How to Handle Complaints Efficiently in the Contact Center

Complaint handling comes with the territory of working in the contact center. It’s often the first port of call for customers when businesses fail to meet their expectations. Organizations might do all they can to avoid complaints arising the first place, but life is unpredictable and consumers have increasingly high standards that businesses must strive to meet.

Handling a complaint is rarely a positive experience, for either party. That doesn’t mean they are without value. Complaints can be powerful sources of insight for organizations, providing valuable information that can drive institutional change. Businesses neglect these opportunities at their own peril.

In this blog we’ll look at:

  • Where complaints begin,

  • Strategies for complaint de-escalation,

  • The ways contact centers can efficiently resolve complaints and draw valuable insight.

Optimizing your voice interactions, whether positive or negative, is a crucial first step to creating outstanding Customer Experiences (CX). Interested in learning more about the anatomy of a voice interaction? Download our whitepaper, Hearing the Voice of Reason: The Voice Renaissance in the Omni-Channel Contact Center to learn more.

The Origins of a Complaint

Customers complain for any number of reasons. Whether it’s a faulty product, poor service, or general failure of the business to meet expectations, complaints fall on a spectrum of motivations, levels of intensity, and resolution expectations.

Understanding the nature of an individual complaint is critical to ensuring speedy resolution that wins back the customer’s trust. Complaints are fueled by emotion. The emotional mind drowns out rational thought. Interactions intensify and a failure to properly connect will only increase customer frustrations.

The first step when handling a complaint is to validate the customer’s experience without admitting fault. The goal here is to dial back the emotion, since emotion will prove a blocker to amicable resolution.

Consider the following example:

  • A customer orders a toy for their grandchild online. When it arrives, it is missing an integral part, resulting in a very disappointed grandchild. The customer feels guilty for letting down their grandchild, irritated at the company’s failure, and decides to complain. After digging around the company website to find contact details, the customer eventually gets through to an agent on the phone.

  • At this point, the customer has had plenty of time for the irritation to build, with additional micro-stressors along the way, until the customer is in a state of high emotion, and is looking to transfer the responsibility of this failure onto the company.

  • The interaction can go one of two ways. Either it can de-escalate or it can build further causing more damage and it’s the contact center agent who is now the arbiter of this direction. Their actions and responses will dictate the outcome, and the first interaction is pivotal and how they handle the complaint will have lasting consequences for the customer and the business.

Seek First to be Understood

If you’ve ever been told to “calm down” when you’re upset, you’ll know how ineffective the phrase can be. It implies that your emotions are unwarranted; that it’s you who needs to take action. Anything that invalidates the customer’s position is going to be highly detrimental to the process. Don’t say “calm down”.

This poses a problem. Resolution comes from a rational discussion that delivers positive outcomes that are realistic, commercially viable, and satisfy the customer. How do you address emotion without knowing the full story? What has the customer gone through up to this point? Is this their first attempt at resolution? How mad are they by the time they reach you?

Fortunately, there are tools to combat this knowledge gap and ensure, as an agent, that you are prepared to meet the challenge armed with the information you need to handle the complaint.

By predicting customer needs, you can reduce frustrations and position yourself as an ally to work with rather than an adversary to overcome.

Returning to our disgruntled grandparent, let’s imagine two pathways: one where all then

agent has is the incoming phone number, and another where they have a pane of glass packed with information about the customer and their journey.

In the first scenario, the only option available to the agent is to say “Hello, how can I help you today?” before potentially being blindsided by an outpouring of frustration and discontent, perhaps with a few expletives peppered in for good measure. The agent is now in the Wild West, and must do whatever they can to ascertain the true nature of the complaint, which may be buried beneath other mini-complaints - “I’ve been on hold for 45 minutes!”, “You’re the fifth person I’ve spoken to this morning!”, etc. Without more information, the agent is almost powerless and unable to take control of the situation, risking damage to company.

Next, let’s imagine the same agent has a wealth of information about the customer in front them.

  • Customer details - allowing for a hyper-personalized interaction from the outset.

  • Intent – capturing the customer need before they speak to the agent, which can be transcribed and shared ahead of the call, allows the agent to anticipate the caller’s need and prepare accordingly.

  • Order history – ensuring the agent is up-to-speed on what the customer is likely to be discussing.

  • Interaction history – shows the agent how the customer has reached them and whether they’ve been through other departments.

Now the agent is able to manage the situation and take the lead, rather than being led by the customer. They can begin the interaction with a personalized greeting, acknowledge the customer’s journey up to this point, and confirm the order they are here to discuss.

This takes the burden off the customer’s shoulders and allows the agent to be proactive in how they handle the complaint. This leads to a reduction in volatility as the customer feels supported, known, and understood.

By providing the agent with essential information, they are able to quickly validate the customer’s experience and offer understanding. This helps rein in emotions, allowing for a practical resolution to be discussed and implemented. Rapid de-escalation leads to less time spent on identifying the problem, and more time available for productive, strategic complaint resolution.

Handling Complaints with Confidence

Dealing with a complaint is, by its very nature, unpleasant. No one likes being told they’ve let someone down, especially when they bear no direct responsibility for the issue. Agents are often caught in the middle; the proverbial messengers, hoping to avoid being shot. While an unenviable place to be, it is exactly in these situations where nuggets of insight can be found. If you’re bold enough to look for them.

On the face of it, it may seem obvious that organizations should take learnings from the complaints process. However, human defensiveness often hampers the ability to observe a situation objectively. We instinctively look to avoid blame and negative consequences.

Organizations that adopt a positive, open approach towards complaint handling will see more success than those that shy away from confronting it. It’s important to foster a blame-free culture. If staff are fearful of highlighting failures, those failures can become entrenched and far harder to unpick later down the line. Solutions that provide real-time sentiment tracking can help guide the agent during the interaction and avoid escalation.

Face up to the failures when they occur… and they will. Acknowledge that mistakes are part of life, plan what you will do when they happen and, most importantly, plan how to learn from them.

Failing Forward and Learning from Mistakes 

Extracting learnings from the complaint process can be tricky, since there are so many variables to consider:

  • Was it a one-off, or is it a systemic issue?

  • Is the complaint actionable or simply informative?

  • Who needs to be made aware of the situation?

  • What is the level of risk to the organization as a result of this complaint?

  • Are there legal considerations?

  • And more.

It’s here where technology can really make this process more efficient. AI-powered solutions can take complex interactions and, using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and generative AI, provide a summary that distils them into their most salient points.

Returning one last time to our grandparent with the unusable toy:

  • By taking full advantage of the technologies available, the agent can very quickly share the nature of the incident with the business. The missing part can be identified, a task generated to ship out a replacement, and any goodwill gestures implemented all in one seamless agent action.

  • The interaction is captured and aggregated against similar incidents which identifies a prevalent issue with a particular manufacturer. Back office staff are notified, and can then begin working directly with that manufacturer to resolve the root cause of the issue.

  • Post-call sentiment analysis, shared with key agents and stakeholder groups, supports ongoing quality improvement and complaint handling techniques.

  • In this way, disparate events can be automatically compiled, with AI working in the background to identify patterns and present solutions that would otherwise require labor-intensive audits and many hours spent poring over data.

  • This frees up resources to focus on high-value tasks that have significant impacts on overall customer experience.

  • Complaints go from difficult, charged exchanges to highly valuable interactions.

Bringing it all Together

In summary, complaint handling is a part of life. It can’t be ignored. Managing customers in states of high emotion is a challenge, and the first priority should be de-escalation through validation and understanding. Without adequate customer information, this whole process becomes magnitudes more challenging.

Providing agents with dynamic access to resources and data relevant to the situation allows them to jump straight to the heart of the complaint for a speedy resolution that quickly satisfies the customer restoring, and even increases brand affinity.

With the immediate complaint handled, attention can now be turned to extracting value from the interaction and implementing fixes. By taking advantage of cutting-edge technologies, companies can not only make their complaint handling process much more efficient, but also gain easy access to transformative insights that drive the business forward.

When it comes to surfacing knowledge about the customer, Content Guru’s storm® CKS™, offers a complete record of all past customer interactions. Agents can be given crucial information before an interaction even begins, preempting the level of frustration the customer may be experiencing. Alongside the customer journey, storm CKS will also bring all the articles your agents may need to a single location. It creates simple decision trees, equipping agents to answer any inquiry. Through AI-backed analysis, these resources can be constantly updated to meet user needs. 

Unleash the full benefits of AI in your complaints handling with storm Machine Agents®. This powerful application produces post-interaction summaries for the agent to review, cutting down dramatically on after call work, while automated, customizable workflows can inform key stakeholders about an issue without the agent needing to lift a finger. Content Guru’s vendor-agnostic AI orchestration layer, brain®, links together functionalities across the CX estate giving organizations access to best-in-class AI capabilities such as Google Dialogflow, Azure, and IBM Watson, as well as generative AI systems like ChatGPT. This all comes together to ensure that the most important information reaches those that need it rapidly and efficiently.

If you’re looking for ways to elevate your complaints handling process, Content Guru stands ready to help make this a reality. Our team will conduct a rigorous operational assessment of your contact center, identifying pain points and developing solutions that expedite the complaints handling procedure, while extracting valuable insights that can support business innovation. Book a consultation, and a member of our expert team will be in touch within 24 hours.