Addressing an influx of complaints

I was interviewed today by a reporter writing a story on what businesses should do when they have an influx of complaints. Here are my responses to her questions.
  • What to do if you have a sudden increase in customer complaints?
At the first sign of an influx, increase staff (overtime, engaging part timers, borrowing cross-trained staff from other departments). An upset customer will become more irritated if forced to wait on hold long.
  • How do you track down the problem?
First, inform your reps to alert the manager when they see an unusual complaint trend — even if it’s just two or three of a new issue. If every rep had three of the same new complaint in an hour, individually they may not think that is much but collectively it can be colossal.

Then the manager should tell the other reps to apprise him or her of any complaints on this issue to try to isolate the problem. This point person may need to contact some of the customers to further investigate the problem.

Take action immediately. Don’t wait. Make this your top priority as it will affect many other customers if you let it languish.

In 1994 Intel got lots of bad press because of an obsure error that was caused by their Pentium chip when computing complex math problems. They essentially said, “This is such a rare instance we’re not really concerned about it.” But their lackadaisical attitude created much consumer ire and the financial impact on the company was significant. So don’t let a problem fester.

Engage other departments who may be contributing to the problem or could help with a solution.
  • What are differences in what to do if the complaints are on the Internet or not on the Internet?
In either instance, you need to increase staff and monitor the wait times no matter how the customer’s concern comes to you.

With online inquiries, you can craft some boiler plate responses for the reps to paste into the emails. However, if possible they should add something personal, like the person’s name if it was given, and something specific to their problem. Also, always give the customer a phone number to call if they prefer. It can be annoying to feel that the person responding to the email doesn’t really understand your problem.

With callers, you can distribute a script or bulleted talking points to help the call center staff.
  • Any differences in what to do in different industries? How do you address the problem?
Some industries have more urgency than others, but all customers want their problem resolved now. So don’t think you can postpone the investigation and resolution.

Above all, communicate with your customers that you appreciate your telling you of the problem — even if it’s the hundredth such notification. Tell them you are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. Ask if they’d like to be emailed updates and notified when the situation has been resolved.

Then set up a notification list that you send updates to regularly. For some industries that would be hourly. For others, daily. Even if you don’t have a solution yet, send them an email telling them you are still working on it and making progress. The will appreciate your keeping them in the loop.
Calming Upset Customers Fourth Edition
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