What are the top three drivers of customer complaints and how do we fix them?


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When do we as customers complain? When it matters, when we have been let down, when we did not get what we expected. In short to trigger a big enough reaction that we as a customer decide it is worth the effort and time to complain.

Having reviewed thousands of complaints over the years from a wide variety of different industries there is, perhaps not surprisingly, a huge degree of similarity in terms of cause – whether it is a bank or your local Doctors surgery.

The three big causes and therefore the root of the three top complaints are:

• You failed to meet your ‘brand’ promise – so my expectations were not met
• You failed to fix things brilliantly when something went wrong
• You failed to deliver a consistent experience

At the heart of almost all complaints is the simple notion that we as customer did not get what we expected.

So how did we formulate that expectation and what can a company do to either influence that expectation or improve its response. Our expectations are the product of advertising and communication from the brand itself, experiences with that brand, conversations with people we know, experiences of similar products or services and in some case experiences of the channel – so for example the best website we have used will, even if sub-consciously, become a generic benchmark for any future website visit.

The company has most influence over what it says it will do through advertising, communications and direct experiences with the company – it would seem obvious to present an expectation that can be delivered by the operation however in many cases the advertising creates an expectation that is not or even cannot be delivered. The temptation to ‘over promise’ to tempt trial and therefore to achieve what many see as the purpose of advertising – to create physical or virtual footfall – is too strong. The disconnect between the image the brand wants to project and it’s operational capability is the cause of the complaints.

So how do we fix the problems at source and reduce the need to complain?

The good news is that companies can avoid this customer experience ‘bear trap’ BUT that means they have to connect the brand and marketing to the operation that they have to identify the key moments in their experience and actively design those experiences to deliver the expectation and in some areas perhaps even slightly exceed those expectations.

Not every experience or interaction we have with a company needs to be designed to a huge level of detail but there are always critical moments when what happens has an exponentially uprated impact on how we feel as customers and therefore how we behave. Paying your Insurance Premium is not critical what happens in the first few seconds when you file a claim is, checking in luggage is not critical but when it goes missing it is. So identify those moment that matter and design an experience then train and equip the key component in all of this the people in the company that have to deliver that experience. In the same way that you would design a physical process or a computer system, if one thing is wrong the process or system doesn’t work the same applies in the emotional world of the customer experience – you cannot leave it to chance that somehow it will work!

Customer experience is actually about creating positive memories and whilst you can create a positive memory by resolving a complaint brilliantly the real game is to avoid the complaints and the cost of resolving them. Create experiences that meet or exceed our expectations over time and in turn create positive conversations about what you do and more importantly how you do it and how that makes your customers feel.

How to create those positive memories is at the heart of “The Customer Experience Book”.

Alan Pennington
Currently Chairman of Acme Group the first company to combine customer experience design and award winning creative and advertising company and Non Executive Director of SuiteCX the leading CX software company, he was prior to its sale Managing Director and co-founder of Mulberry Consulting the Number One CE business globally and Executive Chair of 'Experience by Design' a South African based venture.


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