When customers ‘gang up’ – how to handle it

The role of social media as a machine for allowing groups of people to be in a state of perpetual outrage is a trend which shows no signs of abating. Love it or loathe it, what should you do about it? Is responding to organised online campaigning a reasonable reaction to the Voice of the Customer or are you just caving into cyber-bullying?

The recent withdrawal by stationery and greetings card chain Paperchase from a Christmas wrapping paper promotion with the Daily Mail raises just these questions.

Paperchase said it was responding to feedback from hundreds of its customers who complained about their promotion or endorsement of the newspaper, owing to its coverage of the LGBT community and other minority groups. This was orchestrated by the Stop Funding Hate campaign which aims to persuade advertisers to shun papers that carry articles ‘demonising foreigners and minorities’.

There’s a debate to be had about the legitimacy of this approach. On the one hand it could be argued that much of the material produced by the Mail and other publications of a similar persuasion does help to foster a climate of ignorance and prejudice. On the other, there’s an argument about freedom of speech and where lines need to be drawn between different viewpoints and those that are classified as ‘hate speech’ – a meaningless and pejorative term that, in my opinion, muddies the waters even further.

However, if you’re in the business of getting customers to buy your products, organised online campaigning is something you should be concerned about, irrespective of whether it’s wrong or right. And getting it right means a customer-centric approach that requires two simultaneous balancing acts.

Voice of the Customer vs Voice of Reason

First up, you need to determine whether the campaign is significant or not. According to an article in Drum, 14% of the company’s customers are likely to read the Daily Mail they are more likely to read broadsheet newspapers than the public average (27% against 15%, source YouGov). According to Amelia Brophy, head of data products at YouGov, “it’s unlikely that Paperchase’s customers would have left the brand in any case as our brand tracking data indicates that it is a company with solid consumer perception.”

If that’s the case, you could accuse Paperchase of over-reacting to the Voice of the Customer rather than taking a cool look at the data.

But that neglects a more amorphous but equally important consideration…

What we believe vs what we do

Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of this particular issue, it’s given Paperchase an opportunity to state something about its principles. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall when the company took the decision to cancel its promotion: debates on what a company stands for are not that frequent, usually because those values and beliefs are woven into the fabric of everything it does, so they have a depth that discussions on, say, sales figures don’t.

In this case, Paperchase concluded that, effectively, they didn’t want to be associated with the values promulgated by the Daily Mail and I applaud them for taking a stand on this and making their views clear – even though commercially it could be wrong-headed.

There isn’t an absolute right or wrong in these situations, although the opinionated keyboard warriors at all points on the political spectrum would have you believe otherwise. Ultimately it’s a test of what you as a business stand for, and if enough of your customers salute you for it and continue to do business with you, it’s the ‘right’ one.

People not process will turn your complainers into raving fans

Complaints are a customer feedback goldmine and one that companies ignore at their peril. But how you handle the complaint is even more important: it’s a moment of truth that can turn a disgruntled customer into a raving fan – or drive them raving mad.

A company’s typical response to creating a great complaint handling process is to start with the process. This is a mistake.

The secret to great complaints handling is not process, it’s people. And, more specifically, the right people with the right set of skills and attitudes.

A recent example illustrates this…

My wife had a bad experience in a branch of Caffe Nero, having been served a panini with next to no filling in it. Since Caffe Nero encourages online feedback she duly complained online, even enclosing a photo of the sub-standard toastie. It took weeks for this complaint to turn into the promised compensation, with my wife – not overly bothered about the amount of redress, but now annoyed that she wasn’t being listened to – sending further emails to enquire as to what had happened. Compensation eventually arrived, admittedly with profound apologies for the poor response – clearly a less-than-perfect process in operation there.

A more customer-centric approach from Caffe Nero would have worked much better: if my wife had been encouraged to complain in the store or, even better, the staff had noticed an uneaten panini and asked if it anything was wrong with it, the matter could have been dealt with there and then.

But this requires people on the front line who

  • can detect a potential sub-standard offering
  • are empowered to sort it there and then
  • possess the judgement to offer appropriate redress
  • recognise that their obligation is to create raving fans

and provide feedback to the originators of the problem.

Put like this, it’s hardly rocket science, but it does require a people-focused approach as much as a customer-centric one. An approach where you recruit people with the right attitude and the train them up to refine their ‘soft’ skills to do the right thing by the customer when things go wrong.

4 questions to check… are you exploiting your complaints goldmine?

Have you got PPI? Do you think you might have had PPI? I’ve lost count of the times that some click-bait ad has popped up to ask me that question or, on some occasions, I’ve had to take a phone call from someone aggressively selling me PPI claims services I don’t need. Well, now the Financial Conduct Authority has got in on the act and enrolled none other than the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in an advert to urge people to get their claims in before 29th August 2019.

In my not-expert view it’s a crap advert, but it’s clearly been effective, as it’s resulted in over a million visits to the FCA website’s PPI pages. And this is actually good news because PPI mis-selling was an outrageous con perpetrated on banking customers – everyone who bought a policy without realising it should get their money back.

Despite its dubious qualities as an ad, I say hats off to the FCA for giving people an Arnie-sized shove to complain.

Because I don’t think as customers we complain enough.

And, moreover, I don’t think companies realise what a goldmine they are sitting on when customers do complain.

You heard it: complaints are a goldmine.

But they’re a goldmine that’s under-used.

Think about it: a customer who complains about a sub-standard product or service has taken the time to tell you how that product or service fell short of their expectations. And since you set those expectations, that’s direct feedback on product and service quality.

How does this valued resource get treated? I’d say, pretty poorly.

Try this simple test. Does your company:

  1. Reward people who provide feedback?
  2. Empower people in customer contact/complaints handling roles to provide redress or compensation when complaints are received?
  3. Keep the customer informed throughout the process of the complaint and ensure that they leave the process with a better opinion of you than when they started?
  4. Dedicate sufficient resource to understanding the nature of complaints, their root causes and any underlying systemic issues that make it tough to eradicate the root cause?

If you’ve answered yes to all four questions, you probably don’t need to be reading this article (but thanks for getting this far!) and I’m guessing your company enjoys an outstanding reputation for customer experience. If you answered no to any of those, then you’re not capitalising on that free or near-free resource, so here’s how to fix it:

1. Incentivise customers to provide feedback

It doesn’t have to be a big incentive – Pizza Express runs a ‘How Did We Dough’ (groan) service that provides customers with a voucher for a free portion of dough balls every time they feed back on a specific dining event. It’s kept me in additional dining out calories on quite a few occasions and must cost the restaurant chain next to nothing to administer.

2. Empower the front line

A great many customer satisfaction issues can be resolved at the time they occur, saving a vast amount in back office processing costs. But the problem is for many large organisations that there’s too much process and not enough trust. You have intelligent people in your company: time to start relying on them to do the right thing.

3. Make sure your complaint handling process delivers a great customer outcome

Too often, the outcome of a complaint handling process is to minimise or control the amount paid out in compensation rather than to focus getting the customer to be a raving fan of the company. When I worked on a remediation project for a major bank I was astonished to find that nobody bothered to ask customers what they thought of how their case had been handled and what they now thought of the company. I’m guessing that their opinions might not have been great, but if you don’t ask, you have no idea how well your process is working. Keeping the customer informed about progress is another way to keep customers dissatisfaction from worsening while you consider their grievance.

4. Invest in analysis and actioning the results

This is probably the hardest bit – or at least it seems to be, because I keep coming across root cause analysts who don’t have enough resource to do this highly necessary job. There are two reasons for this: firstly, the data’s usually rubbish – badly classified or with insufficient recording around the time of the incident (and that’s why PPI has taken so long to sort out and cost the banking industry so much), and secondly the job’s not a glamorous one – you’ll get more management attention for a customer experience improvement project that targets NPS scores than one that tells you why those scores are poor in the first place.

And that last point is worth re-iterating: because you’re mining data and customer experience for things that don’t work and need fixing, you’re going to be ‘underground’ dealing with inadequate processes and all the sad customer stories that result. It’s unglamorous, dirty work but, with the right resource, can deliver ‘gold’ not just in terms of customer satisfaction but in improvements to the company’s bottom line.

As Arnie would say: ‘Do it’.

When customers ‘gang up’ are you ready?

The role of social media as a machine for allowing groups of people to be in a state of perpetual outrage is a trend which shows no signs of abating. Love it or loathe it, what should you do about it? Is responding to organised online campaigning a reasonable reaction to the Voice of the Customer or are you just caving into cyber-bullying?

Continue reading

4 questions to check… are you exploiting your complaints goldmine?

Have you got PPI? Do you think you might have had PPI? I’ve lost count of the times that some click-bait ad has popped up to ask me that question or, on some occasions, I’ve had to take a phone call from someone aggressively selling me PPI claims services I don’t need. Well, now the Financial Conduct Authority has got in on the act and enrolled none other than the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in an advert to urge people to get their claims in before 29th August 2019.

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My week in CX #10

Jazz minus pizza

There’s only so much pizza a man can take in the interests of customer experience and so this week my Pizza Express odyssey comes to a (satisfactory) conclusion. In other news, my local arts centre makes me yearn for a bit of NPS and decide to call time on the weekly reports.

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My week in CX #9

In  a week in which my customer experiences revolve around eating, I give some feedback, find out how much my advice is worth, eat far too much pizza and receive more communication from the mysterious Amy Ingram…

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My week in CX #8

Delays to last week’s customer experience owing to some pressing client work means that I’m casting my mind back to about a fortnight ago… if only I had some memory enhancement to help me… more on that later. It was a week in which tech matters seemed to come to the fore, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence (AI) where the future may be arriving, albeit slowly.

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