Even with the best intentions, every business will fail to meet customer expectations at some point. The manner in which the customer complaint is handled is critical on these occasions. Get it right and reputations can be redeemed, get it wrong and the problem can rapidly escalate.
In my Complaints Handling Training I emphasise the importance of these five steps:
Any member of an organisation can receive a complaint, so it is important that everyone receives complaint handling training. A clear understanding of what to do, and how to do it, will ensure that all employees are sufficiently equipped to turn the situation around.
Beyond upholding the reputation of your company, clear policies benefit employees. Job satisfaction can be gained from resolving a difficult situation with confidence; it is certainly preferable to being at the receiving end of frustrated customers who become ever more irate.
Complaint Handling Awards 2018
On Thursday 22 February, I was one of a panel of judges at the Complaint Handling Awards 2018. The shortlisted entrants were given the opportunity to showcase the strategies they were employing to reduce complaints and improve customer relations. Our panel was judging ‘Proactive Complaint Handling in the Utility Industry’.
The utilities industry is governed by OfWat, an organisation designed to build customer confidence in water and waste water services. If a customer complains the utility company is fined by OfWat. If the complaint isn’t resolved within 10 days, the fine increases. It is therefore in the interest of all utility companies to invest in effective customer services.
As a judge, I was keen to see initiatives which stretched beyond the regulatory requirements. I wanted to understand the measures that each company had put into place to enhance the five steps listed above.
The judges unanimously agreed that United Utilities would receive the Proactive Complaints Handling Award. Their initiatives seemed firmly imbedded in the culture of the company, with all employees taking on responsibility for customer service.
What we can learn from the Award Winners?
No matter which industry you operate, we can all learn from some of the complaint handling strategies that United Utilities have implemented.
Embed Customer Service in the Company Culture
When it came to addressing the issue of customer complaints, all United Utilities’ employees were involved in initial thoughts, development and implementation. Weekly briefings continue the process, with feedback and fresh ideas being shared across the team.
Do all of your team receive customer service training?
United Utilities had established ways to have an active presence within the communities they served. They regularly set up stands in local town centres and have a manned company bus on hand when burst pipes, or other issues, affect their service. Being approachable and providing information in person helps to eliminate concerns and complaints.
How do you make your company approachable?
Give Employees Autonomy
Isn’t it frustrating when you make a complaint and the individual needs to get a supervisor to resolve the problem? It’s better to have a clear policy on the actions that can be taken; replacements, refunds and goodwill gestures, then trust your team to use them as appropriate.
United Utilities gave responsibility to their staff to make decisions within set guidelines, do you?
Complaint Handling Training
All of the companies that we judged had been driven to take action because their performance had at one point been sub-standard. Customers were dissatisfied, they had a low rank in industry league tables, employee motivation was rock bottom and the reputation of the company was poor. That’s not to mention the cost implications of OfWat fines. They took action, initiated change and have reaped the rewards.
If your company is receiving more complaints that you are happy with, if the standards of service aren’t consistent and your reputation has taken a battering, get in touch: email@example.com
My in-house Complaint Handling Training will provide practical steps to help turn things around. You can regain good customer relations and could even find your team shortlisted for a Customer Service Award!
If your business works hard to deliver quality goods and services, the thought of receiving a complaint can have negative connotations. I want to convince you otherwise.
A direct complaint should be viewed as constructive feedback. All business owners are encouraged to undertake regular market research and here is a customer offering you their point of view.
A complaint offers your business the opportunity to build its reputation. If you handle the complaint professionally, the customer feels very positive about the experience and your brand. In a 3 year Consumer Action Monitoring (CAM) survey, 50% of respondents stated that they had a greater respect for a company that handled their complaint effectively.
For this reason, I’m keen to support businesses to effectively manage their complaints procedure. My training highlights why direct complaints should be welcomed. This includes the opportunity to investigate the problem:
If you still feel that it is better not to receive complaints, the good news is that only 1 in 26 dissatisfied customers make a direct complaint. The bad news is that the other 25 will simply not do business with you again. No second chance.
What’s more, they will share the experience with an average of 15 people. This makes it clear that a small problem, which might have easily been resolved, can escalate to a lot of people viewing your business negatively, without you even being aware.
Being Equipped to Effectively Handle Customer Complaints
If you prefer a problem solving approach, where your business has the chance to prove its worth, a customer complaints policy is important. Your policy should detail how your business will:
A Customer Complaints Policy is not Enough
A clear policy is one thing, but it is only effective if it is put into action. This means that every member of your team needs to fully understand it, be trained and feel supported when delivering it. A complaint can be directed at anyone and the culture of your company should ensure that a competent and consistent response in delivered by all.
In addition, your company should be approachable. Customers should feel confident of being listened to and the situation dealt with professionally. This point is clearly made in the NHS Complaints Procedure:
"What is important is that no matter how efficiently or effectively designed a complaints process, policy or guideline is, it will make no difference if the environment and culture discourages people from making a complaint or raising a concern in the first place"
Why do we need a Complaints Handling Policy?
If your business hasn’t formalised an accepted means of responding to complaints, the result can be:
The British have a reputation for queueing; we are willing to wait our turn. Having said this, frustrations soon rise if we’re kept waiting for longer than expected. Good planning and an assertive approach can help keep everything on track.
Planning for Crunch Points
With a little preparation, any business can work out the crunch points.
Identifying the crunch points enables measures to be put into place to reduce the risk of queues.
Helping Specialists to Stay on Schedule
This week I’ve had the pleasure of training a group of professional Speech and Language Therapists. They are all self employed and have the responsibility of effectively managing their caseload.
The therapists had identified particular problems with customers taking up more than their allotted time. They wanted to prevent lengthy conversations on the telephone prior to an appointment and multiple questions being asked at the end of a session.
I was asked to deliver Assertiveness Training to help the therapists to gain confidence in:
In a caring role, it can be a challenge to turn people away. However, these professionals have to attend to many clients, as well as earning a living from their expertise. They need an assertive approach to keep everything on track.
The training focused on many aspects of assertive behaviour. Three key points that were raised during the session were:
The Speech and Language Therapist identified an issue with clients contacting them at all times of the day, including evenings and weekends. The first step was to define their working boundaries to ensure a healthy work/life balance. We also discussed the cost of their services and the terms on which they operate.
With operational terms agreed, I explained the importance of having processes and documentation in place to formalise the boundaries. Terms and Conditions, payment terms and contracts are all effective for clearly communication and the management of client expectations.
In order to operate within the agreed boundaries, there are times when the therapists simply have to say no. We also discussed ways of saying ‘no’ in a polite and constructive manner that didn’t leave the therapist feeling guilty or the customer feeling aggrieved.
Managing difficult conversations
Few of us enjoy having a difficult conversation, but they are essential in many jobs. When such a conversation is necessary, we discussed the importance of a planned meeting, at a mutually convenient time, where everyone involved has had time to prepare. This increases the chance of discussions being based on information and facts, rather than emotion and feelings.
An Assertive Workforce
An assertive workforce is confident and productive. This benefits the team, the business and the customers. If certain customers are impacting on your ability to do your job effectively, assertiveness training can empower positive change.
Places are available on my next Assertiveness Training Course, or get in touch to arrange training to meet the specific needs of your team.
I’d like to end with this powerful quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:
“No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent”
If you care about your work, answering a call from a disgruntled customer can be disheartening. You can soon bounce back if:
What happens if Customer Service isn’t a Priority?
Without adequate training, resources or support your response is delivered on a whim. You say what you believe to be the right thing. If the problem escalates, the customer, and possibly your manager, blame you. It’s difficult not to take this personally.
Let’s imagine that the volume of customer complaints begins to mount up, there is no doubt that it impacts on your wellbeing. Before too long, your communication becomes defensive. You start to dread answering the phone and may avoid doing so. You can feel the emotional stress building and your positivity dwindling.
One morning, you simply haven’t the energy to face another day in the office. You ring in sick and start applying for another job.
With your notice handed in, your employer has to dedicate time and money to filling the vacancy. With no change in customer service policy, the cycle of hiring ‘incompetent employees’ continues.
A Fresh Approach to Customer Service
Fortunately, your new employer has a fresh approach to customer service. They offer regular training to all members of the team. They have robust systems in place that helps everyone to consistently deliver a high quality service. In team meetings, customer feedback and staff ideas are shared, reviewed and where appropriate, are acted on.
Over time, you regain your confidence when speaking on the telephone. In a bid to answer customer queries, you learn everything you can about the products, services and industry.
After a few months, you get the opportunity to talk directly to customers at an exhibition and love the experience. The feedback from colleagues and clients boosts your self-esteem. Going from strength to strength, you suggest new ways to enhance the customer experience. In this company, the cycle of hiring ‘driven and enthusiastic employees’ continues.
Customer Service doesn’t just Benefit the Customer
If customer service underpins your operations, the benefits are far reaching. In addition to reliably delivering to your customer’s expectations, it empowers your workforce and enhances their attitude to work.
If you would like to understand more about the role of customer service in employee wellbeing, I invite you to attend our event on Thursday 1 February in Aylesbury.
How to Create a Mentally Healthy Workplace and Boost Employee Motivation is designed for companies wanting a driven and enthusiastic workforce. If that’s you, click here for further information and to book a place.
I emailed a company at the beginning of September with a question about a product I was interested in purchasing. To this day, I’ve not had a response. Without a reply, I am left with the lasting impression that they simply don’t care about me and my enquiry.
We often experience this ‘I don’t care’ attitude - from a supermarket sales assistant mindlessly flinging our eggs down the conveyor belt, to a manager who is not interested in resolving a complaint brought about by a mistake made by the company. As a customer on the receiving end of this attitude, I feel frustrated, angry, and resentful and eager to take my custom elsewhere.
So how can companies show customers they truly care and why is it so important?
Do you care about your premises?
I regularly walk past an office block in my town and for the past few months I’ve noticed a blind in the window is broken. The impression this gives to the passing traffic is one that the company doesn’t care that a blind is broken or even care about the image it’s portraying to the outside world. How much time and money would it actually take to fix the blind or install a new one? Probably not much in the big scheme of things. Yet it remains broken.
Taking care of your premises is key to creating the impression you are a company that cares. If a company spends time and energy looking after it’s premises, how much more will it spend looking after its staff and customers?
Making sure there are no rubbish or weeds outside the building, ensuring the hedges are regularly cut back, parking bays are clearly marked, company signage is clean and clear, the reception area is clean, warm, and welcoming are all little things that can make a big difference to a potentially new client visiting your premises.
It also shows your employees that you care about them too and are providing them a clean, safe, and enjoyable working environment.
Do you care about your reputation?
A business reputation is a combination of what a business does, how it acts and what others think of it.
Building and maintaining a powerful reputation is important when it comes to gaining and keeping employees and customers. A business reputation can take years to build up but just seconds to destroy if customers and staff are poorly treated.
Strive to develop a reputation for treating staff respectfully, keeping your promises, working in accordance to the company values, being organised and efficient, and being of value.
Do you care about your staff?
How often have you walked past an employee, stopped for a chat, and asked them about their day not just about work? Take time to get to know your team members; what they enjoy doing in their spare time, what are their priorities outside work, if they have a family or pets.Staff who feel valued and appreciated will invariably go above and beyond for both the company and the customer.
Do bear in mind though, not everyone is comfortable talking about their personal lives in the workplace, so show you care by being sensitive and discreet with any information that is given to you.
Do you care about your customers?
Customers will return to a company they like, trust, and feel valued. And the perfect way to make them feel valued is to show them you truly care.
There are many ways you can show the customer you care about them. Respond when they ask for information or leave feedback, take time to listen and understand their wants and needs, make them feel important rather than just another sale, provide the personal touch with a genuine warm and friendly welcome.
So, what do you care about?
Do you care about cost-cutting, the quick sale and profits or do you care about creating a safe, positive work environment with engaged, motivated staff delivering a consistently outstanding experience to your customers?
What an incredible week it was celebrating National Customer Service Week 2017.
In the course of 5 days, I have hosted, spoken at and organised various events across Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, with the sole purpose of helping businesses deliver a first-class experience to their customers.
Now the dust has settled, I am reflecting on the week and the knowledge I’ve taken away from all the events.
The main fact I’ve discovered is that many businesses truly appreciate the key role Customer Service plays in the success of their company. The people who attended my workshops were all keen to improve their service standards and behaviours. They value their customers and want to ensure their customers receive a consistently high-quality experience. These principles are to be praised and encouraged as they are a shining example to others.
My Recognition and Reward seminar on the last day was interactive and inspirational. The businesses who attended this event all understood the principle of taking care of their staff and the powerful impact engaged and motivated employees have in successful customer interaction. We discussed ways to create a positive working environment and discovered what the top four motivators are. It was great to hear personal stories of how engaged staff truly make a difference to the customers.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that people love networking. I’ve personally enjoyed the opportunity of putting people in contact with other businesses, providing them the platform to discuss their products and services, find some common ground and build relationships. I firmly believe in the power of successful business relationships and the knowledge and benefit this brings companies, especially new businesses like myself.
As this year’s National Customer Service Week comes to an end, I want to take this opportunity of thanking everyone who attended my events, encourage you to take on board the information you heard and to continue delivering an outstanding customer experience – after all, without customers where will your business be?
I look forward to planning and hosting many more events during National Customer Service Week 2018!
Whilst not an essential, legal business requirement, many organisations choose to create and implement a Customer Service Charter.
So, what is this charter and how can it successfully impact a business?
A Customer Service Charter is a written policy defining the standards of service and the commitments made by an organisation to their customers.
It generally consists of several short, easy-to-read statements informing the customer what service they can expect to receive, how and where they can raise a complaint, and what role they play in the relationship with the company.
A Customer Service Charter can be used as an effective quality management tool, providing an opportunity to receive feedback and comments from customers on any issue; including products, service, and staff.
Once created, the service charter is a powerful marketing tool and can be used in all company material, both internally and externally – including staff handbooks, marketing campaigns, quotes/proposals, websites, and company premises. Companies who publicly display their charters present an open, honest and committed business that fills customers with confidence.
Companies who publicly declare and repeatedly adhere to their customer service commitments benefit in many ways; including -
Focused and engaged staff
Employees will have clear guidelines in place of the service standards customers expect to receive, ensuring all staff deliver a professional and efficient customer interaction every time.
Managing customer’s expectation
Clearly defining the company’s commitments* to the customer reduces the risk of misunderstandings, errors, missed deadlines and poor customer service. These commitments are individual to each organisation but can include – service, communication, returns, delivery, sourcing of products, finance, complaint handling.
*It is important to remember the commitments a company promises to deliver are realistic and achievable as customers will hold the company to their charter.
Stay true to the company’s values and vision
A customer service charter acts as a public commitment, powerfully highlighting the company’s values towards both its staff and customers. These values strengthen a company’s brand and sets them apart from their competitors.
Build a reputation
Consistently meeting and exceeding the customer’s expectations builds trust and respect ensuring the customer not only returns to the company but actively promotes it to others.
What are your company commitments to your customers?
In just under 4 days time, National Customer Service Week 2017 will be under way.
This week long event is celebrated throughout the world during the first full week of October, and is an ideal opportunity for organisations across every industry to take stock of their current Customer Service practices and re-focus on delivering a first-class service to both customers and staff.
Helen Pettifer Training will be embracing this week in two ways -
Firstly, I will be focusing on appreciating and valuing my customers for the trust and loyalty they have shown me throughout my first year of trading.
Secondly, I will be sharing advice, techniques and support to local businesses on many aspects of Customer Service during the week. Over 100 people have currently signed up to attend the various events I'm hosting across Buckinghamshire, all aiming to discover new and exciting ways to build long-term relationships with their customers.
If you are unable to attend any of my events, you can still celebrate National Customer Service Week within your organisation.
My Company Service Pack includes all the training materials required to train and motivate staff members in just 5 days. Priced at £25, this pack is a cost-effective way to train multiple employees on key Customer Service and Emotional Intelligence skills.
These 5 days are an important week in the business world and however you choose to celebrate it,
I want to wish you a very happy and successful National Customer Service Week 2017.
I post a daily Customer Service Tip of the Day on Facebook and Twitter and I thought I would share today's tip.
Map the customer's journey and ensure the experience works smoothly and efficiently.
It is essential you map out the journey your customer will be making with your company - from the moment they first browse your website to the last invoice paid.
Analyse in detail every stage and department your customer passes through, ensuring that processes and service are consistent, smooth, simple and customer-focused.
Why not even test out the journey and become a customer for a day? Gain an understanding from your customer's viewpoint and discover the stages that work efficiently and what needs improvement.
Asking customers for feedback will also be beneficial. Celebrate the positive comments and encourage staff to continue to perfect the processes that are working. Constructive criticism should be used to address any issues and implement change.
You are creating an experience for your customers, and this experience will determine whether or not they return and repeat the journey.
7 key mistakes companies make in Customer Service
Many business owners know their customers need to experience a certain level of service to ensure they return in the future, however a high number of these companies underestimate the effects poor customer service actually has on their business.
Here are the 7 common mistakes I see companies making on a daily basis, producing not only frustrated and unhappy customers but also staff who are unfocused and uninspired.
Customer service affects the bottom line of businesses
The most common mistake companies make is underestimating the power of customer service with regards business revenue.
Poor customer service cost British firms over £37bn last year, with consumers opting to either spend less with a company or buy from a rival company. (Ombudsman Services Report)
If a customer is unhappy with the level of service they receive, they will think carefully about returning to that company and may instead look for alternative options.
By fully understanding the importance of excellent customer service, businesses ensure customers remain the valued asset of the company resulting in repeat business and increased sales and profits.
Lengthy and ineffective complaint handling
Long, drawn-out complaint handling frustrates customers and leaves them feeling undervalued, resulting in the loss of customers and sales.
A report from Ombudsmen Services stated that 79% of respondents said they would be unlikely to shop again with a business which they felt had handled their complaint badly.
By investing in Customer Service training, staff are confident, empowered and motivated to assist clients with issues and fully focused on finding an acceptable solution for both parties.
Having a clear and well defined Customer Service Charter ensures consistency from all staff members and loyalty and trust from customers.
Customers are not being listened to
Customers need to know they have been listened to and are truly valued by the company.
An ignored or undervalued customer will look towards another company to meet their needs.
Effectively listening and responding to the customer builds rapport and will help in quickly determining what their needs are and efficiently resolving them.
Over-promising and under-delivering
It’s frustrating when promises are made and never kept.
It’s the same experience for customers - they expect companies to keep their word.
Failing to call when promised, arriving late for an appointment, or a product being delivered later than the agreed time are all broken promises, which run the risk of losing the customer’s trust and loyalty.
By setting realistic and achievable targets, companies not only manage their customer’s expectations but they have the opportunity of over-delivering and affirming they are a company that puts customer’s needs first.
Only training customer-facing staff
‘Customer service is not a department, it’s everyone’s job’ – Ken Blanchard
It is a common belief that only customer-facing staff require training on Customer Service excellence. This is a myth - EVERY employee in a company is responsible for Customer Service.
The accounts department are required to invoice correctly and on time, the warehouse staff need to ensure the goods are packaged correctly and delivered on time and undamaged, the cleaners are responsible for providing a safe and hygienic work environment for both staff and customers.
By fully training all employees in Customer Service and company policies, ensures the customer’s buying experience is consistent, smooth and positive and one they will want to repeat in the future.
Not being solution-focused
‘Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers’ – Seth Godin
Many companies are not training and motivating staff to be solution-focused.
Solving the customer’s problem should be the company’s main mission that all staff affirm to.
By focusing fully on finding a successful solution, businesses present an image of a company that truly cares and values customers.
Never following up
If you don’t follow up with your customers, how do you know they are happy?
Following up with a customer after a transaction ensures the product or service met their expectations (and hopefully exceeded them!) and makes the customer feel valued.
The feedback the customer provides is essential for business development and growth, and by hearing directly from customers, companies know sooner if they will be retaining their custom.
Key Mistake - Taking customers for granted.
It costs at least 5 times as much to gain a new customer than keep an existing one, and takes 56 days on average.
Customers, at the end of the day, are paying companies for a product or service.
If customers are lost due to poor customer service where does that leave the company?
Don’t make these common mistakes with your customers.
Fully training all staff on Customer Service excellence, ensures your customers are happy and loyal and your business has consistent successful growth.
Find out more about my training courses at www.helenpettifer.com