Greg Zemor, co-Founder of Neteven, advises how retailers can deal effectively with increasing consumer complaints.
British retail consumers’ patience is running out according to Ombudsman’s Services recent annual Consumer Action Monitor survey.
The number of retail complaints doubled in the space of a year, making retail the most complained about sector. The complaints, made either to the supplier, shared online or escalated to a third party, were split between online-only retailers and those with stores.
The 18.5 million complaints about retail represented 28 per cent of the 66 million complaints registered in the past year.
So why this steep uphill trend?
There are a number of reasons for this increasing consumer activism. The first is a declining trust about big business. Out of 2,050 people in the sample from the Consumer Action Monitor, 33 per cent agreed with the statement: “Big businesses are only interested in taking your money - if something goes wrong with a product or service, they don't care about you.”
So a third of people think that larger corporations are only interested in profit and not in customer satisfaction.
This isn’t the first survey to find this. Last year a Populus poll for the Financial Times found that two thirds of voters want the next government to get tougher on large businesses, reflecting the widespread concern over high levels of executive pay and ethics.
Technology also plays a significant role. Social media gives customers the opportunity to campaign directly if they have a problem. More than 5.2 million complaints were made last year through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
The potential for loss of reputation through such a forum is significant and clearly consumers have worked out that if they name and shame a company on a forum like Twitter, then it will see their complaint moved to the top of the pile. Let’s face it, one particularly eye-catching example of customer service can ruin years of careful reputation building.
An example of this was the customer in the US who took to Twitter last year to tweet at Hawke and Co because he was upset at a cancelled order and a lost discount. The complaint could have been swiftly put to bed by apologising and perhaps reinstating the discount, but whoever was controlling the company’s Twitter feed decided to brush off the complaint and ridicule the size of the complainant’s follower base.
A few days and several thousand sympathetic retweets later, the damaging news story had made it across the Atlantic, and Hawke and Co had a rather bruised reputation. The company had to offer the customer much more than he had lost in the first place as well as the apology which he originally asked for.
Additionally, e-commerce has removed the human element from many purchases, thereby increasing the likelihood of minor problems and issues, particularly when it comes to delivery. Whilst many retailers will tell you that they understand that one size does not fit all, it is difficult to get software to factor in individual customer nuances. This is a story that many of us will be familiar with – being kept on hold over the phone for hours, before being presented with a list of options, none of which seem to tally with our specific complaint.
So what can retailers do to minimise complaints? One company cannot overturn the widespread lack of trust of the UK public about big business, but it can ensure that it does not become an example of poor customer service.
In terms of social media, retailers must ensure that Twitter, Facebook and other feeds are not only monitored, but are also tied into helpline and other customer service channels so that customer issues can be responded to immediately.
If a retailer can update a posted complaint by saying that a solution has been put in place and then offer further help then it can turn a potential reputational hazard into a glowing endorsement. Companies also shouldn’t forget the human element to their automated telephone systems - they need to retain an “escape hatch” in their phone systems which allows customers to get out of the cycle of automated options and speak to a real person should they need to do so. Thus when a customer has a truly unique problem they can still get a satisfactory result.
Aside from merging these support channels, retailers must integrate customer data and business processes so that the customer receives a seamless service which doesn’t require double handling or re-inputting of information by service centre operatives.
This in turn needs to be linked to logistics and technical support so that a dispatch or requirement for technical advice can be actioned swiftly. Click-and-collect systems are especially valuable for retailers, allowing them to establish proximity with customers and win customer loyalty, by offering multiple options that can fulfil customers’ varying needs.
Third party marketplaces are also a great tool for retailers to use. For companies keen to improve their customers’ purchasing experience, they can make use of the services offered by marketplaces, which include: an in-built marketing service, a reactive and local customer service, a powerful logistics service.
Furthermore, an order and sales management IT solution tool can be very helpful for retailers. It enables them to save time and money as it relieves them of tedious daily tasks. As a result, retailers can handle faster deliveries, be more reactive and avoid the issues faced by many.
The increasing willingness of UK consumers to complain is a reality. Only by establishing an integrated approach can retailers ensure that they maintain customer service along with their own hard-won reputations.
About the author
Greg Zemor is the co-founder of marketplace trading platform Neteven.
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