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GUEST COMMENT Perfecting the skill of complaint handling – the key to happy customers

The retail sector has never been so competitive. As industry leaders like Alibaba and Amazon cast an ever-growing shadow on the industry with their increasing influence, customer experience is playing a growing role in retailers’ success – and their ability to thrive. It is essential that brands deliver a positive experience – even when problems occur – in order to sustain success.

Customers can struggle to place an order, a payment sometimes has difficulties going through, and parcels occasionally turn up late – issues that occur during a buying journey are inevitable. Hiccups happen, and, much like stalling a car during a driving test, recovery is key. Done right, complaint handling can go further than resolving a customer’s problem – it can leave them walking away with a positive view of the experience. Dealing with complaints well could even be the differentiator for businesses operating in an increasingly challenging retail environment, where good customer service can help brands increase buyer loyalty and take market share.

Customer complaint handling is an art that a lot of companies fail to perfect. Yet, it is vital to master – especially in today’s age of social media, which people often turn to in hope of having their issues brought to light. Resolving a complaint quickly, and effectively, is particularly critical on a platform like Twitter, where other shoppers are often watching and waiting to see how a company will deal with criticism. Handled poorly, it can drive customers away from a brand and switch loyalty to a competitor. Done well, it can lead to positive engagement and an increase in orders.

Fostering brand loyalty and attracting new shoppers are just two benefits of successful complaint handling – as evidenced by brands like Greggs, Sainsburys and Argos – but how can organisations master this?

Be quick. Due to the fast-paced nature of call centres, agents are often measured on how quickly they handle a call and prepare for the next one. While efficiency is the operative word, this often compromises satisfaction and quality. In fact, bad customer service costs UK companies over £37 billion a year; conversely, good customer service can help businesses both survive and thrive in the challenging retail landscape.

Audience mapping and call routing are two technologies that companies can use to help businesses act quickly – and well. By assigning dynamic phone numbers to specific product pages and campaigns, a call can be routed to an agent responsible for that particular audience segment. These handlers will be trained to answer queries, offering an expert level of customer service and helping increase sales conversion rates across a business. These tools are particularly effective for turning browsing into buying on big-ticket items like cars, real estate and luxury goods.

Understand the caller. A key factor in enabling high-quality and efficient customer care is by being aware of the context in which a customer picks up the phone. Businesses should, therefore, invest in technologies that provide extensive data insights, which can facilitate better customer-brand interactions. For example, using dynamic phone numbers can also be used to track a customer’s previous website browsing and calling history – so a call handler knows what previous interactions the customer has had with the brand, which adds context and helps agents offer a more personalised service.

Other insights can be gathered and used – like knowing what device a buyer is phoning from, which helps assess a caller’s level of patience – to further improve the customer service level.

Grasp the context. Many phone calls take place as a natural transition from the previous online experience. Making the connection between offline and online interactions will, therefore, allow businesses to help customers quicker, and better. Knowing something as simple as where a caller is phoning from on a company website – for example, a purchase page – will enable an agent to immediately identify what a customer needs.

An unhappy customer could quickly turn to an incensed one if the agent doesn’t know that the person on the other end of the line is having problems – and handles the call wrong. On the other hand, if a caller is taken straight through to someone who then resolves their issue quickly and painlessly, they will likely end the call in a positive mood. That feeling of satisfaction a customer has, when they have been listened to and their problem has been dealt with, is what brands need to aim for. Insights and technologies that facilitate this level of personalisation are therefore crucial, as they can help empower businesses to handle customer complaints in the most effective manner.

The ability to successfully handle complaints is an art. It is one powered by technology and dealt with best by humans. In today’s increasingly competitive era, businesses should be looking to provide their teams with the necessary tools that will ultimately result in happy customers.

Author: Anne de Kerckhove, chief executive officer, Freespee

Image credit: Fotolia

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