It’s a new age for customer service, one in which inside counsel often find themselves helping to shape their companies’ complaint resolution processes, thereby lessening the risk from today’s less-tolerant, and often harder-to-satisfy, consumers.
The worry used to be that if your business irritated one customer, he or she might tell a hundred people about the bad experience. Nowadays, thanks to social media and websites dedicated to “irate” consumers, an unhappy customer can share the details of his or her complaint with a global audience in no time. For example, many of us are familiar with the customer who produced a short video called “United Breaks Guitars” after baggage handlers smashed his prized guitar and airline customer service representatives refused tocompensate him for it. Once posted on YouTube, the video quickly caught the attention of 5.3 million viewers.
Worse yet, others today can easily be prompted to join the fray, adding their online “signatures” en masse on petition websites. Word of mouth has been replaced by the “click,” and disgruntled customers have become virtual fodder for journalists, plaintiffs lawyers and regulators looking for someone to interview, sue or testify against a business.
In some or all of the following ways, inside lawyers can help curtail the rise of, and mitigate damage from, customer complaints—either before or after they’ve gone viral:
Publicize a clear customer grievance procedure. The goal is to provide customers a readily accessible internal venue for addressing grievances before frustrations are taken to the web or third parties. Your complaint resolution procedures should include a system for documenting all communications with, and efforts to assist, the customer. Your business also should have a clear internal escalation path in the event a complaint cannot be resolved initially.
Monitor customer postings on the web. Customer service employees should monitor as many media sources as possible to make sure no complaint goes unnoticed. At Kaplan, we work with our business counterparts who monitor social media sites daily to identify the posters of negative reviews, research their issues and bring them to a swift and complete resolution. Once resolved, ask satisfied customers to take down their negative postings or blog about their positive experiences.
Teach colleagues to put themselves in the customer’s shoes, and empower them with the tools of common sense. Let’s face it: People love to complain. Most of us have been unhappy customers ourselves and know the frustrations caused by uncaring or powerless customer care representatives. Lawyers are often in the best position to teach others to approach situations as if the tables were turned. Strong complaint resolvers are good listeners, can communicate well, set expectations and effectively close the loop. And perhaps most importantly, basic problem-solving should not always require that a complaint be elevated to a supervisor.
Always close the loop. Lawyers should monitor customer complaint logs to ensure that no customer is left hanging. Positive responses should be documented. Happy customers appreciate your accessibility, responsiveness and, perhaps most importantly, develop a sense that your company “gets it.” Even if the company has declined to grant the specific relief the customer requested, providing a reasonable explanation for the denial can go a long way toward preventing further escalation.
Fix the underlying cause. We must go beyond addressing an individual complaint by identifying and fixing its underlying cause. Inside lawyers should be adept at spotting trends and making recommendations to their internal clientele on systemic ways to prevent problems from recurring.
Janice Block is executive vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer for Kaplan Inc.