Why customer complaints are the key to innovation

What are your customers complaining about?

Like most of my friends, I worked at a call centre when I left university. I just dealt with complaints.

I was shouted at for about 6 hours a day, five days a week by angry customers who hadn’t received their central heating installation on time.

Then I got a new job at a big travel company (I wanted to go travelling and it felt like a step closer) in their head office customer service team.

I was shouted at for about 6 hours a day, five days a week by angry customers who, for one reason or another had had a rubbish holiday experience.

I hated it.

Sometimes customers made me cry because they were so angry and sometimes they were so incensed they started swearing.

When customers swore, you were allowed to give them one warning and if they didn’t stop you could put the phone down.

It was a learning experience.

I recently read an interview with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, in which he said:

“Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.”

He was referring to the thousands of Amazon managers, including himself, who attend two days of call-center training to get frontline insights.

The philosophy is to listen and understand customers complaints in order to provide them with better products and services and therefore develop a more profitable business for Amazon.

Whilst I didn’t exactly relish my customer service jobs, I agree that the experience of working in a call centre and speaking with customers every day and hearing their complaints is a great training ground.

The element that was missing from both my customer service call centre roles was a way to feedback the customer complaints to make things better for customers, employees and the business.

Like the rest of the team, I was just the customer service person, we were just measured on how many calls we took and complaints we could close each day. There was no measurement on ideas to improve or innovate the experience for customers or improve processes for business efficiency.

Customer insights are the key to innovation 

  • If you can understand your customers and their problems you can use these insights to improve your services and their experience.
  • Spend some time understanding customer complaints. Are there any patterns? Are there changes you can make to your systems and processes that can prevent some of these problems happening in the first place? Are there opportunities for new products?
  • Talk to your customers, get on the customer service or supporter care line, you’ll learn so much and get way more insight than by reading the quarterly review report.
  • Ask your employees who talk to your customers and supporters for their ideas to improve the service.
  • Consider what you measure as success, for example would measuring employees on complaints prevented be better for customers, supporters and the organisation than measuring complaints resolved or number of calls taken?
  • If you improve your customers’ experience they come back and sometimes recommend you to others. Research shows that a recommendation from a trusted friend or colleague is more trusted than an advertisement from a company.

Maybe if our customer service team had been asked for our insights from those customer complaints rather than our stats on the number of complaints calls we had dealt with and how quickly we did it, the travel business in question would still be in existence.

What do you think? How can you use this principle in your work to innovate? If you’d like some help check out our innovation and creativity workshops, or book a call. 

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