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#2 Complaints Handling. Meeting Consumer Expectations In A New Decade

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Sarah Lawrence

Sarah Lawrence

Sarah has spent over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry, including over 16 years working at the Financial Ombudsman Service. Sarah specialises in customer service and complaints handling, with extensive experience of management and mediating complaints and is dedicated to passing on her knowledge and experience to businesses to improve complaints handling, customer service and consumers’ perceptions of the industry.

In the second of our series of guest blogs on key issues for complaints handling (access the preceding blog here…), Sarah Lawrence, former Technical Manager at Financial Ombudsman Service explains why quick answers aren’t always the best approach to complaints handling.

In a world of increasing technology and self-service, we still find that a significant number of people still feel the need to connect with another human being when things have gone wrong.  But, in a world that needs ever faster resolutions, it can seem puzzling to see that overall customer satisfaction has fallen over the past two years, according to the Institute of Customer Service.  Surely with increasing speed and technology, comes better customer experience?

Perhaps it’s not so puzzling when you put yourself into your customers’ shoes.  Increasingly, people have a lot more going on in their lives and part of that is encountering multiple problems every day.  Just think about your normal day: travel delays, navigating telephone menu systems when you just want to speak to someone, the computer kicking you out of your document and not saving it etc. You get the picture – it snowballs.  What starts as a small collection of minor irritations, grows to a homogenous lump of stuff that’s worthy of a well-chosen expletive.

And then if you add a complaint to this ‘lump of stuff’ you can imagine that as a someone representing that problem-causing business, you’re going to get the emotion that’s not only associated with the grievance, but everything else.

The good thing is that often people are great at fixing many of the irritations themselves.  But the particular challenge with consumers and technology, especially when it’s ‘gone wrong’ and its outside of their control, is that it is often not fixable and that’s frustrating.  They become reliant on others, in other words you as the business, to fix the problem – and that’s where the irritability and feelings of helplessness start to creep in.

The answer is that as ‘the others’ providing the service, the buck stops with us to make sure those frustrations and feelings don’t have the space to creep in.

In the UK we can apply online for money and have it in our account within minutes.  We can order food and goods and have them delivered to us within hours of pressing the confirm button.  This increasing ‘now’ culture means that as consumers many of us are now less tolerant of waiting, because in much of our day to day life we are not accustomed it.

The interesting thing with complaints is that being quick to reply doesn’t necessarily mean your customer will be any happier.  In fact, being too quick, too efficient and almost too perfect has the opposite effect to the one intended for many consumers because of the perception that you’re simply dishing out a standard response.  And perhaps that is reflected in some of the research by the Institute of Customer Service, because preventing  problems is better than fixing them.

So where does that leave us heading into the new decade then in terms of customer experience and making sure we reverse the trend of unhappy customers? It means that we need to take the time to connect, on a human level, with our customers when they are unhappy with something that has or hasn’t happened.  Looking into the future, does it include texting a customer back to tell them their complaint is resolved or is it a telephone call?  Again, the connection with the customer will inform your decision.

For us, whilst it’ll mean having an awareness of DISP as a backdrop, it requires us to  think more outside of the box in terms of the needs for that customer.  This includes considering whether the standard eight weeks that DISP prescribes is reasonable. Based on what we’ve seen in terms of customer expectations, it’s a resounding “no”, but then the timelines around a Summary Resolution Communication, could be too quick.  How will you know?  By connecting with that customer on a human level.

And there we have it. As consumers we enjoy the benefits of having things and answers quickly and this is raising our expectations across many aspects of our day to day lives and interactions with businesses.  But as consumers we are also prepared to wait (but how long depends on the problem) because we still feel that the amount of time taken represents the amount of effort and care a business has put into looking into and addressing a problem.  

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