Building a robust complaints handling process boils down to one thing - communication

I’ve recently had cause to complain, not once but twice. It takes a lot for me to want to complain, because let’s face it, none of us enjoy a Busman’s holiday, but I’d reached the end of my tether with both my bank and my energy company.

The reason I bring this up when I’m talking about building a robust complaints process, is because I had two very different experiences and I could see marked differences between the two. And it was no surprise to me that it all came down to one very simple thing…communication.

My experience

Anyway back to my experiences, I’m not going to say it’s been a joy, but I’ve had cause to complain twice in the past month. You’d be forgiven for thinking that as someone that does what I do, I must be complaining all the time. Au contraire! As Caroline will attest, we both hate complaining and, if we can avoid it we will, but on these two occasions I’ve been so frustrated, that I felt I had no option.

And let me tell you there was a world of difference between the two complaints, despite the fact that they were largely about the same thing – not being able to access an online account through an app, online, or even by phone.

The bad

So let’s start with the not-so-positive one. My bank is online, and so with that comes some expectations around access to my account. But when I was unable to access my account for over a week and it had been patchy before that for a few weeks, I reached the end of my tether.

I forwarded my complaint by email on 10 July, having tracked down the complaints page via a number of clicks and some Sherlock Holmes level investigation skills. And, then it all went a bit south from there really and here’s why.

  • I received an email acknowledgement on 13 July that did nothing to manage my expectations. It didn’t even introduce me to my complaint handler and it incorrectly told me all follow up communications would be sent by post ‘for security reasons’;
  • I then received an email, that wasn’t an update, more a correction to the first one to say I’d get an email, from another person, but not the complaint handler;
  • I heard nothing other than these emails and I wasn’t asked for any input;
  • I then received an emailed Final Response Letter, with no encryption. The email contained nothing to communicate with me, other than your letter is attached.
  • The Final Response was OK, but nothing grates more than a long list of what happened, rather than acknowledging the impact on me, or worse the apology sandwich. Eugh!
  • I was then given £25 for the inconvenience, but it just left me thinking, ‘well so what?’.

The good

Mirror that against the experience I had with my energy company, which I have to say I was very impressed by.

I complained on 13 July about the issue with access to my account. I received an acknowledgement the following day, combined with a personalised run down of what had happened and an explanation of what would happen next to resolve the tech issue. All from the complaint handler.

It was personable, professional and it took ownership, I was so impressed, that I was happy to close it off and wait for the tech person to contact me, which they did within three days, as promised. All this without being bunged any cash. What a contrast!

The ugly truths

So, what was the difference between these two experiences? It wasn’t just the speed of the response, it was the thoroughness the energy company was able to show in that time. And that all comes down to the communication.

Let’s face it, if you’re able to contact me in a shorter amount of time, with proper meaningful communication, so there are fewer pointless emails clogging up my email inbox, I’m going to be a happier customer.

Now you might argue that these two complaints aren’t exactly the same, but they are as similar as you can get I think, albeit it’s two different industries that I’m dealing with here. But for me the energy company’s complaints process is clearly far more efficient, not just in terms of following rules, but it allocates the complaint straightaway, and that person deals with it immediately.

To me, this shows a process that is able to adapt quickly to whatever the customer has thrown at them. It empowers its staff to address the complaint quickly and efficiently. And, it meant that I was able to accept the outcome quickly too as I was satisfied it was sorted. And I told them that without having to be asked!

When I look at the bank’s one, I see a lot of DISP rules being abided by. There is ‘enough’ being done to tick those boxes, but actually it left me feeling fairly disengaged. I mean it smacked of ‘couldn’t really bothered’, and yes, I’ve accepted the outcome, but that’s solely due to the issue having been resolved, not because of the £25 they bunged me to help me on my way.

There’s no denying that I’m someone that works in complaints, and so I can take a different view to a customer, but like any customer I don’t want to feel that the business is going through the motions to get it done. I want to be involved, so that I can see that my complaint has been resolved and the business is interested in me as a customer, no matter what size it is. And that takes meaningful communication, not just emails correcting mistakes without acknowledging them.

And no I’ve not been asked for my feedback by the bank. Says all it needs to say doesn’t it?!

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