Embrace Your Customer’s Complaints

Delivery of high quality customer service is, in truth only as complicated as, we the deliverers make it. And my, don’t we often make it complicated.

Sign that says we listen

It sounds so obvious, but then so does much of what have often seemed so innovative over the last 20 years I have worked in Customer service and contact centers. The truth is there are very few new ideas out there.

I have spent many years working in large blue chip organisation, in industries such as mobile telecoms, IT support, internet service provision and even Charity. In all cases I have never failed to be amazed by the many obstacles that these businesses will put in the way of satisfying their very life blood, the customer.

These obstacles come in many shapes and guises. There are systems, processes, policy and cost to name but a few. However the most frequently experienced is, the opinion that we as providers know what our customers want, better than they do.

Of course we invest in unending supplies of market research and customer and industry insight data. All of which delivers ever more granular understanding of the perfect product and service for each demographic and sector. This is certainly useful information and should be used to help shape our business. But there is a free and truly insightful way of discovering what our customers want, and it comes from the cheapest and best source of all. Our customers.

Encourage Complaints

I recently suggested to a director of a top 100 company that customer complaints should be embraced and indeed encouraged. The director’s reaction was one of derision: “Encourage complaints. I’ve got enough of them without encouraging them!” This person was clear which area of their operation was responsible for the recent poor customer satisfaction statistics and was already devising a plan to overhaul the function in question.

In truth it may well be that the targeted function has failings, but so equally may others, and whilst busily creating steering groups and project teams to create the perfect customer service operation, the customer is simply frustrated that they don’t know what is happening with their own simple issue which they took the time to go into writing about.

Back in 1990 Feargal Quinn, founder of “Superquinn” one of Irelands largest supermarket chains wrote in his book “Crowning the customer” of the need to embrace the customers views by recognizing the importance of each complaint. Apologize, mean it, understand the reason for the failing, don’t make excuses, fix it for the customer and make it different for the next customer. As I said there are no new ideas.

More recently, Gordon Ramsey, celebrity chef, TV personality and Founder of the phenomenally successful “Gordon Ramsey Holdings” states in his book “Playing with fire”, that early in his career he treated complaints with contempt, and letters “went in the bin as appropriate testimony to the writer’s credentials”. This continued until his partner and father in law Chris Hutcheson pointed out that he was in fact “binning the most valuable management tool in the chest”.

Ramsey goes on to extol the virtues of wowing a dissatisfied customer. Of course we all know that a complaint corrected can often result in a strong and vocal advocate for your business. It remains a mystery why so few companies build on this incredible opportunity both to learn and to gain the valuable free advertising that is “word of mouth”.

As my own example, my wife and I cruised on the Cunard Liner QM2 for our honeymoon. Of course everyone we knew was told of the fabulous trip we were due to take and was keen to ask what it was like on our return.

The truth was that the trip was amazing. Fantastic surroundings, great entertainment incredible food and terrific cocktails made a superb honeymoon. However the story they got was of a calamitous disembarkation in New York and an inaccurate report of a rejected credit card.

I wrote to Cunard. The response was courteous, personal and apologetic. A customer service executive called Peter Moss made no excuses, he simply empathized, apologized and sympathized that this was clearly not the way a honeymoon should be remembered. Mr Moss, offered a substantial compensatory discount from a future voyage with Cunard, to “Allow them to demonstrate their true high standards”

The result is that my wife and I will sail again next year and all I tell people is how great the trip was and how well they dealt with a couple of minor errors. The Cunard investment in me has been more than covered.

However, one word of warning must follow. I have worked in a number of leading brand organisations. They invest millions protecting that brand and nurturing loyalty from customers. But amazingly many of these companies jeopardize this work by taking a small sample of insight data, market research or complaints and looking to make “knee jerk” changes to their operation. Often these result in further changes, convinced that the first steps have not resulted in the required result. Drawing an analogy form the Cunard story. It takes time to turn a ship, it is important to allow the change to take affect before turning again.

In short embrace your customer’s complaints but as a previous senior colleague frequently remarked, make you plan strategic not tactical.

About the Author

Dave D’Arcy has many years experience in senior customer service and contact center roles across a number of industries and market sectors. In 2007 Dave launched “Callen Customer Management Ltd” as a customer service consultancy and interim management company.

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