Six Complaints Barriers

What do the experts say?

There is an ongoing gap between what customers say they want and the experience many organisations actually deliver. Imparta gathered together a group of senior customer experience professionals to discuss why.

According to Imparta’s UK consumer panel, less than 1 in 4 consumer complaints are resolved satisfactorily. However, 84% agreed that a well-handled complaint makes customers more loyal to large organisations. Leaving us to ask: are today’s businesses falling short when it comes to complaint handling?

We stress-tested our findings from the consumer panel with eight leading complaints experts. This is what they had to say about the six major barriers, as identified by our consumers, that customers face when going through the complaints procedure:

1. Consumers feel they are headbutting your process wall.

The experts’ verdict – this is an industry trait.

The public’s expectations of complaint handling processes are low: ‘Consumers think it’s going to be difficult – that’s their perception, even if it isn’t,’ (Complaints Manager, Airline). They even go so far as to avoid the complaints department altogether: ‘One-third of people who complain to us write to the CEO first, trying to bypass complaints,’ (Customer Experience Manager, Utility).

Modern feedback processes can avoid this process problem: ‘We proactively ask for customer feedback – so I think it is easy to make complaints.’

2. Staff try to resolve complaints before listening.

The experts’ verdict – they agreed. Conflict arises when staff are incentivised to resolve issues quickly, but the customer wants to be heard properly.

One expert said, ‘I’ve definitely noticed that listening is the poorest skill in our call centre. There isn’t enough patience, it’s straight to solution,’ (Customer Experience Manager, Telecoms).

Poor technology doesn’t help: ‘Systems aren’t linked up or the history isn’t read, so to the customer, it seems no one is listening,’ (Complaints Manager, Financial Services).

3. The first point of contact (FPOC) is not empowered.

The experts’ verdict – progress is being made, but there is a long way to go.

‘FPOC does happen, more in branch than call centre. Capability and confidence is a problem. Also, they are fearful of saying the wrong thing,’ (Contact Centre Manager, Financial Services).

Others recognised that they were doing more to address this issue: ‘We’re getting better. Giving the frontline autonomy to fix problems. Allowing them to go against the process and treat the customer fairly is our aim,’ (Contact Centre Director, Airline). But there is still a way to go: ‘We just don’t enable our frontline staff to make any decisions or provide any real redress. They’re not capable of it,’ (Director, Telecoms).

4. With many complaints handed straight to ‘specialists’, the consumer is passed from department to department.

The experts’ verdict – agreed this is an issue for customers, but challenging to manage.

‘There are 7,000 on the frontline and 500 escalated team members – so it’s a lot easier to control the second tier,’ (Customer Experience Manager, Telecoms). Another said they were actively trying to change behaviours of frontline staff: ‘I’ll pop it across to complaints, that’s what they often do. But now we review the contact centre better, we measure advisers on the extent to which they take ownership and responsibility,’ (Customer Experience Manager, Utility).

5. Bribery is sometimes put before good service.

The experts’ verdict – agreed, this can be seen as the easy option.

‘Bribery before service? Sometimes it’s easier and costs you less,’ said one, while another commented: ‘The ombudsman has created a culture where consumers expect monetary compensation,’ (Complaints Manager, Financial Services).

6. Driven by fear of regulators, complaint processes are sometimes much more laborious than they should be.

The experts’ verdict – sadly in agreement.

This was summed up by the shift towards a growing role for ombudsmen: ‘We’ve created a monster. Maybe because the industry wasn’t very good at handling complaints in the past, customers have turned to lawyers and ombudsmen and it’s only made the process worse,’ (Customer Experience Manager, Utility).

Leaders clearly recognise there are many challenges to be tackled to improve how customers feel about complaints in the UK. Maintaining the status quo will increase the gap between customer expectations and the reality delivered by current complaints processes, creating ever-rising numbers of complaints and decreasing CSAT.

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