A collection of articles written by Customer 1st

Service Resolution: Customers' Number One Priority

18th March 2011 | Posted in Service Recovery

Every day we read about organisations that cannot handle complaints professionally. Managers often do not fully appreciate the opportunities arising from complaints: complaints are free consultancy, with customers volunteering to tell us what we are doing wrong. Sometimes, they even tell us what we need to do to resolve the issue.

The problem I still see in some companies is that many of them regard complainants as a pain. Companies hope that complainers will go away; they bury their heads in the sand and remain arrogant towards their customers. As I have mentioned before in my blogs, complainants now use social networking sites to tell thousands of people how badly they have been treated, so the time has arrived for all senior customer service managers—in fact all leaders—to take complaints seriously.

Professor Robert Johnston of Warwick Business School undertook research for the UK's Institute of Customer Service and identified the things that really matter to customers. To summarise Robert's findings, we know that customers want us to:

  • Deliver the promise; do what you say you are going to do
  • Keep it personal; customers like to feel valued
  • Go the extra mile; customers love organisations that really make an extra special effort on their behalf
  • Handle complaints professionally; customers identified this as the most important aspect of service delivery.

If we make a mistake, our customers want us to acknowledge it, say we are sorry, empathise with them, and then do our very best to put the matter right. They also want to be kept informed of what is going on during each step of the recovery process. By following this very straightforward method of problem resolution, complainants will become our organisations' most valued ambassadors.

We all recognise that customers love to tell other people about their awful service experiences. But even more, they want to recount heroic tales of organisations' service recovery. I am positive that if customers are happy with the way a problem has been handled, they will tell a lot more people about it than if they were simply provided with the service they expected in the first place! Consequently (and please post a comment if you do not agree with my logic here), we should all love complaining customers. They not only tell us where our organisations are going wrong (for free), but, if we resolve their issue well, they will act as our best marketing agents.

Some managers see an upsurge in complaints negatively, as a reflection on their own performance. They can be tempted to try to sweep them under the carpet. A good customer service manager identifies the reasons for service failures and poor customer experiences, perhaps through customer journey mapping, and takes steps to ensure the problem does not recur. He or she sees it as an opportunity to fine-tune the department's service delivery. The problem can be resolved through consultation with the team and then communicating any required changes, both to the organisation and the customer.

A good example of proactive resolution occurred when a bank in the U.K. sent out a communication to all its customers that resulted in its contact centre being overwhelmed with concerned customers who thought that they were going to lose bank services. The bank's initial reaction was to recruit more staff for the contact center, until a management consultant looked closely at the communication and discovered that the letter was misleading customers. The communication needed to be rewritten, with an apology, and sent out again as a matter of urgency.

Once this happened, the calls stopped. This was a valuable lesson learned on the importance of thoroughly checking all communication that goes out to customers. The miscommunication could have cost the bank dearly, but its customers were telling them that they had gotten it wrong. The bank recovered the situation by listening to and addressing its customers' concerns directly.

Listening to customers is vital. Listening to their complaints and reacting quickly, efficiently, and professionally is one of the most important features of a customer centric company. Customer relationship management has engaged many of us in devoting a lot of effort to selling to customers, but perhaps organisations have not spent enough time countering dissatisfaction, reducing defection, and turning customers into an effective sales force. Here is a checklist for customer service managers (and anyone responsible for customer experiences):

  • Make it easy for customers to complain. Assess the cost of not responding to complaints effectively. This might vary, depending on your business. Build effective relationships with your customers that will promote positive word of mouth and result in customer retention and loyalty.
  • Empower front-line staff to deal with complaints as far as possible. If you can do that, you are closing in on the holy grail of one-point resolution. Train your staff to use the proper procedures. Motivate them to respond in the best way, and they will soon see the benefits from happy complainants.
  • Ensure that complaints analyses and trends are agenda items for management meetings, and use additional research, such as lost customer analysis or word-of-mouth measurement, to ensure that policies and procedures reflect the importance of complaints.

Be confident and cherish those complaining customers!