POSTED: 26th February 2021

Currently only 1 in 20 complainants become an advocate for the company as a result of their complaint experience. However, Complaints Outlook 2021 suggests that this can be increased to as high as 1 in 4 when customers are extremely satisfied with their overall experience. 

Firms which respond to complaints with empathy and clear communication have an opportunity to regain customer trust and earn customer loyalty.

We had some great feedback following our launch event and received a number of questions from attendees wanting more information on how they can unlock this value from the complaints journey and put our insights into action. 

Here, Richard Brown – Huntswood’s Technical Adviser in Complaints – answers some of the questions we didn't get a chance to answer at the launch event.

Richard Brown

Richard Brown

Technical Adviser in Complaints

The unanswered questions

Signposting to complaints can begin at the very start of a customer relationship – this means being open and honest from the outset with regards to saying: “if something does go wrong, we want you to know that this is our process”. Again, this shows them that they are valued as a customer and that you’re willing to do what’s necessary to ensure they receive the best outcome possible.

With that in mind, we would also recommend for firms to pay adequate attention to their complaints processes on their website and make this information accessible on their homepage. Third party support should also be mentioned as part of this, albeit this is a little trickier as you won’t always know the type of support an individual requires before speaking to them.

Our research shows that 80% of customers are retained when complaints are resolved within the first two days. If this can be achieved, less complaints are escalated further, whether it be within the business or to the Ombudsman.

According to call handlers interviewed for CO21, 63% of front‐line staff don’t always have access to the information they need to resolve a complaint. Giving customer service teams the confidence – and training – to demonstrate empathy and answer customer contacts themselves, rather than escalating it to a more senior or specialist member of the team, is critical to an efficient complaints model. It also leaves the customer feeling that the first person they have spoken to cares about their issue, rather than passing them on.

While of course addition support may be needed in some instances, giving decision‐making power will increase the likelihood of the complaint being solved at first point of contact, which our data shows is critical to keeping customers on side.

When it is not possible for the first call handler to resolve a complaint, a warm hand off can go a long way to assuring a customer that their complaint is being taken seriously and dealt with by the right person. Ideally this would happen during the same call, or with the assurance of a call back from the right person in a short time‐period.

Empowering staff to make decisions and ensuring that they can direct complaints to the right place will not only lead to positive outcomes for your customers, but increased employee satisfaction too. It’s important that teams buy into the process and understand how their role impacts a customer’s overall perception and the consequences for the business if said experience is negative.

The wording is indeed broader than before and there are no plans, which we are aware of, for that to change. Again, it’s important for firms to respond to customer contacts as quickly as possible, as this will help with satisfaction levels and retention. We find that, while most firms still acknowledge the five days as a maximum, many are making a proactive effort to achieve a much quicker turnaround time in terms of response – for example, 95% of acknowledgement letters being issued within two working days.

Some complaints are more complex than others. If you’re not going to be able to investigate and provide a response within two days, just be transparent with your customers and manage their expectations with regards to time.

Ensuring that you have acknowledged the complaint and informed the customer that you are doing your best to get an update to them as soon as possible will lower the chances of them feeling unvalued, but it’s also important that you don’t give them a turnaround time if there’s a risk you won’t meet it. This will further damage the relationship, so open and honest communication is key here.

In fact, it is preferable to update a customer regularly – even if there is little or no change to a complaint’s status – than to wait for them to chase you. Our research shows that 3 out of 4 customers are left feeling angry when they have to chase for an update on their complaint and do not receive one.

Sign‐posting of alternative dispute resolution should be included in the acknowledgement of your complaint processes available online but can also be reinforced at key stages throughout the complaints journey. For example, the complaint acknowledgement. It is important to communicate to the customer when they can actually use this facility (e.g. at 8 weeks of the complaint not being resolved).

Absolutely. We know from our research that customers appreciate the personal touch as it helps to make them feel valued – even if the outcome does not go in their favour.

It’s important to remember that complaints occur when the relationship between brand and consumer is most at risk of erosion, so taking steps to show customers that you care about the outcome will help to strengthen your bond during this uncertain time. Taking the time to explain your decision can help with overall satisfaction levels and may be the difference between whether the customer is retained or lost following a negative experience.

From our research, we have found that discussing the decision to uphold or reject a complaint can also provide operational gains for firms. By providing a thorough explanation, customers are less likely to continue with their challenge, freeing up customer service teams to focus on other critical tasks. It will also help reduce the number of complaints being escalated to the Ombudsman, again reducing the time and resource required for an ongoing investigation and also reducing the likelihood for costly reparations.

Our recommendation would be for firms to trial a more direct approach to complaint rejection, using a small team of complaint handlers and cases, to study whether the increase in operational costs is outweighed by the future potential for cost savings and increase in customer satisfaction.

When sending a final response letter in the event of a rejection, the key is to make it as clear as possible for customers to understand why the process has not gone in their favour. This means using simple, direct language – no jargon.

Whether you send a letter or make a call, it is important for you to show empathy in this interaction, as customers making a complaint are likely to be feeling annoyed or confused by the situation.

Although the complaint is not being upheld – making the customer feel like their opinion is valid can have a positive impact on retention. According to our research, only 1 in 3 customers would rate the empathy skills of their complaint handlers as good, which is something firms must work on.

Lastly, update the customer on the result as quickly as possible. No one likes bad news, but it is made worse if it takes weeks to be received. Our research shows that 3 out of 4 customers are left feeling angry when they have to chase for an update on their complaint and do not receive one.