All businesses have a responsibility and a vested interest in making sure that their solutions are tailored to support their customers’ needs. This is, however, especially true within the collections industry, where providing the best outcomes is essential to protecting and supporting customers who are facing financial hardship, often on top of other difficult situations.
It goes without saying that customer complaints can be an incredibly valuable source of feedback, highlighting key areas for improvement to make sure customers’ needs are being met. So why is it that our gut reaction to receiving complaints remains so negative? And what can we do to reframe the way we view them?
It’s easy to let your relationship with your business impact the way you view complaints; this is true whether that relationship is filled with love and passion or with disagreements and tension.
Being a part of a business which you wholeheartedly believe in can make the criticism which comes with complaints a tough pill to swallow. This is especially true within tight-knit startups, where you are often working in close proximity to the people and projects which have created the very solutions your customers are now complaining about. As human beings, it’s natural for us to feel defensive when faced with this criticism; we feel as though our hard work is being nullified, we question how sound our judgement of the finished product was, and we fear the impact this may have on future projects.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, it can be equally as difficult to handle customer dissatisfaction when it doesn’t come as a shock; whether this is due to similar complaints having been raised a number of times before, or you raising concerns beforehand regarding potential issues which weren’t heard by project leads.
In either case, it’s important to remain objective when complaint-handling by taking these feelings of defensiveness or frustration out of the equation - before finding impactful ways to channel these emotions back into the conversation to fuel positive customer outcomes and future change.
Particularly in recent years, complainants can often be seen through “Karen”-tinted glasses; there’s a preconception that someone who complains is “entitled” and “demanding” or that they’re “just complaining for the sake of it”.
However, most complaints come from customers with a genuine concern or problem - they may be frustrated or agitated, but it’s important to remember that you’re on the same side and to make sure they’re equally aware of that to engage in a meaningful, co-operative discussion.
Not only can preconceptions affect complaint handling, but they can also have a negative impact on the customer’s likelihood of raising a complaint in the first place. Esteban Kolsky, CEO of ThinkJar, conducted a customer experience survey which found that just 1 out of 26 unhappy customers will raise a complaint - the rest will simply not engage further and/or stop using the business. This can be particularly damaging to customers within the collections industry, where a lack of engagement can lead to complications or difficulties further down the line; not being provided with the appropriate support where needed, being referred to other Debt Collection Agencies or legal action being taken.
The FCA also conducted a study which found that 28% of people in the UK “lack the confidence and know-how to speak out” when it comes to raising complaints, “with younger generations the least likely to be proactive”. Because of this, it’s becoming even more important for businesses to be open and transparent about their complaints process, and ensure that these processes are empathetic, easy and stress-free. If a customer has expressed they are dissatisfied with a product or service, they should be provided with the relevant options and support to raise a complaint and the reassurance that this will be taken seriously to put things right.
Due to all the reasons above, changing our perception of complaints can be easier said than done.
The best place to start is always with a conversation. Speak to members of your team about how they feel about complaints, why they feel that way, any concerns they have about complaints or even generally about the business and common causes of complaints or potential complaints. Speak to the members of the team in direct contact with customers - they know more about what customers want and need than anybody else. Making sure that your solutions are ironed out and team members know why they are in place or how to handle complaints regarding these solutions can be key to ensuring they feel confident when they are received.
Following on from this, making sure there is a consistent feedback loop in place is vital; you need to be using complaints and feedback as a learning opportunity by analysing data and identifying common themes or issues. This should lead to positive changes that benefit your business, your customers and your team members.
Creating a culture of transparency and accountability is also essential for setting the tone for positive complaint handling. This means being open and honest with customers, making sure they know exactly what will happen when then they do raise a complaint and making this process as easy as possible. Don’t overcomplicate things for the customer - that makes the process intimidating and may lead to customers being pushed away completely rather than working with you to find a solution.
Welcoming and utilising customer complaints is key to providing the best possible solutions and outcomes. By taking emotions out of the equation, disabling your filters and preconceptions, and implementing practical solutions, complaints can be transformed into valuable feedback that benefits everyone.