How can contact centres recover from record UK customer complaints?

At 17.3%, the amount of customer complaints in the UK has hit the highest level since records began in 2008.

According to the institute of customer service, more UK customers than ever are complaining about product or service problems. Naturally, this is leading to increased costs and denotes reduced customer satisfaction. Plus, it’s putting serious strain on contact centres.

How, then, can contact centres recover from record UK customer complaints?

The impact of customer complaints on UK businesses

First, customer complaints cost money to handle. In fact, the recent record-breaking influx of complaints is costing British businesses over £9bn a month in lost employee time.

But the effects also extend further than the billions lost to extra admin time. In terms of overall business health, more complaints mean less loyalty from customers, and more opportunities to get ‘anti-referrals’. This translates to poor reputations, less new custom, and lower retention rates. All of which contributes to lower profit margins.

The contributing factors

So, what’s contributing to this sharp rise in UK customer complaints?

• Supply chain issues

There’s been a 16% rise in customer problems relating to supply issues and shortages. Poorer quality goods constitute part of this rise. But also, a lack of reliability plays a key part. (I.e., waiting too long for deliveries, or needing to chase up orders due to supply issues and a lack of communication about roadblocks.)

Such issues include — but aren’t limited to — product components being unavailable, or increased difficulty with customs management, for instance.

• Staff shortages

Another cause for record UK customer complaints is the staff shortages impacting many businesses. Fewer team members mean longer wait times for service, deliveries, and products.

It also means that remaining team members are dealing with a heavier workload. So, they may feel the need to rush through service interactions, creating bad experiences.

• Cost of living crisis

There’s been a noticeable downgrade in the quality of products and services in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis. The issue is known as ‘skimpflation’ — a term that became popular in the United States. Skimpflation refers to customers getting less for their money. So, they’re paying the same — or even more — for lower-quality items and services. This leads to frustration in customers, which in turn pushes them to complain.

• Poor service practices/bad experiences

The record UK customer complaints are further worsened by poor service practices and bad service experiences when customers seek reparation. It’s frustrating when websites are hard to use, companies are impossible to get hold of, and agents have no power to help when they are reachable.

How to recover?

So, how can contact centres recover? The natural answer is to address the cause of the problems. Only by recognising where businesses are failing their customers — and fixing those issues — can the number of complaints drop.

But there’s also a need to place emphasis on service in the meantime. While the core focus should be on preventing the complaints, rather than service recovery, we can’t always fix things like supply chain issues. What UK businesses can do, however, is manage customer expectations, and strive to offer amazing customer service.

According to the study, the UK businesses doing well in customer service are those with high trust, helpful and competent staff, and an easy-to-use website. They’re also open and transparent about known issues and what they’re doing to fix them.

How to give great service in the wake of record UK customer complaints.

• Empathy

Clearly, there are big issues for businesses at the moment. And it’s going to take some time to address the causes. So, be sure to show complaining customers that you understand their frustration. Empathy makes customers feel heard and cared about — which is the first step to preventing a complaint from becoming an irrevocably bad experience.

• Be easy to reach

With record UK customer complaints comes heavy contact queues. So, use service channels that are great for getting through queues quickly, such as live chat software. (Ideal for handling multiple queries concurrently.)

Also try to offer an omnichannel service. That is, a convenient choice of integrating contact channels that customers can hop between as suits. The easier you are to reach, the less likely customers are to feel frustrated with your brand.

• Self-service

Staffing shortages needn’t cause major service headaches either. Not, that is, as long as you make your website easy to use and provide clear, accessible self-service options and resources. This would allow customers to solve some of the problems themselves, rather than making it necessary that they complain.

• Live up to response time expectations

The staffing shortage may also impact how many calls you can take at once, how many emails you can reply to in an hour, and so on.

Make sure that you’re meeting response time goals. For IVR queues, try call deflection to social media or chat.  Or in your live chat channel, for example, ensure you have enough agents able to take the average number of chats you’re getting. For email, use templates and automation to handle email responses faster. And so on.

• Empower agents

When something has gone wrong, and you’ve made the effort to get in touch and get it fixed, it’s disheartening to realise the person you’ve reached can’t help you.

If contact centre agents aren’t empowered to help customers solve problems — be it with the right resources, or the power to offer a return or discount — then it’ll only make for worse experiences and wasted time.

• Manage expectations.

If you’re suffering from a supply chain issue that means a product won’t be in stock until next month, make that clear. Ensure customers have reasonable expectations of your business while you work to fix the things they’ve been complaining about.

A peak for UK customer complaints

UK contact centres are fielding a record number of customer complaints. And unfortunately,  customers are voting with their wallets.

If UK businesses and their contact centres can’t handle their complaints, fix issues, and create good experiences, they’ll be in trouble.    So, contact centres need to focus on offering prompt, empathetic service experiences while businesses address the underlying causes of customer problems.

Useful links

Small but mighty: the power of brand advocacy

25 ways to give bad customer service

Don’t delight your customers