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If, as an organization, you want to improve your services from the customer’s point of view, learning from complaints is the ideal starting point. Or is it? Many pioneers in the field of customer centricity within B2C service providers have discovered how tricky it is to mobilize the entire organization to actually learn from complaints and to use them as the basis for adaptation of their services. There are a number of reasons for this. Everyday humdrum, steering of contrary KPIs, but also more prosaically, the number of complaints received by an organization. However there is hope…

Complaints management

Working on the basis of complaints management, an organization defines aspects such as complaint definition and a complaints process. And those who are a little further down the road also conduct complaint satisfaction surveys in order to actually learn from the complaints received. There is however a continuous struggle to get the importance of complaints on the map. After all, those parties with less of an eye for the customer perspective will soon offset it against, for example, the number of customers, the number of transactions, etc. When it boils down to figures such as 1% of customers submitting a complaint, then it becomes tricky to convince people of the importance of such an aspect. This makes complaints management an unwieldy crowbar in lending concrete shape to the importance of customer centricity within an organization.
This is where customer signals management comes in.

Customer signals management

A complaint is one of the many types of signals received by an organization. However, many other signals are received alongside complaints: customer satisfaction survey results, questions, comments, focus group opinions, signals from social media, FAQ, etc. In order to effectively steer the end-to-end customer experience, the challenge lies in learning from all the signals throughout the organization – customer signals management therefore. After all, if I lay out all the signals side-by-side, per customer process for example, this may well result in different priorities to those defined when only focusing on complaints. Even more importantly, I am creating mass.
If I proffer that 1% of the complaints heard by customers regards their invoice, for example, the organization is unlikely (and partly rightly so) to be particularly concerned. However, if I can prove that:

  • Customers score us a 6 in terms of satisfaction with the invoicing process;
  • this 6 has a strong impact on our total customer satisfaction or NPS;
  • that we receive 500 invoicing complaints, costing 100 dollars per complaint;
  • but we also receive 25,000 telephone calls about invoices, costing 10 dollars per call;
  • and 15,000 e-mails costing 15 dollars per e-mail;

Then I will certainly have their attention. We are suddenly talking about potential improvement of 525,000 dollars, which will please both the customer and the organization when it is achieved. Win-win therefore.
Of course we can discuss at length about the complaint definition and whether all complaints are registered, which is certainly a justifiable discussion. However, experience has shown that this does not have the required effect in terms of mobilization. You therefore need to use customer signals management to fire all factual “munition” which is available from the customer perspective, in order to clarify where priorities lie for improvement of services from the organization perspective. You are then helping the organization to gain an ever more concrete sense of the importance of customer centricity for the success of the organization as a whole.


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