Posted on 29th June, 2017

Opinion: Listen to what your customers aren’t telling you

James Walker on, Listen to what your customers aren’t telling you

The Art Of Customer Service

Customer service is an art form, interpreting what a consumer says or feels and working out how to handle and resolve that issue. It is a craft that takes time to develop and if you spot someone is a natural a talent then hang on to them.

This resolution as an art form is like a beautiful piece of calligraphy. It’s a balance between the written line and the blank space. Interpreting a customer complaint is as much about what the customer doesn’t say as what they do say. The quicker that a customer can be understood the less effort they need to make and the more loyal they will be.

The problem is that customers have a tendency to write too much or too little and both can be as hard to understand. This is what I call the Goldilocks effect. Rarely do you get the bowl of porridge that is “just right” so how do you deal with porridge that’s too hot or too cold and what are the signs to worry about.

We have undertaken analysis of thousands of customer issues across all main market sectors and we have found some key tell-tale signs that customer services should be concerned about. We run this data through our AI engine using algorithms that we have developed to help predict complaint case outcomes. This is what analysis of our 6 million data points has taught us.


Too short and cold

This type of complaint can be the hardest to deal with, due to the lack of complete relevant information but, they are also unlikely to be relatively low level and unlikely to lead to any further escalation.  The customer is expecting their issue to be immediately understood, quickly dealt with and for minimal additional input from their side. Cases like this have a low propensity to escalate and the best way to handle is immediate contact. Rarely will asking for additional information be the right way to go. The best approach is to accept and to offer what is the best resolution based on the customer profile.


Too hot to handle

There are some clear signs that have emerged for cases that are likely to be too hot to handle. These are cases that will tie up your customer services teams, make more demands of more people in your organisation and are likely to lead to escalation – ending up at the Ombudsman or legal action and with that customer leaving you.


30% longer

If a case being raised is 30% longer than an average complaint and made at a specific time of day then take notice. If this was written on a desktop and in an afternoon during the weekend or first thing or last thing at night during the week, the customer has taken the time to describe their situation in detail, the impact that this has had on them and they want to tell you about it in detail.


More dates the merrier

If the issue has been on-going for some time and comprises a number of issues that have led to a compound complaint the customer is likely to mention multiple dates and times as reference points to demonstrate the impact of their issue. This shows that the customer has paid enough attention to the issue to spend the time to gather and collate this information and they have made an investment of their time in the attempt to achieve an outcome.


Money is mentioned

The customer may not be after compensation and typically we see that 1 in 5 cases has an expectation of compensation or gesture of goodwill. But if the customer mentions money and details the financial impact they have experienced this indicates that the customer is likely to be asking for compensation and potentially more than the normal company policy would allow for. If this is rebutted it will cause frustration and lead to a rapid deadlock.


Boiling point

If all three factors are present in a complaint you have a case that is too hot to handle. We would recommend that you don’t treat cases like these as businesses as usual but that you escalate them as quickly as possible to the super skilled, super empathetic members of your customer contact team.


The white spaces

It is easy for customer services to miss is the hidden meaning and intent in communications. Sometimes the more we see the less we understand. That is certainly true for complaints, with our evidence showing that, above a point, the longer the complaint, the less we can understand the root cause and how to resolve the issue. Yet these are the cases that you should be most concerned about. If you can then automatically assess this wider range of complaints expressed in the customer’s own words, you have a greater chance of spotting these potential boil overs.