The truth about complaint handling

Can energy companies really improve their complaint handling? Currently, customers typically have to contact their supplier six times before their issue can be resolved. With Ofgem breathing down their necks, Energy UK, which represents the industry, insists:

“Handling complaints well is a must. Suppliers are committed to improving and a programme of change is under way.”

I wonder. Having worked with complaint handlers at many different organisations, including one energy company, I can reveal where the main problem lies. It’s not with the complaint handlers, overwhelmingly conscientious and decent people who will do the right thing nine times out of ten, given a chance.

The problems start at the top. Company bosses find it almost impossible to empathise with their customers. This is hardly surprising, given their preoccupation with brand identity, reputation management and, of course, the bottom line: all of which they view from a corporate perspective.

But reputation management begins with the understanding that your reputation is not in your hands; it is in your customers’ hands. So listen to those customers, understand their complaints, work out what you can do that might satisfy them, and respond accordingly.

Very few organisations do this. Instead, they establish complaints procedures, risk management policies, and work out what to do from there. Aggrieved customers are then told about policies and procedures that have nothing to do with their complaint. I recently worked with a bank where the unfortunate complaint handlers were so weighed down with cut-and-paste material of this kind that they would waffle for six or seven paragraphs before telling the customer whether they had upheld or rejected their complaint.

A word to the bosses, then. Ditch the corporate claptrap. Don’t let your lawyers hobble you with caveats. Start with the customer, and give your complaint handlers the training and support to do the job they are longing to do.