Concentrate on the CAUSE of complaints

Special Guest Blogger Alan Thompson

In order to provide a good customer service experience, when a customer makes a complaint, the business should concentrate on the cause of the complaint rather than how it has manifested itself.

To illustrate this I’d like to relate my experiences over the last year with a major energy supplier. I am not their customer, but my 84 year old Mother-in-law is. For the purpose of this blog let’s call her M. Because she does not have access to the internet herself, I manage her gas and electricity accounts online, so that she can take advantage of the more favourable deals available, and I have permission lodged with the provider so that I can speak to them on M’s behalf.

It seems that every time there is an event on her account (such as entering a meter read or changing tariff) it causes a problem. This usually manifests itself with an increase in her monthly direct debit payment or an erroneous bill.

Having warned M that she may get a letter about a change to her monthly payment and having to explain to her that it’s most likely a mistake and not to worry (although she does) because I am going to sort it out, I then spend my next available free time working out what she should pay based on previous usage and the latest rate she is being charged. (I’m not complaining to you dear reader as I enjoy the challenge of the figure work!)

Armed with my facts and figures, I then speak to a customer adviser who usually agrees (isn’t that what good customer service is about: empathy and walking in the customers shoes?) and returns the monthly payment to where it should have been all along, or cancels the bill and re-issues a correct one!

My stance is always that I shouldn’t need to audit their work and that they should provide some compensation for the work they have forced me to do by adding a credit to M’s account. A token amount of £25 - £30 is usually offered and gratefully accepted.

The latest incident in December meant her payment was to increase by 60%. Now, I try to be fair, and in flexing the figures I could see that her fixed rate deal ended in April 2017 so I calculated the rest of the year on standard rate and could see M’s payments needed to increase by less than 20% which, with M’s permission, I have got them to do.

What I actually wanted was for someone to explain to me what data they had used to calculate their recommended figures. I was told by a complaints team member that no-one within the organisation would be able to do that as it was all done by the computer system!

My main point is that the employee is only dealing with the immediate issue, not the underlying cause. He or she is unlikely to have the in-depth knowledge or the permissions to interrogate the Company’s systems nor given any incentive to flag up the recurring nature of the problem. So therefore I will no doubt be back on this treadmill in 3 to 4 months’ time!

To put it another way: If I fall over and break my leg, I will go to hospital where it will be put in a plaster cast to mend. But if I present myself with the same broken leg 3 or 4 times in one year you would hope that the medical professionals would want to investigate why I keep falling over, rather than just re-applying a cast and sending me on my way!

To provide a satisfactory customer service experience for the consumer, businesses should focus on what has caused the ‘falling over’ rather than mending the break.

Alan Thompson