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The proactive approach to customer complaints

Jeanne Bliss | Oct 2, 2016 54 views 1 Comment

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Customer complaints are everywhere, and happen all the time. The word “complaints” is a bad word, yes — on the surface. But there’s power in customer complaints, just as there’s power in any feedback.

Quickly, before we get to the action items on this post: think of your favorite brands. Consider brands that you love. You buy from them all the time. Or consider a restaurant/bar in your neighborhood that you adore. Have you had customer complaints about this brand or restaurant? Probably not a lot, but there’s been a few. Sometimes the onion rings are terrible. Or sometimes the products are shipped a little too late. The communication isn’t always ideal.



Even when we love brands, there are customer complaints. This works on the brand side too. They need to understand that the customer complaints will always be there. It’s not necessarily a thing to panic about. There’s too much “hair on fire” management these days anyway. Customer complaints are a part of the overall CX process. They can be made into a win. But how? What’s the approach?

Customer complaints: Your revenue erosion early warning system

That’s what I call it. Have you ever been in a meeting on a down quarter? The bosses are yelling about performance. They want to know what happened and why it happened. Well, if you understood the ecosystem of customer complaints, you’d already have known revenue was about to take a hit. Customers drive revenue. (There’s almost no other way to look at it.) So if customer complaints are spiking, well, revenue is going to drop. We have an early warning system for storms so we know to batten down the hatches. Customer complaints are that early warning system for revenue drops.

Customer complaints: Use proactive operational metric tracking

This is tied to Competency No. 4 of my five customer experience competencies. I’ll give you a quick example from my book CCO 2.0.  I worked with Susan DeLaney of UPS years back. She told me that customers often ship packages with the wrong address (logical). Bad addresses make delivery slower. One of Susan’s key targets was time in transit — because it’s of critical value to customers that packages arrive on time. So, bad addresses were spiking customer complaints. A solution was needed. They created a project to identify incorrect addresses as soon as they had electronic package information. They would then determine the correct address as soon as possible. Once the package hit the destination center, it could be scanned and corrected. This prevented delivery delays and decreased customer complaints.

This is an example of what I’d call “proactive operational metric tracking.” Yes, if you heard that in a speech it sounds a little buzzword-heavy. But basically it means this:

  • Know what your customers value
  • Understand what you are judged on internally
  • Design metrics around (1) with an eye towards (2)
  • When those metrics are off, proactively figure out a way to fix them

That’s the easiest path to less customer complaints.

Customer complaints: Look at the right things

There’s an idea called “line of sight metrics.” These are typically bigger, bottom-line numbers that the highest executives love to look at. A great example in the auto industry would be “units sold.” That’s the bottom line. That’s typically what the executives care most about. But tons of aspects go into “units sold.” For example: test drives. Very few automakers — although some are getting better at this — have a reliable experience around test drives. For example:

  • How easy is it to schedule a test drive?
  • Is there a place to test drive near buckets of potential customers?
  • What does the salesperson ask the potential customer after the test drive?
  • Where’s the nurturing/follow-up aspect of this relationship?

All these things move towards “units sold,” which is often the only metric people are paying attention to. But if you track these other concepts — say, the test drive process — and you see customer complaints emerge there (“I can’t schedule one online??!?!”), then you have a better idea of the big picture.

Customer complaints: The five competencies work together

None of the five competencies linked above exist in a vacuum. They all work together to create better customer experience. In this case, we’re talking about experience reliability. But … if customer complaints and reliability testing is considered “a CCO thing” or otherwise silo’ed, it doesn’t work. Here’s an example. In most companies, marketing runs social media. Well, social media is a huge channel for customer feedback — and customer complaints. If marketing is only reporting that internally (marketing silo) and it’s not reaching other teams (sales, operations, customer experience), the data is useless. That’s one-company leadership that you’re seeking. It’s a different competency, but it has major interplay with experience reliability.

What else would you add about customer complaints?

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One Response to The proactive approach to customer complaints

  1. Michael Lowenstein October 2, 2016 at 9:05 pm (1270 comments) #

    I’ve long believed that proactive complaint management, especially identification and resolution, are potential gold mines for organizations. In one of my posts from a few years ago, several approaches were offered for consideration.

    – First, encourage customers to contact the company with questions, comments, problems, or complaints; and, make this as easy as possible.

    – Second, identify the root causes of all complaints, registered and unregistered, so that their sources can be addressed and corrected.

    – Third, enhance the effectiveness of problem and complaint resolution processes so that customers are provided sufficient contact venues.

    There is a fourth method to consider when approaching complaint generation and management. And it may be the simplest, and most effective of all. Over the years, we’ve found that most companies, in their customer value/performance (transactional and relationship) research, fail to ask about complaints, either those that have been registered or those that haven’t. We strongly advocate doing this. Complaints, after all, are a different category of involvement with a supplier than just low performance ratings. They’re stronger. They’re certainly more consequential. If we can identify those complaints that have been registered and how they have/haven’t been resolved, and those complaints that haven’t been registered (and the reasons for non-registration), this represents a complete inventory and landscape of customer complaints. It sheds new light on the complaint process. Their specific potential effect on customer loyalty can then be modeled for prioritized action.

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