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Think before pressing “send” in reply to a customer complaint

Vulnerable people are frequently left without a resolution to a complaint. They can find it difficult to know how to complain, what route to take, what language to use, and if they don’t get a satisfactory response they will give up more quickly.

This can be a huge problem for companies, whether they realise it or not. We all know that it can cost at least 5 times more to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one. However, how your teams or you handle a complaint, particularly with vulnerable customers, could have unintended consequences. What if, unbeknown to you, the customer has just had a bereavement, has mental health issues, is disabled or is elderly or is vulnerable in a host of other ways? The impact could be more than just you losing a customer.

man sitting on sofa head in closed hands thinking

In the current climate anyone could become vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs or are freelancers currently unable to work. Many thousands have developed mental health issues or have suffered a bereavement. This can make them vulnerable.

 

A year ago if you handled a complaint badly it may have just frustrated someone who was able to keep going until it was resolved. For example, if you sent someone from pillar to post (a top common frustration for customers) they may just have got cross and kept going until the matter was resolved. Now, imagine if that person has depression and anxiety difficulties. It takes one of your complaints to a whole new level, doesn’t it? That person is not in a good place and is having to spend more time on something that affects them negatively could have very serious consequences.

Now it is more likely than ever that you may be writing to someone who is vulnerable. 1 in 4 people is thought to have a mental health problem in their lifetime, so think about how this has increased since the pandemic. Add that to the increased number of people who are bereaved and/or suffering with their physical health on top of those already vulnerable.

Write a list of the ways in which someone could be vulnerable.

hand writing in notepad in front of laptopWhen you receive a letter/email, respond as normal. Randomly point to a vulnerability on the list. Now, read through your response and ask yourself some questions about how the recipient may be impacted by each paragraph.

 

With the next letter/email received, stop and think before you reply. Imagine that person is vulnerable, and choose the way in which they are.  Then write and look through again and ask yourself (or colleagues) how the recipient may be impacted by every paragraph.

Trying out a mixture of these methods – and encouraging your teams to do this alongside other activities – will change how you think and respond to complaints over time.

The Complaining Cow – free support for businesses

It takes 5 times as much to gain a new customer to retain one. So work on turning your customers into superfans who do much of the heavy lifting for you!

Join the Facebook Group Increase Sales through Customer Service: Compassion, Care and  Integrity  A private group where you can give and get support, advice and share good practice on how to improve customer service.

Free download Customer Service 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals a few tweaks to your customer service can help you reduce the risk to your company’s reputation, finances and impact on customers and increase sales.

Customer Service how to turn customers into superfans raving about your products/services

The Complaining Cow Services

To see how The Complaining Cow can help you improve your customer service see Services.

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How do you improve customer service skills?

What do you do to nurture customer service talent?

This week is Customer Service Week run by the Institute of Customer Service. Today is the second day and the theme is Capability & Skills: Identifying and nurturing customer service skills in your organisation.

Ask your employees how to improve customer service

Have you ever asked employees what would make things better for them and ultimately improve the customer journey? Perhaps they may suggest changes in how you correspond with customers? Or changes to customer service targets that may make a difference? They could be focussing on getting a resolution within a certain time. But actually you want to focus on getting the right resolution, which is likely in turn to reduce further complaints. Your employees may suggest some training that you hadn’t thought about. For example something in psychology or consumer rights or in how to identify and respond to vulnerable customers.

5 people sitting along a table

Customers with celebrity status

Think of a celebrity (dead or alive). Imagine that a member of staff is that celebrity and see if your manner changes and if so how. Try this with your staff as part of a role play exercise. Then have a discussion around what was different to how you normally handle complaints. Why? Should everyone be treated like a celebrity?

Don’t treat everyone like you would be treated

Perhaps you believe that everyone should be treated how you would like to be treated or like your mother should be treated. Although commonly spouted, these adages are poor. I want to be treated with respect, like most people. Yes. However, I also want to be dealt with in writing and swiftly. My mother would be quite happy with you phoning her and chatting about anything and everything. You may like to be dealt with on the phone but swiftly. If you took every area of dealing with complaints, imagine just how many permutations there would be in how you would deal with someone. Take a celebrity… you don’t know how they would like to be dealt with. You have to find out and that’s the key. Train staff to find out these things as if they were talking to someone whom they wanted to think highly of them.

It takes Allsorts, how to treat customers as individuals

 

Free download Customer Service: 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals shows how a few tweaks to your customer service can help you treat people as individuals and increase your sales.

Customer Service how to turn customers into superfans raving about your products/services

Thank yourself

Ask your staff to write a “Thank you” letter to themselves. They could take a recent real scenario or one that is made up. For example a letter that tells them what they would like to hear. Maybe a “Thank you for being empathetic”, “Thank you for listening”. “Thank you for dealing with the matter so effectively and efficiently” etc. What was done to make the handling of the complaint so good? There is the aspiration. Give a prize to the first member of staff to get a “Thank you” letter/email…

It is even possible to receive a “Thank you” when the complaint handler has not given the complainant what they want. I have been working with a banking client on improving correspondence with vulnerable customers. In some of the work that we are undertaking we are working with staff to remove standard paragraphs, use more initiative and imagining the effects that the decision could have on the customer. The process is ongoing but within months someone had a letter saying “thank you” for dealing with the matter and treating her as an individual.

How to improve correspondence with vulnerable customers

More articles on Customer Service Week

Know your customer

How to celebrate and recognise your customer service heroes

Bringing customer service to the Boardroom

Build your brand through Trust, Ethics & Sustainability

The Complaining Cow – free support for businesses

It takes 5 times as much to gain a new customer to retain one. So work on turning your customers into superfans who do much of the heavy lifting for you!

Join the Facebook Group Increase Sales through Customer Service: Compassion, Care and  Integrity  A private group where you can give and get support, advice and share good practice on how to improve customer service.

Free download Customer Service 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals a few tweaks to your customer service can help you reduce the risk to your company’s reputation, finances and impact on customers and increase sales.

Customer Service how to turn customers into superfans raving about your products/services

The Complaining Cow Services

To see how The Complaining Cow can help you improve your customer service see Services.