Being great at complaints is a win-win for everyone

By Mark Parnaby, Managing Director – Cynergie, a Davies Company

4th December 2017

With a background of increasing regulation and competition, good complaint handling is more important now than it’s ever been.

Customers can switch supplier more easily than ever so utility companies need to be great at both acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones. Just being good at one is not enough and, with hindsight, some utility companies may have put disproportionate emphasis on new customer acquisition. We all know the old adage that a customer who has complained and had their complaint handled well, becomes more of an advocate than those who have not complained at all. It’s difficult to prove with statistics but we know deep down it makes sense.

The utility industry has changed significantly over the past few years. It is more dynamic, plus customers are savvier about shopping around, their rights, and getting what they want. The advent of comparison sites, social media and press coverage can change things overnight. Smaller players and new market entrants, for example, can sometimes gain big market share when their name becomes top of the list on price comparison sites or consumer TV shows. The flip side however is they are often not set up to cope with the sudden influx of new customers and subsequent service failures – complaints can ramp up significantly. It’s therefore critical to anticipate this knock-on effect and prepare complaint functions, as reputation can just as quickly be irreparably damaged and benefits short lived.

Yes, price is a key driver in causing customers to switch suppliers but there comes a point for most customers when service outweigh this. Customers do put a value on great service and they vote quickly with their feet when it fails. It’s hard to measure the level of this value but with experience we all know it’s not usually best to go for the cheapest option – finding the right balance is the key. Gaining a reputation for getting this balance right is critical to maximising growth and the key differentiator amongst competitively priced companies could be great complaint handling.

There is also an additional tangible cost to the business that can be avoided, which is the cost of escalation to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR ) scheme. The business case for this is straightforward and the great thing is that good complaint handling is actually simple to do well.

• Efficient response – the majority of complaints could be resolved more efficiently if dealt with sooner, with solutions properly explained to the customer, avoiding ADR escalation.

• Communicating with complainants – keeping them informed of progress and timely responding to their messages. It sounds easy but many companies frequently fail on this time and time again. The small things can make all the difference.

• Forward planning – whenever there are material changes expected in the operation, e.g. from a hot tariff deal to a new billing system introduction, these events invariably drive up complaints. So companies need to plan ahead properly for these situations and make sure complaints functions are ready.

• Becoming more ‘dynamic’ – implement strategies to facilitate flex within complaints functions to enable responsiveness. This can be achieved in a number of ways including using a flexible outsource provider for part of the workload to help with the peaks and growth.

Finally, technology as usual has moved on and complaint functions should be looking in particular at technologies such speech analytics to help them. This can help provide early warning of ‘voice of the customer’ issues arising in real time, enabling the opportunity to proactively shut these down before complaints rise. Customer engagement analytics can also help monitor staff compliance and provide insight into behaviour issues so that root cause solutions, e.g. targeted coaching, can be applied early. When a company can demonstrate it both handles complaints well and deals with the underlying causes, the business benefits are plentiful and easy to see. This kind of responsiveness and adaptability is the edge needed to make a winning utility company.

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