You Shouldn’t Have a “Complaints Department”

I’ve had a little ding-dong with BT (British Telecom) recently. It started when I made the mistake of moving my broadband internet to them, after being lured with a mega-cheap offer – a decision which I am now regretting, but you live and learn I suppose. In short; they fudged my billing and began charging me over three times the correct amount. Needless to say I got this remedied as quickly as I could, as I certainly could not happily sit back and pay £30.00 a month for broadband internet. In total, when it came to discussing my issues with their call centre agents, I spoke to four individuals; three good and one bad (the latter decided that she didn’t understand my problem, and simply hurled me back into the queue). The helpful three ultimately enabled me to receive a rebate for the overcharge, along with a £20.00 cheque in compensation for the difficulty. Following three hours of phone calls £20.00 is scant consolation, but by this stage I didn’t have the will to fight for any more, so I’m ranting here instead.

During the process of getting my voice heard, and during long periods trapped within BT’s antiquated customer service procedures, I happened across a concept that I deem utterly odious. I shudder to write that they have a Complaints Department, a specific centre for the processing and resolution of complaints, and, according to the final operator to which I talked, within that umbrella they have several sub-departments that handle different tiers of complaints, so complaints can get escalated and transferred between subsections.

In my eyes, if you’re a company that has to have a specific department for complaints, then you’re doing something wrong.

At the very least it’s an admission of guilt. It’s a banner saying: “We make such a tremendous volume of mistakes that we need an entire department purely to handle the fallout.” I don’t care if you’re a tiny operation or a massive company; if you’re generating such a colossal volume of errors then some other area of your business isn’t functioning correctly. In a call centre environment complaints should be handled on an adviser basis, where each operator is permitted to sort out customer dissatisfaction as best they can, being empowered to take whatever steps as necessary to remedy the situation. I class this as being all under one banner, and that is ‘Customer Service’.

When Joe Public rings a helpline there is only thing we truly want, and that is to talk to someone who has power; the power to resolve our issues with minimum fuss, the power to make decisions about accounts/billing/service level/compensation. Every member of frontline call centre staff should have the ability and the authority to handle and remedy the full life-cycle of the problem resolution process, from initial report to denouement, and, where applicable, the attribution of customer reimbursement. There are dozens of companies that do call centre customer service right, so why are there so many more still doing it wrong? We want authoritative, thoroughly trained staff, not lots of call catchers, existing purely to field our calls and hand us off to the next call catcher.

At the very least, if you have a complaints department, don’t make that its label; be more creative with the smokescreen. But this isn’t the message here; the point is you shouldn’t need one at all.

It’s all just customer service.

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