Because of the nature of the industry I work in, I care a lot about how good companies are at delivering a superior experience to their customers – and how they respond when things go wrong.
This blog is prompted by a bad customer experience and an even worse complaint handling process. I hope it provides some useful tips on things to avoid when handling a complaint. As Bill Gates once said, "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning", so hopefully I will be able to prompt you with some ideas or start a discussion.
I won’t bore you with all the details but I am a frequent train traveller and a very regular customer on the same line. I encountered a problem on the return leg of a recent journey. Although I was able to show my booking confirmation, seat reservation and my outbound ticket, I could not find the return ticket when asked by the train guard. Not only did he make me pay the full fare but his comments made me feel like a serial fare evader!
So when I got home, I decided to make a complaint. And that’s when a bad situation got a whole lot worse. The experience has encouraged me to highlight some key lessons that could help companies to guarantee a successful customer outcome for every interaction.
Ensure customers can reach you via their preferred communication channel
According to Microsoft’s Richard Peers, by 2020, 85 per cent of customer interactions will be managed without people. However, while customers value self-service or multi-channel offerings, removing the human touch from consumer ‘conversations’ can be a risky approach – particularly when they are unhappy. Further research found that 53% of customers still prefer to engage with businesses face to face or over the phone. So, by removing the opportunity to speak to someone you risk upsetting over half of your customers!
I share the opinion that there is no one size fits all approach to customer interactions, so I was very surprised to find that email was the only option to complain. However, I wanted to speak with somebody on the phone. I decided to ring the general enquiries number.
Provide First Time Resolution and ensure you can measure it to improve
Unfortunately, as you can already guess, rather than being treated like a loyal and valued customer, I received a very different experience. I rang general enquiries from my mobile which is the number associated with my frequent traveller account. I may as well have rung Venus and spoken Martian. The agent showed no sign of understanding my problem. He could offer no help. He had no integration with the CRM so he could not see my frequent traveller profile or my journey and payment history. His only suggestion – yes you guessed it - was to email my complaint. This was not the First Call Resolution (FCR) I was hoping for.
First Call Resolution (FCR) is an important contact centre metric. The term is self-explanatory: a contact centre’s ability to resolve customer problems, questions or needs the first time they call, with no follow-up required. Research from The Ascent Group shows that the higher your first-call resolution rate, the more satisfied your customers tend to be.
Ensure systems you use ‘talk to each other’ and can provide agents with information when its needed
If the rail company had the appropriate systems and integrations in place, they could probably have resolved my query then and there. With the growing popularity of the self-service or multi-channel offering, contact centres need to ensure that systems they implement to fulfil this demand, can seamlessly share information between different channels to ensure customer satisfaction. In this case, the lack of CRM integration and failure to recognise my frequent traveller status, created anything but the feeling of satisfaction.
Track your customers’ interactions to ensure you can deliver successful customer outcomes every time
Receiving a complaint needs to be taken seriously. It is essential to ensure that each of your interactions with an unhappy customer is done in an excellent manner. Sending a generic automated email response that fails to recognise or respond to the individual situation, is just going to make the customer feel that the company doesn’t care about them. That’s certainly how I felt and it left me even more dissatisfied.
This also applies to agents handling complaints over the phone. Ensuring that your agents have the right customer information at their fingertips and that they are given appropriate training to show empathy for example, is paramount. Using interaction analytics software that can measure and score 100% of your customer-agent interactions, can help you asses how well your agents are doing at recognising escalation, delivering empathy, and trying to reach a successful first call outcome. You can then use that information to identify with certainty those agents that need additional coaching and what exactly they need to be trained on. Having access to all that information will help you create an overall picture of all of your customer interactions, and across different channels you use. It is clear to me that no such rigorous analysis is in place at this train company.
Unfortunately, I had to wait two months (yes, two months) to get a personalised response. There was an apology for the delay but no mention of any refund, no apology for the guard’s sarcasm, no acknowledgement of my status as a frequent customer, or the embarrassment caused, in fact nothing to make me feel like a valued customer. And, just to rub salt into my wounds, I was asked to complete a customer satisfaction survey about their response to my complaint – oh the irony!
So why am I telling you this story? Because it need not have ended like this. I believe many companies out there could benefit greatly by combining state of the art contact centre technology with insightful analytics. This would allow them to capture the true Voice of The Customer and improve interactions at every step of the customer journey. It would help them to recognise which channels customers prefer to use and to resource accordingly. And, it would help them to provide the training their agents need to deliver successful outcomes and enhance customer loyalty. Will I use the same train again? I already have. Not because I want to but because I have no choice. Will I recommend the company concerned? Only negatively. And when the franchise comes up for review, will this company have built-up the customer support it needs to for success? Not if my experience is anything to go by.
So these are my top tips for guaranteeing a successful customer outcome for each interaction. What are yours?