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Social Media: Opportunity for engagement or cause for complaint?

Millions of people are using social media to network, sell products, to extend influence and inevitably, complain about poor service. A recent report on social media use reveals 1.59 billion people engaging with Facebook, 320 million with Twitter and over 100 million people on LinkedIn. Beyond these impressive numbers, do you really know the extent to which this activity impacts on your customer service?

Before the rise of social media, if you had an issue with the service you received you could complain face-to-face. Another option was to ring the company later, or write a letter and wait patiently for your issue to be resolved. All these pathways to customer service are still valid, though each has their own problems. Face-to-face conversations can be confrontational. With communication increasing via screens, confrontation is something many people shy away from.

A browse through Facebook or Twitter reveals a world where even the smallest everyday occurrences are shared publicly. For many people, it’s not even a conscious decision anymore to let your social network know what you’re up to. Any interaction with a business - good or bad - is likely to be highly visible. Can you really afford to ignore this trend? As an enterprise with ‘key stakeholders’ and ‘margins’, you really need to know what these people, your customers, are saying aboutyou.

Doing the right thing

While some share complaints immediately, many customers still choose to contact the company directly – via social media – to share their concerns and look for an appropriate resolution. Industry research reveals the alarming statistic that from January 2014 to May 2015 the use of social media for complaints had increased 300 percent.

That represents a lot of complaint traffic. However, there’s no reason for panic. Complaints aren’t new. As you already know how to provide great customer service – why shouldn’t you be able to translate it into excellent social media engagement? This is your opportunity to visibly do the right thing in a very public setting, to promote outstanding customer service and turn your critics into advocates.

Terms of engagement

To achieve an online presence that is proactive and customer-centric, requires precise targeting. Adequate software to capture complaints and analyze data is a must; as well as policies and procedures in place for colleagues to exemplify good practice.

Equip your customer service team with the right skills to respond. A badly-written response or negative tone may do as much damage in a public forum – if not more – as not responding in the first place. All employees should be aware of your company’s mission statement and objectives. All levels of the business, from the boardroom down, should be engaged and positive.

Ensure your customer service and marketing departments are communicating effectively. Empower your employees to make good decisions. Once they’re confident with their own judgement, you minimize risk. Technology is available to add layers of protection, if required.

Great customer service looks the same on all channels. Customers want the same things: they want a swift response; they want you to be honest and acknowledge your mistakes; and they want a satisfactory outcome.

Are you genuine?

Train your staff to recognize genuine engagement: let them use their own natural tone of voice; their own words; and their name to ensure that personal touch. Placatory comments without substance, or using obvious cut and paste templates should be avoided. One engaging, conversational response addressing the customer’s concerns directly, offering an appropriate solution, is much better than going through the motions. Reward colleagues who demonstrate the best you have to offer.

A public apology and transparent ownership of mistakes show customers you care. However, you could set a precedent for every customer to demand the same outcome. You might even encourage unscrupulous people to make false complaints if you offer public compensation. If you need to have a conversation about sensitive data, let the customer know that you will contact them privately. Avoid pushing the initiative back on to them to complain again elsewhere, especially via a different channel.

Technology answers back

Invest in software to analyze your presence and feedback on the main social media channels. It’s not just complaints - many people will share positive experiences too, or even seek the answers to basic service questions. Every customer who comments about you must be addressed; the one you overlook is the one that will escalate and damage your reputation. Technology can help you to catch negative feedback before it escalates. Have a system that alerts you to a problem and aim to resolve it within a set time.

Some people just want to cause trouble. Identifying trolls and dealing with them effectively is a key part of your strategy. Again, look to your processes – do your employees know what to do? Make sure you teach them how to handle potentially sensitive public situations.

A clear brand vision

Communication at all levels is vital. Align skills and knowledge about best customer service practice. Possess a clear vision that is shared throughout the business. Ensure marketing provides feedback and reports on social media analysis and that customer service craft responses that reflect this vision. If you have a separate complaints team bridge the divide by creating one team, or by improving connections.

Effective social media management helps to develop and maintain a healthy brand and improves relationships with your customers. Reinforce your vision daily and show it working publicly through social channels. As your customers are talking about you – you have nothing to lose, and much to gain – by giving them a platform to talk to you. Most importantly – you remain in control.

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Customer Complaints Can Reveal Troubling Trends You Can’t Afford to Ignore

The recent $100 million Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) fine levied on a leading financial institution in the US marks the largest penalty imposed by the CFPB to date and makes the case for implementing a complaints management solution. With potentially millions of customers affected by the systemic fraud from the company’s employees over a five year period of time, it makes sense that some of these customers complained to this financial institution at some point before contacting the CFPB to help them find resolution. The CFPB assists thousands of consumers each week with complaints related to financial products and services like mortgages and credit cards, serving as an intermediary between the consumer and the financial institution. All of those complaints are aggregated and published in the CFPB Consumer Complaint Database after 15 days, whether the company responds or not.

For a bank or credit union, having complaints made public can be embarrassing and may affect current and future customers with a negative brand perception in the market. As companies increasingly compete on their positive customer experience, a process for handling complaints efficiently, and in a timely manner, is a way to distinguish themselves from their competition. Completely missing a trend or pattern of related customer complaints, as evident in the recent fraud case, takes the negative impact of reputational damage to exponential levels.

However, there are some best practices companies can follow to ensure they are protecting their customer relationships by providing timely responses to customer feedback. First, close the loop on customer feedback by automating your complaints process and funneling complaints from all channels to a single system. Complaints can come from a variety of sources -- social media, phone calls, email, or even in person -- and each of these sources should be captured in one place for coordinating responses. The ability to analyze incoming complaints information is critical to determine where action is needed to improve your company’s customer experience. The ability to aggregate data and overlay analytics leads to quickly identifying the root causes of positive or negative experiences, and spotting the hidden trends that could be used to improve customer experiences.

The key takeaway for professionals responsible for handling customer complaints is to understand that while keeping customers happy can often be challenging, the feedback they provide is a treasure trove of information that can help improve their customer experience, protect their company’s reputation, and potentially be the indicator for underlining problem areas in their business. Utilizing the right tool puts that valuable information in their hands, and the ability to use it to transform customer complaints into positive differentiators in their market.

To learn more about how Respond can help with CFPB compliance, click here.

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September 23, 2016 Duane George Jump to Comments

Essex County Council- a Respond Case Study

Essex County Council (Essex CC) is an upper tier local authority based in Chelmsford and is the main public sector body in Essex, United Kingdom. The council looks after highways, social care, infrastructure and education, amongst other responsibilities. Essex CC has been using Respond, Aptean’s Complaints and Feedback Management solution, since 2008 to manage inbound enquiries and complaints, including Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) complaints, Chief Executive correspondence, corporate and social care statutory complaints, member service enquiries (a service which is provided for County Councilors), and Freedom of Information and Environmental Impact Regulation requests.

While the initial Respond system at Essex CC was fit for purpose at the time of implementation, Essex CC realized that both its own technology and that of Respond had moved on considerably since then. The organization decided to upgrade from Respond 3 and moved to Respond 6.0.1 in April 2016 in order to take full advantage of the latest product enhancements.

“The clarity and insight we have when reporting now is so much better,” said Olivia Shaw, Customer Experience Lead at Essex County Council. “We’ve got a lot more visibility across everything, and our reporting now makes it so much easier to pick up any issues or trends.”

To learn more about how Essex CC met their tight deadline and improved their reporting, click here to read the full case study. 

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More staff or more efficient staff?

Staff on the frontline are the face of your company, and customer service staff in particular have the important role of putting things right when they go wrong. If a customer has a poor experience here, it could make or break their relationship with you.

Demands on frontline customer service staff are increasing as consumers expect a higher standard of response. If you cannot provide it, your customers will simply look for other companies who can satisfy their expectations. Martin Ellingham, Respond Product Manager at Aptean, discusses why empowering frontline staff ultimately results in higher standards of customer care and overall profit. It’s about staff quality, not quantity.

Today, it has never been easier for consumers to change their supplier or service provider. This has become particularly apparent in free markets in recent years, as governments have attempted to break up oligopolies of numerous industries – for example energy providers and financial services – to increase the competition and ultimately benefit consumers by enabling a wider range of choice.

In years gone by, many businesses could rely on low customer churn because it was both inconvenient and difficult to switch supplier or provider, but now it is a relatively pain free process with agencies and switching services literally knocking on customers’ doors.

With that, how a business interacts with its customers and their problems is fast becoming of greater significance. Customers don’t necessarily want to switch providers, but if they feel that inadequate customer service is forcing their hand, they will – and they won’t be coming back.

A business’ frontline is the first and the best opportunity to either reverse a negative situation or build on top of a good situation. Therefore, frontline staff need to be operating at a level that can both handle the demand and satisfy customer queries effectively in order to reduce churn and keep customers loyal.

Depending on what study you read, the cost of gaining a new customer compared to retaining an existing one is about 10 to 20 times more expensive for a business. But what many studies do not account for are the long term ramifications of losing a customer to a competitor. Consider a bank or building society; many customers will potentially be committed to one for decades. If poor customer service results in a number of customers looking elsewhere, it could leave a significant hole in a business’ long term financial projections and results.

A single click can send a bad review around the world

The challenge of providing satisfactory customer service has been exacerbated by the evolving digital landscape and how it now essentially dictates brand reputation.

Customer service departments are no longer a 9-5 operation; many are already running 24/7. The nature in which customers get the attention of their service providers has never been broader or more varied, both online and through the more traditional channels like phone calls and letters.

Now, there is nowhere for a company to hide if a customer is dissatisfied. Evidence of poor customer service no longer dies out once it has done the rounds at the coffee shop, office or gym – it lives on in the virtual world as a permanent reminder to anyone researching their next service provider.

It presents a real challenge for businesses, and has dramatically increased the reliance on their frontline staff. If customer service representatives are not adequately trained or do not have the resources to effectively handle customer interaction across several different channels, it could lead to a serious breakdown in customer trust.

As businesses have adapted to these developments, expectations have risen. We as consumers want answers quickly. We want immediate access to real people. We want them to be aware of our situation and have solutions tailored to our specific requests. No matter how strong a staff member’s personal skills might be customers always expect more. Apologies and empathy may pacify the customer in the short term – be it face to-face or digitally – but it does not solve the whole problem.

To ensure truly content customers, those skills need to be complemented with the expertise that the customer ultimately wants. Frontline staff need to be empowered with support that genuinely makes their jobs easier while providing exemplary service.

It is no longer a numbers game. More customer service staff does not necessarily fulfil customer expectations. More informed, more efficient staff – that is the answer.

Embracing technology for an efficiency drive

With this digital age comes the need for customer service staff to be technologically equipped – with technologies that really benefit their capability to keep customers happy across the ever expanding list of communication channels.

For frontline staff, there are any number of queries that they could receive via a call, email or face-to-face enquiry. It is impossible for them to know every single answer to every single situation off the top of their heads, and they should not be expected to.

But that does not mean they cannot communicate some form of useful information to the customer. A vague response that delays things further – such as “I’ll have to go and find out” – hardly inspires confidence in the customer that the business is doing everything in its power to help them in a timely, effective manner. For staff on the frontline, understanding why an issue has happened is not easy; understanding why when they are only armed with basic summary information is even harder.

By utilizing holistic Complaints Management software, the frontline – and as a result the overall business – will feel considerable benefits. This is because it truly integrates the whole setup into a manageable and easily accessible format.

It gives staff the ability to provide customers with instant updates, rather than making them wait for an answer. If the problem cannot be solved instantly, the software can streamline the redirection of a customer complaint to the correct subject matter expert. Company-wide system updates within the software can provide clarity into how similar issues have been resolved – resolution information captured at first point of contact is logged, so the customer need not wait for an answer that already exists.

For large companies whose customer service teams are spread far and wide, this kind of streamlined internal communication is vital in driving complaints handling efficiency.

By investing in the right tools which improve the frontline’s effectiveness, it will prove to customers that company profits are being reinvested into areas that will be there to help them – eradicating any perceptions that the profits are simply lining the shareholders’ pockets.

Short-term action for long-term prosperity

Businesses need to separate themselves from the crowd, and doing so means investing in customer service that exceeds the competition. Consumers have never been better informed about the products and services they use, as well as their rights, and ignoring that will be to the long-term detriment of the company.

Simply hiring more customer service staff is not the solution to improving complaints handling efficiency. In fact, adding more components to an already inefficient system will go only go towards making things worse.

The key is to identify ways to make staff more efficient. This means implementing inter-connected software systems that allow greater detail to be captured, without disrupting a slick customer-facing experience.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but enhancing staff capabilities through a complaints handling restructure does not have to be costly, particularly in the context of the long term gains of doing so. By working with complaints handling management experts to tailor a software infrastructure that improves frontline customer interaction, businesses will gain customers’ trust – and acquire their loyalty for years to come.

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Respond wins CUSTOMER Product of the Year Award

In January we were given some outstanding news—Respond was selected as one of CUSTOMER magazine’s Products of the Year! Receiving the award from a magazine focused entirely on the CUSTOMER certainly means a lot to us, as everything we do, every version, every update, is geared to driving more value for our customers. Our customers, and their customers! Respond was launched in the United States exactly 12 months ago and we’ve made significant strides since that launch, including notable customer wins with companies like Volkswagen Financial Services, our growing voice in the importance of compliance and of course the launches of 5.11 and 6.0 in just a few months. As a tier 1 enterprise solution, Respond has also seen validation from industry analysts, specifically Renee Murphy from Forrester Research, who included us in her July 2014 report “Listen To Your Customers To Meet Financial Regulations--The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Is Changing The Face Of Customer Care.” A key takeaway from her research:

“Leverage technology to manage and report on customer complaints. The CFPB requires that covered firms manage customer complaints centrally across all lines of business to create a holistic view of common issues and metrics. This is nearly impossible without some kind of software to facilitate complaint management workflows, documentation, and reporting.”

This is the essence of what Respond does for our customers, and we’re thrilled that Renee has taken a leadership role in the analyst community regarding companies working with the CFPB and finding improvements to the complaints management process that can be applied across every industry. We’ll have additional exciting Respond news coming in the months to come as the new launches are prepared, but for now this CUSTOMER award is a chance to take a moment and reflect on how far we’ve come as we look towards a bright future for Respond and the growing voice of customers everywhere.

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Results: 2014 Aptean Customer Complaints Compass

The 2014 Aptean Consumer Complaints Compass is the first research study of its kind to dig into how organizations are reacting to the CFPB and what U.S. financial service executives think the impact will be on consumers. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB supervises banks with more than $10 billion in assets, as well as certain nonbanks including mortgage companies, private student loan lenders and payday lenders.

Below, you can check out some of the findings of the study, along with a fun infographic. The full survey report is available for download at:
http://broadcast.aptean.com/ComplaintCompass

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