Firms failing to deal with rising number of complaints from customers

HR has a crucial role to play in helping employers get to grips with the burgeoning complaints culture, a study has suggested.

The National Complaints Culture Survey (NCCS), by consultancy TMI and the Institute of Customer Service (ICS), shows organisations are failing to keep pace with their customers’ complaints, at a time when the volume is increasing sharply.

More than 60% of customers are now willing to complain most of the time – a 10% increase in five years, the survey of 6,000 people revealed.

More than half (52%) believe organisations are getting worse at handling complaints, compared to 42% in 2001, when the survey was first conducted.

David Parsons, ICS chief executive, said today’s customers are more demanding than five years ago, and simply will not tolerate complaints being mismanaged.

“Complaints can be positive for businesses that learn from them and adapt,” he said. “The main issues arising from the survey are a lack of responsiveness to complaints and a failure to equip customer-facing staff with the means to resolve them.”

Retail and leisure sectors are seen as the best at complaints handling, with the John Lewis Group, Tesco, Marks and Spencer and independent hotels among the top companies.

The weakest sectors are local government, communications and utilities, with BT, NTL/Telewest and British Gas being most frequently mentioned for poor handling of complaints.

Customers’ main frustration is responsiveness. Complaining by e-mail has shot up to 40% in 2006 from 7% in 2001. Almost all (94%) of those making complaints by e-mail want their complaints handled within one week, but only 49% see this in reality.

This means HR has a big part to play in developing a positive complaints culture in the organisation, according to Susanna Mitterer, TMI’s managing director.

“HR has a fundamental role in empowering front-line staff and giving them the authority to get [complaints handling] right first time,” she said.

The survey says that ‘listen – then act’ is a recurring phrase from customers in the survey.

“HR has the challenge to work with contact management staff in finding out what the customer really wants,” Mitterer said.

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