How to use IT to convert complaints into profits

CIOs will have to manage a growing range of communications channels and provide frontline staff with fast access to accurate data to keep customers happy,...

CIOs will have to manage a growing range of communications channels and provide frontline staff with fast access to accurate data to keep customers happy, especially when they complain, new research suggests.

Customer relationship consultancy Convergys found almost 80% of UK consumers believe that the service they receive is the same or worse than it was a year ago. This is 5% up on last year, and may be due to higher expectations of service and a recession-driven desire for value for money.

Companies that ignore complaints risk losing their customers and their friends faster than ever, thanks to younger generations' willingness to use broadcast media such as social networks to spread the word, said Frank Sherlock, Convergys' senior vice-president and managing director of its global business unit.

According to Sherlock, 66% of customers who have a bad experience with a supplier will complain. Of those, half will leave the supplier if their complaints are not addressed quickly. In addition, 41% of those who receive poor service do not complain and will simply "disappear", leaving 36 out of 100 unhappy customers to endure.

"Replacing unhappy customers who leave costs four to five times what it costs to retain them," said Sherlock. "Most will continue to do business with you provided you address their concerns at once."

Convergys' research showed that resolving problems at the first touch was more important than providing value for money for 65% of customers. Dealing with knowledgeable staff was ranked important by 62% and for them to have fast access to the customer's data key for 56%.

Sherlock said older customers, typically baby boomers, were more comfortable using voice services to complain. This meant call centres were unlikely to disappear soon.

Younger people - so-called Generation X and Generation Y - were more likely to use e-mail, messaging, websites and social media as well as voice to communicate their dissatisfaction.

CIOs can help companies retain customers by deploying and integrating IT and communications to increase the chances of solving problems at first touch.

Sherlock said CIOs should provide communications channels that fit in with the preferences indicated by their customers' demographics. "It is vital that initial touch be relevant to the customer, or they will go away anyway," he said.

He recommended CIOs try to use technology to personalise the service. For example, a mobile phone operator might SMS a customer when they are approaching their pay-as-you-go limit, or a bank might warn of an impending payment date to ensure the customer has the funds to complete the transaction.

"Ideally the technology will create a proactive experience," Sherlock said.

He dismissed suggestions that customers might feel their privacy was infringed. "Companies have so much customer information already," he said. "They need to leverage it by analysing it to extract what the customers would find meaningful, and then finding a cost-effective way to deliver it."

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