Why customer complaint management must be a priority for transportation companies

25 October 2013

Raj Thapar

Raj Thapar

Director, Enterprise Performance Management

Providing better customer service including self-service complaint management and utilising the cloud is crucial for an embattled transport sector

In today’s business environment, the complaint management process faces several key challenges. With new platforms such as social media now being the first port of call to voice any frustration with a product or customer service levels, companies need to be ready to adapt. In the transport and services industry, this has never been more poignant. In an industry which has seen costs rise significantly on the consumer side while market competition remains slim, complaints have increased year-on-year.

Out with the old, in with the new

In dealing with complaints, many companies’ infrastructures supporting the process are often outdated, inflexible, with a distinct lack of integration. As a result, agents handling customer complaints must navigate multiple systems while trying to reach the best solution in a timely manner.

There is also reliance on ill-fitting technologies leading to workflow issues where proper procedure is poorly defined or ineffectively communicated to the agents handling customer complaints. This leaves agents to interpret complaint procedures subjectively, and as a result, the customer experience becomes inconsistent and unsatisfying.

This has more serious offshoots, including complaints escalating to managers in a company, solicitors, and consumer bodies or even to a sector Ombudsman. This process is time consuming, costly and often less than constructive.

Complain escalation is often caused by an unhelpful reaction early in the process. Only by utilising technology to give some of the power back to the customer can companies deal with these issues more effectively; saving money and increasing efficiency in the process.

Here’s what any forward thinking chief executive should consider when reviewing their company’s complaints handling structure.

Going self-service with complaints

With the ascendance of everything from online banking to self-service check out tills, the next part of the evolution is an increase in self-service complaints through multiple channels. While there has been an emergence of platforms include voice, e-mail, and chat procedures, there needs to be greater emphasis on empowering the consumer.

Phone and internet providers rolled out live chat services in the style of an internet chatroom during the last decade. This enables the consumer to save the time and expense of a phone call, while getting direct access to a suitable member of staff. It can also turn attention away from the negativity associated with premium rate numbers employed notably by airlines. Carriers such as Ryanair, Monarch Airlines, FlyBe, KLM, Aer Lingus and Lufthansa use premium rate 087 numbers for reservations, complaints or other customer inquiries.

If the scenario was that a customer who had lost their bag had to be charged premium rate to voice their natural displeasure, paying more money to do so will inevitably have a negative effect on the relationship.

The cloud

While utilising the full capacity of the internet is one solution, this goes further into cloud software. This platform presents great potential to forward thinking businesses to provide a function storing high data volumes. Without the consistent flow of information, companies find it difficult to respond proactively to customer complaint trends.

In the end, glaring customer service issues, product flaws, and bad information can go undetected for unacceptably long periods of time. Zendesk, an American software company, has harnessed cloud technology to let users respond to complaints, received across any channel, with a single log-on.

By storing the data and information on the cloud, the customer is given direct access to pursue a complaint and monitor the life cycle of the process. And such a model integrating multiple channels is something companies should embrace in order to fully engage with the complainant.

The cloud can also serve as a platform to host large amounts of customer data, becoming a source to identify trends across specific services and geographical locations.

SMS messaging

While not in its infancy, the engaging effect of SMS messaging is still somewhat overlooked by transport providers.

While text message wouldn’t necessarily solve the issue of a delayed service, there is equal importance in giving customers a positive brand interaction experience.

In order to anticipate their needs and proactively engage them, one method is through text message. It remains the most popular way to communicate digitally, with an average 5,000 sent in the UK per second. This is a useful way of ascertaining customer feedback, while enhancing the consumer-company relationship.

The social media effect

While the great majority of transport companies have a presence on platforms such as Twitter, the instant nature of social media provides some unfortunately unrealistic consumer expectations. That key word integration is another crucial factor in resolving this.

The creation of a workflow that embeds complaints made via social media into the customer service system. This process will lay out roles and responsibilities, so even if the social media manager doesn’t deal with complaints directly, then they can flag it up within the system.

Customers complaining generally do so as they want to be loyal. In an industry such as transport where competition is slimmer, there still needs to be a sense of companies working for them. By simply making social media structure more organised, rather than adopting quirky gimmicks, there is a chance your business may just be spared being the subject of a Facebook complaints group.

It’s very simple. Increased options for both companies and consumers can go a long way towards stopping the traditionally British “mustn’t complain” culture that so often serves as a barrier towards improvement and innovation.

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About the author

Raj Thapar

Director, Enterprise Performance Management

The overriding theme of my career has been helping organisations tackle complex financial consolidation, reporting and planning problems and creating effective EPM solutions. As a result, they are able to report accurate data efficiently and make more informed business decisions using an effective EPM strategy. I am able to draw upon my background as a qualified accountant, qualified lawyer and consultant to help me do this.

Over the last twenty years, I have helped organisations determine and realise their EPM strategy. I have worked across three continents, for clients such as AIA Group, Tata Global Beverages, Sumitomo Corporation and Old Mutual Plc. Although my clients come from a variety of sectors, I am currently focused on helping organisations within the Public Sector & Services sector, with a particular interest in Finance Transformation and the collaborative definition of the organisation's Record to Report strategy.

I have a keen interest in cutting edge technology and get a buzz out of leading teams develop complex consolidation, reporting and planning solutions.

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