Outsourced complaint management – a Q&A with Emma King
To kick off our 2023 Q&A series, we sat down straight after the new year break with Emma King, our Head of Operations, to chat through our approach to complaint management and why she thinks we’re making an impact for our clients.
Q. Hi Emma, and thanks for joining us in the hot seat for our latest Q&A session – this time all about our work, plans and success around complaints management. Perhaps we can start by asking what Sigma Connected can offer clients on the complaints management side?
Thank you for having me, it’s great to be taking part in the first Q&A for 2023.
We start off the new year in the knowledge that complaint handling and general customer service now accounts for around 50% of Sigma’s business. That’s an important step forward for us as we are making a name for ourselves in how we handle customer complaints for our clients. They can be hugely difficult to manage, but businesses are seeing that not only can we provide the extra resources they crave but also support with getting through backlogs and peaks at specific times of the year.
We are delivering these services over a variety of sectors including telecoms, utilities, retail and financial services.
Q. Where do clients see the value in outsourced complaints management?
As is often the case in many companies, the complaints’ function can be a challenging department, where many people avoid working. It is often seen as just a cost centre to the business but I’m a huge believer that having the right complaints processes and resources for your business can actually be a competitive advantage. Essentially, if you have created the right environment across all your operations and support teams, what you actually can do is understand the root causes of complaints, and in turn, reduce your customer churn and Op-Ex overheads over the longer term.
So, if you manage your complaints processes effectively it should be a lever to improve customer experience and ultimately reduce costs. So companies need to be looking at it as an opportunity for business improvement.
Q. What would you say makes a successful complaints management department?
There are a number of important stages but essentially, it’s a two-tier approach.
The first tier is all about the team of agents within the complaints function whose mission is to successfully resolve as many complaints as quickly as possible, usually within a 3-5 day period.
The main objective here is to resolve these quickly and effectively to minimise the cost per complaint. This approach quickly helps to reduce the open complaints by really weighting resource at that front end early in the complaint journey, whilst customers are most engaged with the process – something I feel Sigma does exceptionally well.
With agreement from our clients we often involve our South African team in complaint handling. Offshoring to our team in South Africa can prove more cost-effective for clients, as well as the added bonus of being able to increase agent numbers at short notice, but with the same level of service and emotional intelligence as our staff in the UK.
The second tier is about having a dedicated complaints management team who are used to dealing with complex complaints. For example, in financial services we might be investigating what’s happened around a debt collection activity, in energy or water it might be a billing investigation, but the actual time to deal with that complaint is going to involve multiple customer touch points and the management of regular customer contact. Again, that needs strong emotional intelligence.
Staff in tier two tend to have an inquisitorial approach, a stronger technical background, several years’ experience working within that sector, high level written English, and vitally impeccable problem-solving skills.
What they are trying to achieve here is to get 95% of those complaints resolved before they hit the 56-day mark when they can go to an Ombudsman.
Where many companies have problems is when they don’t have enough tier one resource in place for quick resolutions, leading to complaints not getting dealt with quickly enough, adding to the delay and creating customer retention issues later down the line. Failure to have sufficient tier one resource will also lead to a higher average cost to resolve each complaint as more complaints fall into the remit of higher skilled, costly tier two resources.
Q. How do we support clients with analytics around complaint management?
We have specialist data and analytics experts who do this for our customers’ day in, day out.
We can analyse complaints data to undertake a root-cause analysis – identifying the main issues around trending complaints which enables our client to fix the underlying problem and tackle emerging trends to prevent further customer detriment and costs.
If the volume of complaints remains exceptionally high against the industry norm, that is an indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with how the business is analysing and driving actions from their complaints data. This can lead to regulatory scrutiny and enforcement, all of which is very expensive to deal with. It’s far more cost effective if you have an issue with volume or backlogs to outsource before it becomes a much bigger expense later down the line.
We help a number of companies who have their own in-house staff but will look to use us, usually due to seasonality or rapid growth where they have not had chance to fully resource and respond to peaks. In this scenario we would work closely with the client to see how we can be of most benefit. So if working for the client on a short-term agreement, we look at the best way to approach this and where we can help them most to secure quick wins.
So, for example, helping clients with a particular problem category or perhaps a certain type of complaint where the compensation is below £100 versus complaints that could be up to £500. For clients it’s helpful to think about your risk areas and what work type we can get through as quickly as possible to add the most impact to your organisational performance. A good example of that is the work we do with our Ombudsman client, adjudicating lower complexity complaints between landlord and tenant at scale which supports organisational objectives to deliver a timely service to users.
Q. And finally, do you find that training takes on a different slant when we are looking to teach and train best practice approaches?
When it comes to recruiting and training complaints specialists, we always first look to recruit for behaviours and emotional intelligence, so the strong people skills they need to do their job effectively and resolve complaints are innate in the individuals we have hired. That human touch aspect is really important, and if you are great at that and influencing then all that’s needed is the training on our client’s systems, their in-house policies and processes.
We want our staff to feel like they are part of the client’s organisation and been given the same tools, training, information to enable them to do that job. Then we build a quality assurance framework around that to ensure the team are giving fair outcomes to customers.
For further information, or a wider discussion about complaints resolution, readers can contact Emma through firstname.lastname@example.org
Readers can also catch up with Emma on LinkedIn.