Complaints – a help or hindrance to business?
Complaints are a fact of life. We’ve all been in a position where we’ve had to complain about something – poor food, poor service, defective goods, poor communication. As employees or business owners, we’ve probably all received complaints as part of running our business as well. But are complaints always a time-consuming hindrance or can they actually be a positive thing for business?
Depending on the size of the organisation there may be complaints/customer services teams whose sole job it is to deal with and respond to complaints. In smaller firms, it may be a case that everyone has to deal with a complaint at some point depending on what it is about. In all scenarios though are we dealing with them appropriately? Is complaints-handling high enough on the agenda? And perhaps most importantly, are complaints a symptom of something more serious, such as a fundamental flaw with a product or service?
Dealing effectively with complaints is really the key
A complaint can really be split into two interconnected issues. First is the complaint itself, the reason that the person has decided to get in contact. The second, is how the complaint is handled. If there is one thing to really irritate a complaining consumer, it’s when a complaint is ignored or not dealt with effectively or efficiently. This often leads to another complaint and sometimes even results in a customer becoming a serial complainer tying businesses up for hours and hours trying to deal with multiple issues. That doesn’t mean that all complaints are valid or that you always have to agree with the complainant, but it does mean that you need to deal with it in an effective and consistent manner.
The most simple way to manage this, even in small companies, is to have a written complaints procedure and process in place. This will ensure that all complaints, whether valid or not, will go through the same process which should help reduce subsequent complaints of unfairness. If companies receive high numbers of repetitive or frivolous complaints, it may also want to consider putting a Frivolous and Vexatious Complaints Policy in place, which clearly outlines under what circumstances complaints can be classified and dealt with as such. This way, even a vexatious complaint is logged and communication is sent to the complainer – which is much better than simply ignoring it!
Complaints as a path to improvement
Analysing complaintscan be a valuable way of identifying your business’s strength and weaknesses. Is there a particular team, employee, or element of your services that isn’t quite up to scratch? Do the same complaints come in time and time again, using up precious time and damaging your reputation? Are frequent similar complaints a sign of a more serious underlying problem with the business?
It is very easy to see complaints as a hindrance and negative part of running a business. However, without complaints it can be difficult to see where improvements should be made. Learning from complaints to improve products and services should be an integral part of the process, as well as communicating this to the complainant. Customers are much more likely to continue using a company’s services if they feel that they are listened to as well as having their concerns acted upon in a positive way. Complaints should play an important role in the continuous improvement of your services.
Dealing with common complaints
The Direct Marketing Commission, on its website, states the top 5 most common complaints that it receives about its members:
- Poor Customer Service– this can cover a range of issues including not having phone calls returned, being kept waiting unreasonable amounts of time on the phone or for a reply to an email/letter; rude or unhelpful staff; being given conflicting advice; or being subjected to unexpected charges or costs – Is your customer service trainingup to scratch?
- Opting out from unwanted emails – a big issue for any company carrying out online marketing (which in these technologically advanced times must be most)! – Are your email communications compliant with regulations? Do you need help with the GDPR?
- Silent Calls (where companies use an automated dialling system which kicks in too quickly meaning no agent is available to speak) Is this the most appropriate way to contact your customers? Do the systems you use support your ethos?
- Unwanted marketing calls – How many of us have received unwanted calls about PPI and motor accidents?! Make sure you check the telephone preference service before making unsolicited calls.
- Unsolicited goods (unwittingly ordering due to not understanding terms of obligation when joining mail order or online schemes) – Are your terms and conditions easy to access and understand?
The key to maintaining a good reputation
At Bridgehouse we are constantly looking at damage to reputation as a key risk for businesses. Complaints, especially that are handled badly, can have a terrible effect on a company’s reputation and in a hyper-competitive world, this can be devastating. I’m sure we can all think of brands and companies that have suffered reputationally from poor customer services and an abundance of complaints. Utilities providers as well as telecommunications companies often spring to mind.
Each December, the Guardian publishes a roundup of complaints it receives from readers of its Consumer Champions column which makes really interesting reading. Probably not unexpectedly, British Airways often features as the most complained about airline, with many complaining that they “were simply ignored by the firm.”BT was another household name often “failing to deal with matters as they should”and it really is about time that all organisations treat customer services and complaints handling as an integral part of their business operations.
Ensure whistle blowing procedures are followed
Certain types of companies should also consider whether a whistle blowing policy and process should be put in place, to ensure that there is an effective and confidential way that employees can report internal concerns. Often employees on the floor are in the best place to identify wrongdoing and are useful tools in safeguarding a company’s reputation. However, it is imperative that the integrity of such whistle blowing procedures are followed properly, supported and upheld by senior management so as to avoid the fate of Barclays CEO, James Staley who was recently fined an eye watering £642, 430 (10% of annual salary) for failing to act with due skill, care and diligence when he tried to identify the author of an anonymous letter to the bank. Whistle blowing policies can be incredibly valuable to companies in ensuring the upholding of their reputation and ethics and must be believed in and followed by those in authority.
For a review of your complaints handling procedures, assistance with whistleblowing policies or any other Governance needs, please contact us here to find out more.