Customer Complaints – Managing expectations

When customers complain they have a set of basic expectations of what will happen, but could managing those expectations lead to improved customer relationships? Our own research shows that these expectations would include aspects such as acknowledgement, ownership, and being kept informed about progress.

Expectations vs Experience

As the table below highlights, what customers actually experience often falls well short of expectation.

Expectations research

The following mantra of how important complaints are to a business is one that many companies adhere to, well, initially at least.

A person who complains is our friend: they are paying us a compliment by expressing their confidence in our ability to put things right. We must thank them for giving us that opportunity and ensure that we both solve the problem and offer recompense sufficient to restore their confidence.

Too often the initial response from a company states how important the feedback is to them and how they plan to act upon it, yet still fail to deliver against that promise. Although the issue of non-delivery is a key issue, perhaps the situation could be eased before the customer even complains? When the customer complains the supplier is already on the back foot and trying to retrieve a situation. How about if that could be a more level playing field by both the customer and the supplier having a clear understanding of what will happen if a complaint arises?

Managing expectations

An example of managing customer expectations at this early stage is provided by UK based Premier Inn. They have a ‘Good night guarantee’ which is simply stated as “We pride ourselves on making your stay a comfortable one, which is why we guarantee a good night’s sleep or your money back.” Now they don’t just have that hidden within their complaints manual they heavily publicise it through their TV campaigns and re-endorse it when the customer arrives at the hotel. On check-in, staff ensure that customers know about the guarantee, your room card has the details on it, there is signage along the corridors, and within your room. They also ask their customers to help them deliver a good night’s sleep by reminding fellow residents to keep the noise down!

So if you do have reason to complain about not getting a good night’s sleep there is a very clear expectation on both parties of what should happen. This will lead to not only fast resolution of the issue, thereby keeping down the cost of the complaint management, but a customer who is not only happy, but is also more likely to return to that hotel / chain of hotels, and tell people about their positive experience.

Recognising that a promise like this may be open to potential abuse, Premier Inn do keep track of recipients of the benefactors of the guarantee!

So are Premier Inn alone in ensuring that customers are clear about what to expect when complaining? Well apparently they are not, but they are in the minority. At a Local Government conference in June 2014 about Complaints Management, 34% of attendees believed that they confirm with the customer that they understand the complaints process and what parties will do next. Clearly that doesn’t mean the customer is happy with the outcome, but it’s a good start.

Take the next step

If you would like to discuss how Customer Champions may be able to help your organisations with complaints management please get in touch.


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