Healthy culture...it's not all smoothies and lunges

In my video yesterday I talked about what we mean when we refer to a ‘healthy culture’ in complaints. If you’ve not had chance to see it yet, here’s a quick run-down for you.

It means everything.

And I mean everything. From how easy it is for customers to let you know they’re unhappy, to decisions taken by colleagues around the three P’s – policies, processes and procedures – in all aspects of how your business goes about its business.

So, when it comes to complaints, what does a healthy culture look like today, and will it need to be different for the future?

For those of you who know me well enough by now, you’ll have guessed that my answer to this is going to be a resounding yes – otherwise this would be the shortest blog you’ve ever read and I’ve ever written!

In the past we’ve always talked about complaints healthy culture as being something that existed inside a complaints department – and concentrated (quite rightly) on having the right people with the right skills to take on the roles, supported by the right complaints record keeping system. And all of these are as relevant today as they have ever been.

But, our understanding about what works grows, especially when its coupled with the FCA’s announcement in its 2020/21 business plan that it wants the culture within financial services to change, and it wants to see firms evidence and demonstrate cultural change. And so, if culture is very much a live action point on the FCA’s agenda, it must be ours too.

For any complaints handling function that still gets the feeling that is sits outside of the ‘main buzz’ of its business – and would ‘just love to get involved to stop things going wrong in the first place’, now is as good a time as any for that to happen.

So, what should a healthy culture around complaints look like today? Here’s a starter for ten:

  1. How many clicks? Is it easy for your customers to complain? And by that, not just if they can complain but how easy do you make it for customers to find the information they need to contact you/submit a complaint?
  2. Can anyone hear me? Can your customers complain using different channels? Do they get a different experience (timing of response and outcome) depending on what channel they choose?
  3. The three Ps. Do colleagues developing policies, processes and procedures proactively involve you in pre-launch discussions to spot anything that might lead to complaints?
  4. Is your board on board? Do you have the full support and understanding from your senior leadership team? Do they get involved in call listening and reviewing exercises?

As I said, this is just the aperitive – there’s a whole load of other indicators that will tell you whether your current culture around your complaints function is a healthy one.

But what about the future? We know that customer expectations continue to rise, and we know from recent research that our ability (across industries) to keep pace with – let along match or exceed – our customer expectations, is a while off yet when it comes to our handling of their complaints.

So yes, as a basic we need to continue to improve on how well we handle complaints, how well we communicate and be proactively involved in identifying and sorting out once and for all those common problems or potential problems our customers may face. That’s the key to it. We need to nail most of our customers not having to complain the first place.

But will our customers continue to complain in the future anyway? Now before getting excited at the prospect of falling complaints numbers, be warned. There’s increasing evidence that customers, when unhappy, are now more likely to disengage while staying your customer.

Eh? I hear you say as you read this. Here’s the thing, walking away takes effort, but ‘staying’ while quietly seething and disengaging from taking out all forms of new business with you is the new challenge we could be facing. And unless we deal with that, we will be in that position (you know the one) where you get the feeling you’ve done something wrong, but you don’t know what and your partner won’t tell you, “because they shouldn’t have to”.  

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