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Is Your Company Really Customer-Centric? How You Handle Complaints Is the True Test

As long as there are customers, there will always be issues, complaints, and disagreements.

In fact, nearly every morning’s news report brings another example of a self-proclaimed “customer-centric” company failing—and shockingly, sometimes injuring—its customers.

Let’s be honest: Pleasing every customer, every time—while an admirable goal—is simply not possible. But failing to meet customer expectations doesn’t have to be all bad. In fact, it’s an opportunity to not only redeem the customer relationship, but—when handled with skill—also significantly improve it. There’s another, nearly-untapped benefit: It’s a chance to empower employees to take greater ownership of the customer experience (CX) and increase their own engagement in the process.

Customer complaints typically end one of two ways: They’re either resolved satisfactorily…or they’re not. When resolved successfully, customers are turned into loyal brand advocates while employees receive an enhanced sense of self-efficacy, a more positive CX orientation, and experience higher levels of motivation, confidence, and morale. However, a lack of resolution can drive customer churn and cause emotional exhaustion, frustration, and disengagement for employees over time.

A few years ago, we were working with the contact center of a leading financial services company and quickly identified an increase in the number of customers calling to check on the arrival statuses of their new credit cards. In an attempt to quell customer concerns over potentially lost or stolen cards, the company’s service agents acted quickly to void the original cards and ship new cardsovernightto anxious customers. They were handling the situation exactly how they had been trained.

Taking additional calls, issuing new cards, and utilizing expedited shipping were additional expenses for the companyand were ultimately not addressing the root of customer concerns. In fact, immediately shipping a new card perpetuated the perception that the original card had been lost or stolen, and customer satisfaction continued to lag.

Aside from salvaging individual customer relationships, there’s much more to be gained from customer complaints. The one-on-one interaction between an employee and a customer is a unique, individualized, and often emotionally charged experience. And it turns out employees have a lot to say about it. In fact, one InMoment study found that 33% of employee engagement surveys contain feedback relating to an aspect of the customer experience. Frontline staff have a range of perspectives on the multitude of factors influencing the customer experience that individual departments or leaders simply cannot know. But collecting the intelligence that comes from this interaction—in a systematic, in-the-moment way—is rarely accomplished.

Back to the financial services company…Ultimately, it came down to trust. From the customer’s perspective: You sent me a new card, but what happened to my original? Why didn’t you do enough to protect my personal information and finances in the first place? However, in actuality, cards are very rarely lost or stolen in transit.

Using feedback collected from call center staff—both supervisors and agents—the company implemented new protocols to reinforce customer trust. It sent regular text and email tracking updates for cards. It retrained agents to place a special emphasis on the shipping window/anticipated delivery date of the original card and coached them to reiterate that timeframe to customers who called prior to the deadline. Not only did the company see a cumulative savings of approximately $3.5 million in a single year, but it increased customer satisfaction, trustand employee moral.

How this particular organization handled these customer complaints said a lot about its culture. It listened to its customers and employees, empathized with the pain points of the customer experience, and worked together across the enterprise to take action. Most importantly, it promoted a culture where people felt empowered to speak up because they knew that the company had their backs.

How customer complaints are handled is the ultimate test of your company’s culture. It’s a microcosm of how your company thinks, feels, behaves, and adjusts. When opportunities present themselves, how do you respond? Are you reactive or proactive? What sorts of relationships do you have with your customers? Are you able to identify areas for improvement, notify key stakeholders, and take action? Do you have clear resolution practices that address specific complaints but surface broader insights? And most importantly, do your employees receive the training, support, and guidance they need to effectively solve customer concerns with genuine care?

By empowering your employees to have a voice in CX, and equipping them with the necessary tools to not only appease—but truly please—customers, everybody wins.

About Author

Dr. Paul Warner VP Customer and Employee Experience Strategy

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