Huntswood ‘customer heroes’ about the importance of first point of contact interactions, which our Complaints Outlook research has identified as a crucial moment in the complaints experience. With more than 40+ years of customer service and complaint handling experience between them, their knowledge and expertise helps create better outcomes for our clients and their customers.

Q. Why is the first conversation you have with a customer when they want to complain so important?

Kelley: The best way to successfully deal with complaints is by answering the first call in the right way. You want to try and get the complaint resolved as quickly as possible, and the customer needs to trust that you’re going to do what you say you will. They need to believe the rest of the process is going to be dealt with in the right way. When this doesn’t happen, the customer may end up making another complaint further down the line. If you don’t gain their trust at the beginning, it’s much harder to gain their trust further down their complaint journey.

Lauren: You need to be willing to listen to customers. Half the time they just want to be heard and feel like they’re being listened to. If you can gain their trust and say the right things to establish a calm discussion, then you can get to a good rapport a lot quicker. You need to listen to customers and put yourself in their shoes to understand why their emotions are running high. 

Q. What are customers generally looking for from the person they speak to when it comes to having their complaints resolved?

Kelley: Customers want their complaints to be resolved, and to be listened to. They want to know that you understand their complaint and concerns, and not feel like they’re just speaking to a robot. They’re looking for reassurance that you care, and you’re not just going to jump in and try and resolve the issue without listening. They might not understand the complaints process and how it works, so it’s always best practice to talk through how the process works and what is going to happen next.

Lauren: You need to react as empathetically as possible, but there are obviously policies and processes that mean customers don’t always get the outcome they want. First and foremost, they want to be heard and to be treated respectfully. You can ask them in a perfect world what would they want the outcome to be, as a way of managing their expectations. If the outcome they want is something you know isn’t going to be possible, then you can clearly communicate this during that first call. If you know what they want the outcome to be, you can try and get as close to that as possible.

Q. What can companies do to help staff have more power to help resolve things at the first point of contact?

Lauren: It helps if you don’t have to request authorisation for everything. When the customer is already dissatisfied you don’t want the complaint to be handled for a longer period than necessary as this leaves a negative impression. The longer you leave a complaint unresolved the more perception damage there is to the brand. The customer is left feeling like you don’t want to help them, and they’ve been forgotten.

Matthew: When complaints aren’t resolved it becomes another complaint about how long it has taken for the complaint to be handled, which often leads to goodwill payments having to be made. A lot of the time it’s a financial issue, for instance, someone has a credit marker against them which they shouldn’t have, and this can have knock-on effects for big life decisions, like them being able to get a mortgage.

When there is positive communication between the call handlers and the company we are working with, things run a lot more smoothly. You don’t have to depend on relaying your messages to someone else or becoming stuck in the same situation. Good communication with the company allows you to get an answer for the customer straight away.

Q. What’s best practice when a complaint can’t be resolved on the first call?

Lauren: If you say ‘I’ll call you back in three days’, call them back in three days, even if you are no further along in resolving their concerns. If the customer feels like they’re still in the loop, it’s a much easier transition. If you’re handing it off to a different department, make sure they have all the details so the customer doesn’t have to go through everything again.

Kelley: The only way to reassure a customer is by telling them timescales – when they’re going to hear from you next, how they’ll receive information and ultimately how the complaint will be resolved. You need to match the expectations that you’ve outlined on the first call. They need to know what the process will be and that they won’t have to start the whole process again with a new person. You need to use your time with them to reassure them that you do care, you’re going to do your best for them and the person you’re handing them onto is going to do everything they can to meet their needs. You want to get them to a place where they have confidence that the business is going to do what they’ve said they’re going to.

Keep the customer in the loop – and empathy goes a long way

As our conversations show, adding value often comes at no cost – customers want to be heard and listened to, and if you say you’ll do something, then do it, even if you don’t have the resolution they’re looking for just yet.

Our Complaints Outlook 2021 survey shows that 17% more customers will recommend a firm to others if they feel valued during and after their complaint. Working closely with the complaint handling teams that represent your company is the first step to making sure that your customers feel valued from the minute they pick up the phone.   

Are you a business service looking to improve the customer complaint journey and improve satisfaction? Get in touch with a Huntswood associate to learn more