Customer ComplaintCustomer complaints and how we accept and process them are a big area of concern for most Facilities Management service providers. When is a complaint a complaint or when is it just an incident to be logged? I want to help clarify a number of issues around complaint’s and to help operators see this as a win-win scenario with an inbuilt opportunity to improve and impress at the same time.

Whilst all good operators will try and minimise the number of issues that have to be logged by a client, Facilities Management by its very nature is an environment where we deal with assets that break down, malfunction or break. Much like a policing, we have processes in place to reduce incidents but we also rely on our Customers to report incidents at our helpdesk.

We need to make the helpdesk experience as effective and efficient as possible. The circumstances surrounding the fault being logged are critical to understand at the time of logging the call. A customer logging a dripping tap, of course, needs to be treated professionally. Another Customer who is trapped inside a lift requires a whole different level of empathy, understanding and support from the helpdesk operator.

In many instances the helpdesk may be the only point of contact that our Customers or end-users have with our operation and as such their experience of the call will colour their judgment of the entire service.

The above example represents the spectrum of issues that can be logged on a daily basis. Facilities management is not a service over which the service provider can have total control at all times and it is to be expected that issues will arise.

Whether these are treated as complaints is a subject that can bring about a disagreement between the client and the service provider. Service providers need to be careful that by providing a platform whereby issues can be recorded that we do not treat all calls as a complaint and that we carefully define communicate and agree with the Customer what constitutes a complaint.

My experience is that the customer doesn’t really care about the process, as long as the call centre logs it efficiently and effectively with the correct degree of humanity. If the resultant service ticks all of the boxes regarding responsiveness, reliability, assurance, empathy and follow up, then 99% of calls can be a positive experience for the Customer.

What then happens when our service in dealing with these issues falls short of the required standard? Where we have not delivered on our Service Promise? This is where the Customer has a legitimate right to register their dissatisfaction in the form of a complaint. But how do they do this?

Calling a call centre to log a normal fault is generally non-personal, low risk and there is little or no emotional connection between the caller and the issue. But ask a customer to call a helpdesk to log a complaint and you create a potential nightmare experience for the customer. We may as well turn the customer-centric helpdesk into a visit to a prison complete with high stone walls topped out with barbed wired and machine gun turrets. Why should a customer have to go through this sort of anxiety to register a complaint?

In what now seems to me to be an unbelievable example of poor customer service, I once worked for a company whose customer satisfaction KPI was the number of complaints logged by the client in a month. The relationship between the operator and the client was at best adversarial and in an attempt to protect themselves from the perceived threat of malicious and artificial complaints being logged, which might trigger a penalty, there were strict controls instigated around who could log a complaint.

If ever there was a prime example of measuring the wrong thing creating the wrong behaviour, this was it. In addition to this the company instigated a strict process of complaint handling. This process meant that only certain Customers could log a complaint and then only if it related to a fault that had been previously logged and that had been closed. In other words, if a works order was open on the system then no complaints could be logged against it. As amazing as it might sound this resulted in Customers being told by the call centre agent that despite their concerns their call as not complaint and would not be registered as such.

In this day of instant and ubiquitous Social Media and sites such as hellopeter.com, it is incomprehensible to me that you can actually refuse to accept a customer complaint! This is a sure fire way of wrecking a relationship and torpedoing any ability to retain that client.

This is an extreme but not uncommon example of operator’s attitudes to customer complaints in our industry. However, many operators in our industry do wait for a formal complaint to be registered at their help desk before recognising it and reacting to it. I believe that this misses the point of a complaint and that Customers should not have to go to great lengths or discomfort to have to log a complaint.

The raising of a complaint should be seen as an opportunity a potential golden nugget of information and as an opportunity to improve the quality of our service. We should not expect the customer to have to go to any effort in the raising of a complaint and as such we need to try to remove the barriers to this as much as possible.

Many FM contracts will measure the customer satisfaction metrics using some form of customer complaints and so it is critical that our commitment to resolving customer complaints is our number one core value.

A ‘blinding flash of the obvious’ I hear you say but as I wrote in my last post Customer Experience, the Near Future for FM, Customer experience must come before our acceptance and implementation of technology, which includes the helpdesk.

Customer complains should be seen as a win-win situation. As per the saying that is often attributed to Thomas Edison “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work” The same can be said for complaints. Customer complaints offer a goldmine of information, which can prove very effective in our efforts to improve and innovate providing we recognise them.

1. Golden Complaints

Firstly many complaining Customers are actually voicing their frustration to give us the chance to fix the situation. If done effectively this can, in fact, improve the business relationship and is an opportunity to improve customer loyalty and build engagement.

The handling of customer complaints is a key indicator of not only how we value customer experience. But it is also an indicator of where we can improve. The first step in handling customer complaints is to recognise them as the opportunity that they are.

2. Win-Win Complaints

We need to take a much more practical and proactive role in dealing with issues of service delivery. This starts with how we define a ‘complaint’. Let’s take the emotion out of the word complaint, which we often see as a slight against us personally or at least against our organisation.

Complaints are an opportunity to improve our service and can be the start of an innovation initiative if viewed correctly. This is a win-win scenario and our Customer is helping us improve. So let’s not treat this as a complaint but as feedback and an improvement opportunity

3. Complaints made easy

 In the day-to-day-operations of a facility, why do we wait for the issues to reach such proportions that the client is forced to log the issues formally? These issues often start off as informal feedback and are raised in our day-to-day conversations with the clients.

Make it easy for Customers to offer feedback. A complaint should be treated as any expression of dissatisfaction from a client with our service whether this is directed at our staff or not. This can range from a verbal exchange in an informal conversation, it can be a comment overheard at a table in the WorkCafe or an entry in random surveys conducted by both our staff as well as mystery shoppers all the way through to a formal complaint logged at the call centre.

We should not waste Customers time with lengthy surveys or complicated telephone trees. We need to keep our ears and eyes peeled for these opportunities to improve. Make it fast, easy and convenient to Customers to tell us how we’re doing. We must ensure that we respond to all feedback and thank the Customer and let them know how important it is to us.

4. Reward Complaints

We should be rewarding employees who gather this feedback before it gets to the stage where a client has to formally log the issue. If management sees customer feedback as negative, so will employees. The culture of the company will be to discount or even ignore it rather than embrace it.

We can reverse that trend by rewarding employees who acquire useful feedback from Customers. Help our employees be more productive and feel better about dealing with difficult customer feedback.

5. Own the Complaint

When Customers offer feedback, we need to take it seriously. Listen and show that we consider it important. Apologise genuinely and undertake to take personal responsibility for resolution even if we were not involved in the original issue.

Staff should be trained in the proper handling of complaints. Even if the complaint is not in their specific service or discipline, they should be encouraged to own the complaint until the correct party resolves it and feedback is provided to the customer leading up to and upon resolution.

Such dedication to the resolution of complaints reduces client dissatisfaction and spreads positive word of mouth. Reassure at we have heard them and that this kicks off the formal quality assurance process that means that it will be closed out timeously and that they will receive both feedback and a report on resolution.

6. Socialise Complaints

Make customer feedback available to everyone in our organisation. Analyse feedback that shows problems and look for solutions to prevent them from happening again. Celebrate good feedback; let our people know when Customers rave about them. Use feedback as examples for training staff. By getting everyone involved, we increase the number of possible solutions to the problem and insight into future improvement and innovation

7. Do not Blame

 Never offer excuses or blame your fellow employees or suppliers and never another client no matter what the cause. Customers don’t care; all they want us to have the issues resolved. If you are the person that has accepted the feedback, you have accepted responsibility and so it’s your job to make sure things will be okay and make the Client feel assured that the issues will be rectified. Excuses and blame are counterproductive and don’t solve problems.

8. Empower Employees

Empower our employees to deal with customer feedback and resolve the situation as best they can. This means that we need to train them in how to handle situations and give them the authority to offer a range of solutions to Customers, even if this means temporary workarounds. Just be aware of the dangers of a workaround culture Help employees become solutions providers for their Customers rather than whipping posts.

Customer complaints give us free and crucial information about problems with our services and process that allow us to improve. Complaints also are an opportunity to have a dialogue with our client and educate them about our services and us. Do not just wait for and react to complaints, actively seek out issues in your conversations with the Customer and end users.

Engaging your Customers and employees in a robust and positive feedback system will provide huge returns. You’ll develop a priceless database of how to improve your company. And you’ll develop employees and Customers who want to help you improve the service and the organisation. That gives you a competitive advantage that is unbeatable.

Do you have any Customer Complaint Stories that have turned into positive experiences? Please leave your comments below