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How Can Complaints Drive Business Accountability?

How Can Complaints Drive Business Accountability?

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How Can Complaints Drive Business Accountability?

6 Sept 2023

Martin Canwell
Workers in headsets using desktop computers

Using complaints as a driver for business accountability was the theme of a recent Complaint Coffee Club session, supported by Aptean in conjunction with The Collaboration Network. The discussion looked at how to improve the visibility of the great work that complaints teams do, not to mention the valuable insight that they often unearth. As well, discussion turned to how organizations can get to the stage where different departments are proactively seeking complaints data, recognizing the true value it can provide.

The arrival of Consumer Duty certainly seems to be helping here as business areas rely more heavily on complaints teams to understand what are the main causes of complaints associated with their department or product. As such, some businesses have already seen a distinct shift, with responsibility for complaint resolution (not recording) now sitting with the relevant business areas.

But what about those businesses who have yet to see this shift, or those for whom this accountability hasn’t shifted far enough? What can complaint teams do to ensure the right departments are held accountable for their role in not only resolving complaints but helping to prevent them too?

Why Should Other Teams Care About Complaint Resolution?

The first point to address is why other departments should care about effective complaint resolution. There’s obviously a need to comply with regulatory requirements, such as those stipulated by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), but there’s also the positive impact that good complaint management can have on the wider business. For example, research shows that the longer a complaint takes to resolve, the more likely it is that a customer will leave afterwards, with firms standing to lose as many as 40% of their customers whose complaints are not resolved within the first week. And, even if complaints are resolved, a significant proportion (42%) of customers still feel unvalued at resolution, suggesting that all is not as it should be along the complaint journey.

Clearly, complaints have an impact on the business as a whole and should be important to everyone in the organization. Some firms have made this clear by putting in place complaint-specific KPIs for non-complaint teams, with positive complaint outcomes no longer only the responsibility of the complaints department. By recognizing that complaints are a crucial part of the bigger customer satisfaction and customer retention picture, some businesses are certainly helping complaints teams by delegating responsibility for complaint resolution to the relevant product or service teams and actively setting targets for this, too.

Making Complaints More Visible

Statistics about customer retention and how this relates to effective complaint management aren’t enough, though. What’s required is close contact between complaints and all teams and it’s important to establish the right routines and spaces for robust complaint discussions.

This could be regular complaints forums that involve the right people who can take ownership for complaints, taking on accountability for making sure the issue is resolved. Or accessible, insightful complaint reports, again delivered to the people who can affect the necessary change or actions to resolve the complaint. The complaints teams can provide the information about the complaint and the customer but, ultimately, responsibility for addressing the issue that the complaint team has identified should lie with the relevant team or department, dependent on how the business chooses to assign responsibility.

A change in structure can be most helpful, so perhaps shifting complaint ownership from a brand level to a product level. The right people need to be held accountable; get this wrong and complaints can go unresolved.

Training as well has a role to play. If the wider business understands exactly how complaint management works, including all the processes involved and the regulatory requirements that need to be adhered to, it makes it easier for individual departments to understand the role they need to play. The business isn’t asking teams to take on responsibility for complaints management, just that the relevant teams take accountability for those issues that they are able to address.

Ultimately, complaint reporting is key here. Helped by the right complaint management system, complaint teams can deliver granular insight into not only the complaint in question but the wider business too, particularly when it comes to root cause analysis (RCA). It’s this ability to identify sometimes systemic issues that makes complaints team so valuable to the rest of the business, shining a spotlight on hitherto overlooked problems that can quite often be easily resolved.

Bringing Complaints Data to Life

With so many businesses simply drowning in data, one of the key challenges for complaints teams is how to make their complaints data stand out.

Some businesses have found it helps to include complaints information as part of a wider collective insight, so incorporating complaints data with voice of the customer information, quality assurance learnings, customer feedback and general customer experience data.

In some cases, this has served to put more weight behind complaints insight, resulting in greater acceptance that it’s down to the relevant teams to resolve the complaints. For example, complaints data can sometimes be just the tip of the iceberg – only one customer might complain but there can be a whole host of others who are experiencing the same issue. Looking at all listening points together can help to give a true sense of the scale of the problem, helping to build an argument for change.

In a similar vein, bringing complaints to life with real-life customer stories can make a tangible difference and it’s often the case that more can be done by telling the story of one customer than by revealing the data of many. It’s too easy for teams to become immune to reams of data but taking an in-depth look at the complaint from the customer’s perspective can help to highlight just how the customer has been impacted by the issue. The ideal process is that the complaints team helps to demonstrate what the customer is experiencing and the relevant departments then resolve the underlying issues.

For non-customer facing teams, this empathy can be hard to achieve through hard data alone, which is why more businesses are bringing the customer into the room, connecting data to individual customer stories. This could take the form of a recorded phone conversation or a feedback survey. Some organizations share call transcripts with the board level team, which helps to encourage top level buy-in to this necessary appreciation of customer impact.

This ‘bringing the complaint to life’ approach can be particularly beneficial for those ‘low volume / high impact’ complaints, which so often get lost in amongst the high-volume complaints. In fact, there can often be more detriment with this type of irregular complaint as it doesn’t fit into the regular complaint boxes, making it more difficult to resolve. It can be difficult to get the rest of the business on board if only a handful of customers are affected but, by demonstrating the actual impact the issue has had on the customers, it can help the rest of the business to see why the particular problem needs to be addressed.

How is Consumer Duty Helping Complaints Teams?

While its announcement was met with trepidation by some, Consumer Duty is increasingly being seen as a positive step by complaints teams, particularly with regards to how it can help position complaints within the business. Some teams are reporting more business engagement about what’s causing complaints, leading to an increasing reliance on the comprehensive RCA information that complaint management systems can facilitate.

Some firms are also predicting that complaint volumes might reduce (with certain complaint types disappearing altogether) because longstanding issues that have been repeatedly flagged by complaint teams are now being heard by the relevant departments and, in some cases, the information is proactively being sought out. It would seem that Consumer Duty is perhaps helping with the prioritization of issues, encouraging more interaction between the rest of the business and complaints teams, which can only serve to help firms improve how complaints are managed and ultimately resolved.

Undoubtedly, the complaints function has a key role to play in any business, furnishing the rest of the organization with customer insight that it’s simply impossible to get from elsewhere. It’s the recording, analysis and sharing of this insight that’s so important if complaint teams are to ensure that the right people are held accountable for resolving the very issues that lie at the heart of customer complaints.

For more information on how Aptean Respond can help to furnish your business with valuable customer insight or to get involved in our next Complaints Working Group, contact our team of complaints management experts.

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