Human Resource Development and Management
- Service & Complaints Guides
- A Practical Guide to Handling Consumer Complaints
- Best Practices in Handling Customer Complaints
- A Guide for Consumer Complaints Management
- 6 Steps to Achieve Customer Service Excellence
Resolving complaints on a regular basis can be extremely stressful. Successful organizations know that and treat their customer service representatives with respect and dignity. They select people carefully for the job, train them and foster a supportive working environment. Front-line employees count in these companies. The best-in-business organizations do the following.
Recruit and Hire the Best for Customer Service
The customer service and complaint resolution specialist positions established by the benchmarking partners tend to be highly sought-after positions; sometimes there are over one hundred applicants for each open position. Complaint handling employees are considered complaint handling professionals or customer service professionals. Companies who fill openings from within the organizations draw only from a list of highly qualified employees with a demonstrated interest and skill in working with the public. One benchmarking partner did not have a separate customer service position, but rather trained their technical experts to handle complaints as part of their job. Another company hires from outside, but has a highly selective screening process, and a competitive marketplace starting salary.
The most important factor in hiring was selection of individuals who fit in with the customer service culture and have a demonstrated skill and interest in working with the public. Organizations used a variety of selection techniques, including temporary assignments to determine the suitability of an employee for resolving customer complaints; initial telephone interviews for call center employees, extensive staff and peer interviews--up to 14 interviews in one company. Companies look for a variety of character traits, skills, and experience for customer service jobs:
- Problem solving ability.
- Skill in handling tense, stressful, and multi-task situations.
- Strong sense of responsibility.
- Good communication skills and voice clarity.
- Business writing skills.
- Knowledge of relevant processes.
- "People skills" with customers and co-workers.
- Compassionate, customer-oriented attitude.
- Strong desire to help customers.
- Computer skills or aptitude.
- College degrees are desirable and sometimes required.
- Typing and other diagnostic tests may also be required.
Promote and Pay People who Satisfy Customers
Some organizations build the customer service position into a career ladder for promotional advancement in the company. At one company, the customer relations position is an 18-month to two-year assignment, with the employees advancing to higher levels within the company. In other organizations, progression is built into the position via skill based pay systems. That is, new skills and improved performance results in increased pay and responsibility. Another company develops the representative's expertise within certain areas of complaints, and the individual handles all the complaints in that specific area. The turnover rate for these positions tends to be in the single digits. Individuals generally leave because they are excelling in their careers, which is a cause for celebration. Agencies need to review and revise their policies and procedures that limit rewarding results, legislative changes are not needed.
See Training as a Critical Investment, Not an Expense
Best-in-Business leaders consider training an investment, not an expense. They use complaint trends/data to identify training needs. One organization increased training from 17 to 71 hours per person per year. Another, with 70 hours of training per employee, devotes three percent of its personnel budget to training. One company gives approximately 100 hours in training to all employees. Most world-class organizations fund college courses. One organization we visited provides space for evening classes held by local colleges and universities. Typically, new employee training consists of classroom instruction and on-the-job training, working with someone more experienced. They are educated in the underlying principles and mission of the organization, and in the performance expected of them to maintain those principles and mission.
On going training classes for different categories of skills is crucial. To enhance individual interpersonal relationships, training offerings cover active listening, behavioral interviewing, communicating across cultures, correction (assertive ways to give and accept criticism to and from peers), and building relationships. To develop group relationships, courses cover facilitation, negotiation, leading teams, and coaching. Personal growth skills benefit from offerings such as effective writing, software training, personal presentations, and The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.(4) Other categories deal directly with the business operations. One category teaches process management skills, e.g., process mapping (especially in the employee's processes), developmental processes, problem solving, quality improvements, and gap analysis. Another area covers measurement skills, such as operation effectiveness, surveying, and measuring. Lastly, organizations educate their employees on the mission statement, and how their jobs relate to it.
Create a Performance Culture
The organizations we visited have a performance-focused culture. Organizational vision, values, goals and objectives reach all the way down to the front line. The work environment may be casual or formal, but customer and quality concerns are always present. In this atmosphere, complaints are viewed as an opportunity to improve rather than an indictment of performance.
Employees feel encouraged to contribute their ideas for improving processes, regardless of rank or function. A well-developed feedback loop lets the employee know the disposition of the recommendation. Employee feedback is also valued in focus groups, customer on-line comments, assessment tools, internal surveys, and management information sessions.
Use Teams and Teamwork
A team-oriented culture is the norm with world-class organizations. Teams accept ownership of complaints, and work together to handle complaints, analyze the problems, and generate new ideas. All employees are involved in the vision. Everyone is part of the team.
At one organization, there is no hierarchy, no job titles, and everyone works on the front-line on a schedule determined by the team. They have state-of-the-art equipment. The information technology staff that developed the software spend time on the telephone with customers so they learn what is needed to satisfy customers. Work stations are designed as a neighborhood environment, partnering employees with different skills into self-managed work teams. Morale has soared; turnover dropped from 106 percent to five percent and more work is being done with 76 employees than was previously done by 126 in the headquarters and at distant locations. The goal of the operation is to delight the customer in world-class fashion and the customer service professionals on the front-line work together to do so.
Give Employees Authority and Responsibility to Resolve Complaints
Empowerment of customer service representatives is crucial to providing customers on-the-spot, just-in-time resolution to their problems. They must have the authority to do what it takes to make things right in the customer's eyes. Also crucial is arming those employees with the resources to properly handle complaints.
Employees with a feeling of ownership in the company help each other for the good of the organization. They take responsibility for improving their own skill levels, solving problems, and sharing information. They share information via newsletters and town meetings so the same mistakes do not recur.
Recognize and Reward Success
World-class organizations recognize their employees' individual and team accomplishments frequently and in a large variety of ways, monetary and non-monetary. These organizations use employee appreciation events, celebrations, representative/team of the quarter/year awards, bonuses, and merchandise. At one organization, non-salaried employees participate in profit-sharing based on merit, with their share of the profit determined by their team's performance against company goals.
Evaluation methods are geared toward customer recovery and performance improvement. For example, supervisors use call monitoring as an evaluation tool to help the employee perform better, not to give them a poor appraisal rating. At one organization, peers are responsible for monitoring calls and are trained to give constructive criticism. At another organization, individuals rate themselves by listening to their own audiotaped calls. A comprehensive 360 degree performance system includes the supervisor, customer and peer input into the evaluation. Feedback is continuous throughout the year rather than one-time, and is both oral and written. Performance measures tie back to the company's mission, goals, and customer satisfaction. One company rewards its employees for results by fixing something, not for suggestions.
Involve Front-Line Employees in Solving Problems
In these companies, managers value feedback from front-line employees, to the point of using the feedback in making decisions. Front-line employees are held accountable, but are given authority to go with accountability. They are encouraged to tell management about their customer's concerns. These employees buy into the system because they can see results based on their suggestions and input. Documenting customer calls helps to decrease the number of dissatisfied customers by determining the root cause of the problems. The company brings front-line employees in from the field to analyze problems, recommend alternatives to management, and implement the accepted solution. Employees embrace the corporate culture that complaints are opportunities to improve. All employees feel responsible for solving problems.
Managers take care and pride in positively motivating employees. They recognize the importance of the job of front line employees by listening to and acting on the employees' ideas, rewarding their efforts, highlighting the position in the company's career ladder, and offering training for growth. Front-line workers' personal well-being is also important, and management provides benefits such as child care centers and fitness facilities. These organizations adhere to the policy that employee satisfaction is as important as customer satisfaction to the success of their business.
- Use complaint analysis/trends to identify human resource priorities.
- Hire for the future and hire the best
- Build the customer service position into the organizations career ladder.
- Invest in training to develop the technical skills of front-line workers.
- Invest in training to develop the "people" skills of front-line workers needed for an effective complaint handling system.
How Does How Does Your Organization Measure Up?
- How does your organization recruit front-line employees who handle complaints?
- How does your organization train front-line employees?
- How does your organization measure and recognize the performance of workers who handle customer problems?
Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- Leadership Strategies for Satisfying Customers
- Information and Analysis
- Human Resource Development and Management
- Managing Customer Expectations and Satisfaction
- Complaint Process Management
- Business Results
- Appendix I: Reinventing Complaint Resolution
- Entire Guide