Complaints handling: setting the right culture to resolve complaints

Jul 19


Alison Miles-Jenkins

Alison Miles-Jenkins

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Good complaints handling is about having good systems and well-motivated people. But it is not simply about these two elements. To improve your complaints handling performance start with the customer service culture. If your culture does not value complaints then no matter how good your staff are at resolving complaints the real benefits of good complaints handling will be lost. This article focuses on complaints handling leadership and culture. It offers suggestions to help businesses set the right framework for great complaints handling.


Are you sure you are receiving all the complaints about your service?  You may have in place a complaints handling system to record complaints and track how they are dealt with.  This will also give you data on the types of complaints you receive about your service and products.  But what if all your complaints are being received in the first place?

There is a sense that nowadays customers are willing to complain when they don’t receive the service they wanted.  But is that really the case?  Are the complaints you receive just the tip of the iceberg?

The reason I am asking these questions is because I have seen many examples of complaints being raised but not being recognised as complaints.  This suggests to me that the customer facing staff are not trainedto recognise and deal with complaints.  If a complaint goes un-noticed then customer loyalty is at risk.  The customer may then simply bad mouth your service to anyone else who is listening.  The problem is made worse because you don’t have the opportunity to resolve the complaint because you didn’t notice it.  Having been brushed aside the customer may well not take this further with you.

This suggests that there is a real need to make sure your customer service culture embraces complaints fully. Complaints are a gift.  They are useful indicators or areas where you may be able to improve your service and so improve your business.

To set the right customer service culture will need leadership.  This leadership needs to extend to complaints handling.  To have great success your business has to be committed to solving complaints. You should be aiming for an approach which says: "your problem is our problem".

This means that your most senior executives and management need to be committed. It is not by accident that international complaints handling standards compliance includes looking for the personal endorsement of the Chief Executive to that commitment. Responsibility also needs to be at a high level. A senior manager who has direct access to the CEO should be responsible. This commitment and drive from the top can make all the difference. Recently in the UK the Financial Services Authority has insisted that all banks have a director who takes responsibility for complaints handling.

This senior management commitment is vital but so is the commitment of the staff. Employees need to accept the benefits of and practice good complaints handling. That means training and educating staff,Complaints handling: setting the right culture to resolve complaints Articles but also empowering staff to contribute to use the feedback to improve the product or service offerings. This training should also focus on assisting customers lodge complaints as well as on how to resolve them.

If the culture of the organisation is focused on customer service and complaints handling you may get more complaints in the short term. That is good news as it gives you more opportunities to put things right for the customers.  Once you have the right culture you can then focus on improving your complaints handling.