Information and Analysis
- 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
We've significantly decreased cycle time and increased consistent and accurate responses with a database of standard letters and core language. Employees can use standard letters to reply to many complaints or inquiries such as the price of a stamp or where a customer can buy a used mail truck.
U.S. Postal Service
Not every organization gets frequent requests for used mail trucks, but every organization benchmarked supports its front-line employees with the information and tools they need to respond to customer complaints and inquiries. Every organization sees the information provided by customers with problems as valuable and collects and analyzes information about customer complaints. One organization described the information as free market research. The organizations use a variety of approaches to capture and analyze the information and to use the information for both routine and strategic management decisions. Best practice organizations use the following techniques.
Support Front-Line Employees with Integrated On-Line Data Bases
Companies use integrated, on-line information systems designed to support the performance of the front-line employees who interact with customers and assist them in answering customer inquiries quickly and accurately. Characteristics of state-of-the-art desktop computer information systems include:
- User-friendly screens equipped with standardized formats to assist the customer service process; including for example, frequently asked questions with appropriate responses, standard response letters or actual scripts to reinforce training and prompt the employee.
- Unique customer identification and access to customer information so that the customer representative can give customized service.
- Simple on-line procedures manuals, often with help screens.
- Avoidance of complex codes and "user hostile" features in information systems.
- Employee participation in development and testing to make sure that systems are accurate and easy to use.
- Real-time information exchange and retrieval and tools (such as electronic mail and fax capacity) so that employees can complete transactions quickly.
- Links to fully integrated information databases, including documents submitted in paper form that have been imaged and archived electronically, press releases, new product developments, standard responses, information about hot topics and performance statistics.
- On-line technical support as a first-alarm response to ADP difficulties, to help the front-line employees.
Capture Information About Customer Problems and Questions
Front-line employees generally enter data to avoid duplication of effort, improve accuracy and avoid backups in obtaining information about customer problems. Data analysis is generally centralized with a dedicated team or department responsible for analyzing data as their primary duty. Analysis groups often identify the most common concerns, analyze hot topics and facilitate problem solving. For example, determining how to prevent customers from being dissatisfied or from needing to call for information--this leads to a preventive strategy known as "call avoidance."
Managers in world-class organizations have real-time trend information, rather than end-of-the-period updates. They also get analysis that links front-line performance with corporate goals for customer satisfaction. Menu-driven programs allow users across the organization to develop reports and graphs from data specific to their area of responsibility. Using off-the-shelf software tailored to organizational needs, managers can retrieve and see complaint data displayed by type, region, product or service line, injury or catastrophic event, units responsible, root cause, volume, etc. Informed management makes better decisions.
Effective analysis groups use integrated and non-duplicative databases. These data bases include complaints from all sources, e.g., telephone calls, surveys, focus groups, correspondence, complaint/concern cards available on site and/or personal visits. Database records include names, addresses, telephone numbers, individual employee assigned, actions taken, due dates, progress, disposition, and other descriptive information used to enhance all customer contacts.
Use Information to Fix Problems Fast
The first priority of the front-line employee is to satisfy the customer. At the same time, the employee enters the customer's concern into a database along with the action taken to satisfy the customer. In some organizations, the front-line employee also enters a description or codes the root cause of the customer's concern.
Information about customer interactions is then referred to analysis teams and to appropriate process improvement teams that are charged with solving problems. Simple changes are made quickly, often within 24 hours of a problem being identified. The automated tracking system follows the problem to resolution. The features of these systems include precise categories and types of concerns, automated hot topics, automated ad hoc reporting, and competitive information gathering. Front-line employees can propose changes also via the same electronic system.
Address Underlying Causes of Problems
More complex problems or ones with policy implications are prioritized by the analysis group based on customer impact and referred to the area of the organization that can fix the problems or to a team of employees that is charged with solving it. Some companies prioritize customers and attack the core complaints of the most frequent or highest volume customers. Where there is a fully integrated automated complaint system, core problems are automatically routed to action agents.
Action agents further analyze the data and refer problems to the area of the organization that can best fix the problems, and organize cross-functional teams of employees from all levels in the chain-of-command to get at the root cause and correct it. By fixing root causes, future problems of the same nature are avoided, resulting in improved customer loyalty and organizational productivity. For example, critical analysis of data at one organization found that a large percentage of the 35,000 calls they received each month were simple billing questions. Now a voice response system can answer these questions, decreasing the number of calls they receive per month and giving customers faster access to the information they need.
There are regular activity reports on actions taken to fix problems. Information on actions taken and overall improvements are communicated to top management, staff employees and front-line employees through briefings, newsletters, bulletin boards, direct interaction, complimentary letters, and, especially, an interlocking team structure. Information is communicated to customers through corporate media publications, telephone calls and letters. As problems may relate to either lost productivity or lost revenue, the responsible departments budget may be charged for activities (root causes) for which they have been made aware of and that have not been corrected. There is thus a financial incentive for corrective action.
Track Contractor and Supplier Performance
Organizations that rely on contractors for customer interactions measure how well they perform. They track the performance of contractors and suppliers products and services against customer satisfaction factors. An analysis is made to determine if corrective action is needed by these outside sources in order to prevent future complaints. Some companies are using shorter contracts and expecting greater accountability for performance. Some are moving to performance contracts that specify expected performance levels with the parent organization conducting surveys of customer satisfaction and monitoring other measures of contractor performance.
- Observe trends. When corrective actions have been taken, determine whether the volume of complaints is decreasing to assess if products and/or services have improved.
- Technology utilization is important in complaint handling systems. A standardized, automated systems approach captures and analyzes root cause data.
- Bring in technology to support change; don't change to support the technology that you bring.
- Data must be translated into information and presented to everyone including management in a useable format so that the organization can better align services and products to meet customer expectations.
How Does Your Organization Measure Up?
- How does your organization support front line employees so that they can serve customers with complaints?
- How does your organization track and analyze complaints?
- How does your organization use information about complaints to fix easy problems fast?
- How does your organization use information about complaints to identify and address underlying 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