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10 Top tips for avoiding complaints and managing them

The Complaining Cow’s Ten Top Tips for the Complained Against!

Search well and you can find lots of help in improving your customer service and experience, sales etc. But perhaps it’s time you looked at what a seasoned complainer gets most annoyed about, the annoyances you don’t know about and the people you don’t reach when gaining feedback and then what you can do about it?! Perhaps a customer is best placed to advise you on how to improve the customer experience and show who you are missing when you gain feedback and how you can improve your sales.

1) Dealing with customers on the telephone

If someone rings to complain then they may well be irate and/or rude. I advise people never to ‘phone, only to write, unless absolutely necessary. This is because it is easy to get really angry, forget your points and be rude. You have the right not to deal with someone if they are being rude. I say this as an experienced complainer. Try to calm the caller down but be assertive. Recognise that they have a problem they wish to discuss but state that you will only listen if they please calm down so that you can help. You cannot help until the emotion has been dealt with. Staff should always be polite and apologise where necessary. You win people round that way. But it must be genuine, we can all tell when it’s just being said to shut us up!

2) Empower your staff

Nothing frustrates the complainer more than having to repeat their complaint. Train your staff well. Ensure that they are equipped with the right knowledge and tools to deal with complaints both at face to face contact with customers and in the Customer Service department.

If your staff are working face to face train them to gauge when someone wants to talk and when they don’t. Absolute pet hate of many customers! Think about which staff will use their initiative and when they should be encouraged to do so. Also what they will do with “Rules”.

Where are your customer service skills? How do you improve them?

 

“Have a nice Day” NO thank you

So often my complaints have been about staff not knowing the answer or giving misinformation. Obviously at times you will have new staff! Make sure that there are always more knowledgeable people easily to hand. This is a common problem!

The best quality you can ever look for when recruiting is common sense! Everything else comes from good training and looking after your staff well. Looked after staff look after customers.

3) Always ask for clarity/more information so that it is easier to resolve the problem

Having written countless complaints for lots of people where they have previously failed to gain redress, I have seen time and time again that people have not given enough information – it’s badly written or things just aren’t clear. Don’t deal with a complaint as quickly as possible. Go back and ask for more information and/or clarity if necessary. It could well be that there is some really useful feedback for you if you are open and prepared to find out more.

Often companies try and deal with the initial complaint and make more problems for themselves because they have assumed something incorrectly. If in doubt, ask a colleague then ask the customer, never ever assume. You’ll see examples of how this piece of advice should have been followed in some of my more protracted complaints!

4) Social media

Twitter and other Social media streams may be good to communicate with customers but give the staff the tools to be able to do the job properly. Good training and good management support with efficient and effective systems and processes to follow and test them. I’ve used Twitter to try and resolve a complaint and the staff tweeting didn’t investigate properly and made the matter worse.

Remember the power of social media. Even ignoring one tweet can lose you business.

Why CEOs should have a presence on social media

5) Improve your internal and external communication

You’ll see throughout my consumer blog posts, that one big common factor when making the biggest and/or longest complaints is the poor communication between departments. So often, once the CEO’s office has been contacted it is found that one department didn’t pass on a piece of information to another. Set up adequate systems and test them appropriately.

Identify, explore and reduce the risks associated with your correspondence with vulnerable customers

Calling all CEOs: please read emails from your customers and learn about your own business

6) Set up meaningful log systems

Log your letters, phone calls and emails regarding complaints. Ensure adequate records and systems are kept of categories of complaints so that you can monitor and improve on all areas including those you didn’t know about! Keep records of which ones you have had to pay out the most/frequency/amount. Keep records of how the complaint came in, whether it was escalated with sections for why etc. as this in itself gives rise to another complaint. You will be able to see what types of complaints are fewest but costing you the most and the complaints which are the most frequent so that you can address appropriately. Ensure your system is filled out with every complaint that comes in. Set up regular predetermined dates to address each category and revisit for patterns/changes. Obviously you will need to keep records of what has been done to address issues to date. You will need to have very large systems if you have several stores of course!

7) Feedback tools warnings

Don’t use gimmicks for gaining feedback. Utterly pointless. One store I sometimes shop in has put in one of those interactive screens where you tap on the answer. Some people will just keep pressing a negative button skewing your figures and children just press it to get the sounds. It’s also insulting to your customers. You can’t possibly use that feedback and we know it.

You can use Mystery Shoppers but be aware of the many limitations. The Complaining Cow is a Mystery Shopper! I registered with many years ago but I did very little, mainly because the pay is poor and I was only doing it for a bit of fun and pocket money! But I can tell you that very few test their shoppers before they go out on assignments and anyone can apply with any standard of education. I’m sure Mystery Shopping companies will tell you that anyone can apply but not everyone is accepted! This may be true but the rates for jobs do not equate to anything near even a low level manager’s salary so you’ll see my point. Also, what’s the point of sending someone to buy a pot of margarine and take it back? It’s not real. Use a real scenario, the real family shop. What’s the point of asking a Mystery Shopper to undertake a flight when what you really want to see is what a family who really fly with you thinks? It’s the same with meals and take-aways. The differences in experience are vast. There are numerous ways of doing this!  See The Complaining Cow Confidential, Tailored Mystery Shops.

When you are using feedback forms, complaint letters/phone calls/emails you are actually only reaching a limited type of customer. Think about it. People who are prone to wanting to give their opinions are like me! How are you are going to reach the people who aren’t assertive, don’t give their opinions willingly etc? These people’s views are just as important and, dare I say it, possibly more important than mine! That’s because these are the people who will not use your store again and will not tell you why. You don’t know what you don’t know! A friend of mine often tells me to hold back if I don’t like something in a shop. She is non confrontational and too lazy or doesn’t have the time to write a letter of complaint or write with suggestions on any feedback forms! However, she does walk out of shops, they DO lose her custom but they don’t know who they lost or why. For example, Marks and Spencer haven’t been doing too well lately. One of the things they may have done to address this is pack more clothes in. Perhaps an “Expert” told them that they needed to put more “stuff” in the stores to sell more. No-one asked the customers though did they? My friend who used to regularly spend hundreds of pounds in M & S now hates shopping there. Why? You used to be able to see through and over rails and move about easily. Now, it’s common to barge into people looking at the next rail and you can’t see where you need to go if in a rush. Twice we have left early because the place annoyed us and the last time we heard a mother say to her daughter “Let’s get out of this place it’s too crowded.” So, they lost 3 customers in as many minutes. Do you think the powers that be in Marks and Spencer know?

Remember, if you ask a customer if their expectations were exceeded and they say “yes” that they might have had a really bad experience before so anything is better! Choose your questions carefully to get you the information need not the information you want to hear.

8) Gain feedback creatively

Look for creative ways of getting feedback, even risky ways. Just because you use feedback forms, Twitter, Facebook and direct feedback through complaints etc. doesn’t mean that you are getting the most useful or best information. Yes use tried and tested methods but if you want to gain over your competitors why not do something different? Try inviting a group of people who have recently complained about your service to tell you what they think of your store/service/organisation! This will be risky, you are going to meet/deal with people who used up your time and annoyed you and you may get given a mile long list but these are the people who complain, these are the people who have no problem telling you how you could improve, these are the voices of the people who use you. Surely you need to hear them? Ask someone from outside your organisation to facilitate the session to ensure that you really get the information you need.

Guide customers with humour!

I haven’t seen children and young people mentioned on any customer service website or advice website! Are you a family friendly organisation? Ask the children and young people! They generally don’t write letters of complaint (although mine is encouraged to and he’s only 4years old!) they don’t tend to fill out feedback forms and younger ones aren’t using Social Media. But again, their views are important, they are aiding their parents/carers in deciding where to shop etc. Is that another untapped resource that you have been ignoring in gaining your feedback? How are you going to get their views? Creatively! (Not using your existing staff because different skills are needed. You wouldn’t ask your customer care team to undertake youth or playwork would you?!) How you do this needs to be planned carefully and appropriately, with due care and attention to legal issues, experience and knowledge of the people undertaking this work for you.

Know Your Customer

9) Reward customers for their feedback

Reward your customers for their feedback. You are doing that when you send goodwill gestures to those who complain to you. (So you should, as they have taken the time and trouble to bring the matter to your attention and if you use the feedback well it will save you far more in the long run). You pay your senior managers a high wage and you may even pay for consultants but the best people to tell you how you can improve are your customers so reward them for telling you and they will remain loyal.

Remember the general adage “Happy customers tell 3 of their friends, unhappy ones tell 10”. However, with the development of Review sites, Internet Forums and Social Media the figures are now much bigger!!! How far you go in making amends can make a huge difference. If you remain unconvinced read my Blog! How many people am I telling about service?!

10) Thank your customers!

Always respond to customers. Thank them for their feedback. It doesn’t matter how big or small your organisation, that customer, however frustrating/persistent s/he may have been, could have given you the best piece of information to improve your sales! It could have been the one thing that numerous customers are annoyed about. There are many ways you can and should do this too!!

A little positive thinking about complaints and feedback can improve your customer service and sales enormously and if you need more help with creativity and a different angle look here!

The Complaining Cow logo, complaints, consultancy, speaker, workshops and more

Bonus tip! Look to become a member of an Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme. 5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted. Being a member of a scheme can be really beneficial to businesses and it gives consumers faith that there is support if something goes wrong with a purchase. There are some issues with choosing the right scheme Ombudsman systems needs urgent shake-up, says Parliamentary Group  and see Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles. These reports look at the approval and ongoing monitoring of ADR providers which will help you choose and in particular avoid. Such as the schemes run by Dean Dunham of Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited.

To see how The Complaining Cow can help you prevent and handle complaint see Services.

Categories
ADR Ombudsman Topical

5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted

Ombudsman separating the truth from the misconceptions

Background to ADR and Ombudsmen

Alternative Dispute Resolution providers which include ombudsmen, provide services for business and consumers. When you can’t get your complaint resolved and the trader is a member of a scheme you can take your complaint to an ADR provider. Alternative Dispute Resolution: What it all means

In April 2018 the Government produced some research, Resolving Consumer Disputes. The findings included “…in cases where the ADR provider decided in favour of the consumer 83% of consumers perceived the process to be fair. This dropped to 17% in cases where the decision was in favour of the trader or a compromise. A similar, but less extreme, variation was seen for consumers who had used the courts (90% v. 53%).” Not exactly surprising.

lots of images of people shaking hands

The myths about ADR

Being in the world of consumer rights and stuff I talk about this area a lot. However, so often I hear the same inaccurate assumptions and beliefs from members of the public, including journalists. Sometimes these come from personal experience, sometimes guesses, sometimes from inaccuracies reported in the media and sometimes from I don’t know what! There are a lot of issues with the sector but these are mainly to do with oversight of the approval.

But here I am going to bust a few of those popular myths and hope it helps make things clearer! I’m using the term Ombudsman for ease but ADR provider is still the same in terms of these myths. (However, an Ombudsman has to be member of the Ombudsman Association which has higher standards than for non members as shown by their minutes of a meeting revoking the Retail Ombudsman’s membership. See The Retail Ombudsman is no more and the minutes in appendix  J of More Ombudsman Omnishambles.)

5 Commonly held beliefs about ombudsmen

1) Ombudsman are consumer champions

Nope. A consumer champion will fight for the consumer. An ombudsman is an unbiased service. Each case is looked at individually and decisions are made on the evidence provided.

2) Ombudsmen are paid by the traders so will always see in their favour

Nope. The traders pay yes. The alternative would be for consumers to pay at least a proportion! The traders pay a yearly fee plus a case fee. If the case goes to arbitration then in some cases, such as with the Furniture Ombudsman and an independent inspection is required, the trader pays for this too. Therefore it is actually in the traders’ interest to try and resolve the matter and for it not to go to the Ombudsman. If you look at providers’ annual reviews you will see the breakdown of percentages of cases won by trader etc. If the consumer were made to pay as well you might as well go to court and these schemes are there to provide an ALTERNATIVE! An Ombudsman service gets paid the same win or lose so there is no incentive to find in favour of either party.

As an example:

In the period November 2016 to October 2017, Ombudsman Services closed 49,117 energy complaints. Of those, it helped resolve 8% without investigating because the energy company was willing to provide the consumer with their desired resolution.

Of the complaints that Ombudsman Services investigated, it:

  • upheld 66% (finding that the energy supplier had done something wrong and had not done enough to put it right).
  • maintained 26% (finding that although the energy supplier had done something wrong, it had already offered a fair resolution to the customer).
  • did not uphold 8% of complaints, (concluding that there was no substance to the original complaint and the energy supplier had treated the customer fairly).

14/10/20 update more recent examples:

In 2019, of the complaints The Motor Ombudsman investigated it:

  • upheld 41% in favour of the customer
  • upheld 53% in favour of the business
  • 2% did not provide enough evidence to make a decision either way and
  • 4% were withdrawn

In 2019 of the complaints that The Furniture and home Improvement Ombudsman investigated:

  • 4192 (42%) consumer cases were not upheld
  • 3051 (58%) consumer cases were upheld in full or in part
Rip Off Britain talking getting redress with independent reports and ombudsmen

3) All ombudsmen are funded by Government

Nope. All providers in the non-regulated sector, such as furniture and airlines are funded by the industry. Providers in the regulated sector such as the Financial Ombudsman, energy and telecoms are also funded by the industry so that services are free to consumers. Others, such as  the Local Government Ombudsman are funded with public funds.

4) If the trader doesn’t want to pay up it won’t

In the regulated areas of finance, energy and telecoms if a trader doesn’t abide by an ombudsman’s decision then it will be reported to the regulator. Financial Conduct Authority, Ofgem and Ofcom. They will investigate and if found to be in breach of the rules can be shut down. In the non-regulated areas if the trader doesn’t abide by a decision they will be expelled from the scheme. The rate for non compliance is very low.

ADR scheme Year No. Reason for expulsion
The Motor Ombudsman 2016 3 2 Non-cooperation with scheme, 1 with outcome
The Motor Ombudsman 2015 8 Non-cooperation with scheme
The Furniture Ombudsman 2016 0 N/A
The Furniture Ombudsman 2017 1 Non compliance

There are however issues with compliance in the aviation sector, particularly with AviationADR members. See more details in More Ombudsman Omnishambles and Landing in Court with Ryanair.

5) There are lots of people who have gone to court when not happy with Ombudsman decision

If the Ombudsman doesn’t see in your favour it doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong. It could be that you didn’t provide enough evidence and the same could happen in court. See Energy ombudsman shows how to keep heat on your supplier for an article from the Energy Ombudsman on how best to present your case.

The court option always remains open to you. But actually very few people do this. An ombudsman will usually be open to looking again at any case if you have more evidence. A judge can only look at evidence. There are cases where people go to the Small Claims Court, but often these don’t get reported accurately in the media which is misleading. For example, one recent case was reported in the media as the judge seeing in favour of the consumer where the ombudsman hadn’t. Actually it was because the trader didn’t attend and so a default judgement was made.

There are issues with ADR

Yup. Not a myth!

Westminster Business Forum seminar Next steps for consumer protection in the UK – dispute processes, enforcement and the consumer markets green paper. 15/11/18 Alternative Dispute Resolution – approval and oversight in the loosest possible sense of the words…

 

How approval bodies are failing to properly approve and monitor Alternative Dispute Resolution -

 

There are many issues regarding ADR and Ombudsmen providers. These are to do with the oversight by the approval bodies. See Government and regulators continue to fail on resolving consumer disputes and Landing in Court with Ryanair. These articles include links to reports (Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles in particular). They also link to articles from Which? and The Independent that describe a number of problems which are not the fault of providers and provide  warnings about one provider, Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited run by Dean Dunham which runs RetailADR, UtitlitiesADR and AviationADR.

 

man talking to couple