Author Archive

In praise of complaint handlers

June 11, 2014

Listening-Dog-BlueHaving watched the documentary series ‘The Complainers’, I applaud complaint handlers or ‘the human punch bags’ dealing with the litany of venomous abuse from over 1,000 complainants on a daily basis. Call handlers now make up one in five of the British workforce and they came across as the most sane and tolerant people on the planet, as one agent said ‘it’s like playing Russian roulette here.’

Probably no great surprise to learn that over 38 million complaints were lodged against UK organisations. On a positive note, complaining is good – it keeps driving up standards, it allows customers to have a voice particularly with the growth of social media empowering us all to enjoy and savour the power to complain. It can in a nutshell, change industries. Also, a customer complaint doesn’t have to be a negative experience and how organisations respond to their customers’ problems can actually build stronger advocacy.

At the end of the day the human brain is around 100,000 years old and its needs are very basic and primitive. So whilst we are faced with new technologies, systems and processes all designed to improve things, our brain remains pretty much static in how it operates. We are still programmed to demand a human to human interaction, otherwise we feel emotionally disconnected, disloyal, frustrated and untrusting.

So do leaders truly recognise the power that their front line complaint handlers have in their hands? And how do they support them respond to each customer letter, email or call with a positive mindset and solution driven approach to drive advocacy?

CEB research, conducted in 2013, showed that how the customer feels about the interaction matters twice as much as what they actually do during the interaction. So how we connect with the customer on an emotional level is hugely important. The research concluded that customers want the experience of a company to be easy: to deal with their issues first time, to not pass them around from pillar to post, to not make them repeat information, to take ownership of issues, to not just deal with the immediate issue but to look for issues that they might not be aware of, to build some warmth and to emotionally connect with customers.

So whilst we will never get rid of the uber-complainers who simply want to cathartically lash out at someone, we can reduce valid complaints by ensuring we adopt some new human to human techniques within our front line training, the first two of which are based on the CEB research:

  1. Don’t just resolve the current complaint, head off the next one – you’ve all heard of First Time Resolution, following on its tail is Next Issue Avoidance. In dealing with complaints, NIA anticipates why customers might make contact in the future. So go beyond the FCR. The question advisors should ask themselves is ‘how can I make sure this customer does not call back?’ according to Harvard Business Review research, this approach has been shown to reduce call volumes by 20% to 30% in 12 months and improve customer retention
  2. Use the Intensity Reduction Formula – Our usual response in dealing with angry customers who are complaining is to remain calm and passive. Passive is a low energy state and anger is a high energy state. Reframe this by talking about what would happen if you approached an unhappy person whilst you were in a fun state, you would probably annoy them. The reason is that these states fall at opposite ends of the spectrum. Depression/unhappiness is a low energy state and fun is a high energy state. So the trick to taking the heat out of a negative comment made by a customer, and preventing the conversation from becoming more heated or negative, is in our ability to match the customer‘s energy but use non-confrontational language.
  3. Work in imagination not memory – complaint teams often suffer from an epidemic of expertise, often they are technical experts and this can result in them becoming so experienced that they forget to nail the basics: listening, questioning and understanding specific needs.   In our experience many complaints are escalated because they were never properly understood at the first point of contact. Front line teams need to step into the customers shoes and adapt their communication to become super personal, relevant and effective: working with imagination, not just memory. Doing the right thing for the individual customer is the result of a combination of working with what feels right in the moment and using a little bit of imagination with everything you do.
  4. Provide agents with Experience Engineering skills. Based on science from the USA, this is all about arming staff with the skills to address the emotional side of customer interactions and differs greatly from traditional soft skills training both in terms of focus and outcome. This involves actively guiding a customer through an interaction designed to anticipate the emotional response and pre-emptively offer solutions that create a mutually beneficial resolution outcome.
  5. Deploy Empathetic Listening – As individuals we hear sounds all the time, but we’re not always consciously aware of what we hear. However hearing is not listening and as we know, listening, showing genuine interest in them and empathy towards customers is a vital skill when dealing with complaints. This means listening to understand, rather than interrupting, being present in the moment, becoming interested in listening to others. Don’t waste time trying to anticipate what a customer might say or how they might respond – far better to hear them out, listen and then use a pause to formulate your next question and to demonstrate attention and reassurance.
  6. Be aware of your personal state – where does your ego go when faced with a conflict situation? How much self-awareness do you have around ‘that’s where you’re heading’ and how do you manage your personal state in order to remain in the right mindset to find a win-win scenario where your client trusts your response. Understand and believe that a complaint is an opportunity not a problem, this will drive a stronger emotionally connected conversation with a positive mindset and language that is outcome driven.
  7. Create a peak ending – Customers have a positively memorable experience based on peak moments during a conversation – where conversations reach a high and a personal connection is felt and a positive memorable ending to the customer interaction. In what has come to be known as his ‘peak-end rule’, Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman pointed out people could remember only two things during an experience process: how we feel at the peak (no matter whether the ultimate experience was good or bad) and at the end. These peak-end feelings summarise our whole experience process and are stored in our brain at a subconscious level. We remember only the peak and the end.

At the end of the day, dealing with complaints is centered on dealing with highly emotional conversations and in that point in time, how it’s handled creates loyalty. It boils down to human needs; we want to be heard, understood, and we want empathy and a solution to our complaint. If we can achieve this, we can build trusting and successful relationships, which will drive customer retention and attrition and greater employee engagement. These front line champions have a lot to be thanked for.

Briege Kearney - Director - Client Development - Blue Sky Performance Improvement Briege@bluesky

http://www.blue-sky.co.uk

 

 

Advertisements

Could 50 Shades of Grey help your learning stick?

July 31, 2012

It was the conversation over a coffee with friends that made me brave my local bookshop and buy the hottest book of the moment – 50 Shades of Grey.

Even my husband when he saw it in the bedroom (I’d hidden it under a copy of Infinite Jest, another novel I’m trying to get through) cried out “not you as well?!” Yes, it seems that everyone on his commuter train and beyond are mesmerized.

So it made me think ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could design and launch a learning programme that would have the same impact as 50 Shades of Grey?’ A programme that employees would clamour to sign up to and evangelize with their colleagues about the content and learning.

Perform - Handcuffs - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

I am not advocating that learning interventions should involve porn, bondage or domination, just the sentiment that we need to keep designing creative and exciting content to capture employee’s imagination to make learning stick.

And so the Blue Sky 50 Shades of Learning was born by asking our staff to email their lighthearted take on the book and the world of learning. Here are our top 10 for you to enjoy and we want to find the 40 best others from out there in the learning community to make up the 50. If you’d like to send in your contribution, please email hello@blue-sky.co.uk and the top three winners will receive a bottle of Jo Malone perfume or cologne (no handcuffs or gimmicks are involved in this offer!)

The Blue Sky Top 10 Shades of Learning

“Make me cry like I’ve never cried before!” he screamed. “Alright” I said and made him read the entire works of Tom Peters.

“I am your master and you will perform everything I say” …it was then I knew it was time to leave the CIPD.

“I’m curious” he whispered. Never had she felt so deeply probed. She felt exposed from all angles; naked, yet strangely liberated and safe. “So” she said silently to herself, “this is how 360 degree feedback works.”

Wearing my seductive skimpy schoolgirl outfit, I gazed around the room. How was I to know that that was not what they meant by classroom learning?

Once I knew his seven habits…I was disgusted.

He felt his net promoter score rise as she whispered down the phone “thank you, that’s the best customer service I’ve ever experienced”.

My heartbeat raced as I heard him suggest his embedded learning methodology would be different to anything I’d ever experienced before…

He brought a new meaning to the phrase “yes, we can plug the leak in your sales pipeline…”

His PowerPoint presentation was the longest I had ever seen. Slide after slide after slide after slide of animated ecstasy. I died a thousand deaths before I fell into a deep untroubled sleep.

She lay back, disappointed. It was all over so quickly. “Oh” she said, “that’s what you meant by accelerated learning!”

Briege@Bluesky

Briege Kearney - Director - Client Development - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

www.blue-sky.co.uk

Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Don’t let the technology get in the way of the message

July 6, 2011

I was interested to read the CCA latest press release warning about the complacency in handling customer’s emails. The use of email, text, web chat and social media are clear growth channels of the future. What lessons have we learnt from call handling to make sure we create a clear and differentiated customer experience online?

The old saying ‘what goes around, comes around’ is true and it’s great to see that we might be going back to applying the good old fashion rules of written communications and I believe some of the key philosophies that should be applied are:

  1. Make sure you flex your style of writing to match your customer’s style of writing. Very often the company brand comes first and without flexing the style of writing the level of rapport and connection will be limited.
  2. Bring good news upfront – how often have you received a letter or email response with three paragraphs of explanation around the process and in the last paragraph an answer to your question. This does little for engagement
  3. Apply a peak end rule at the end, make your customer feel that you have really read their email and use some of their language at the end of the message and not the usual company sign off line.

There is a real opportunity for companies to embrace this channel and learn from previous mistakes, to view the CCA press release click here

Definitely food for thought.

Briege@Bluesky

Briege Kearney - Director - Client Development - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

www.blue-sky.co.uk

Blue Sky Performance Improvement