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Six critical features of best practice contact management
No one correct way

Our research suggests there are six basic requirements at the heart of best practice contact management. These are:

  1. A business process for managing each case to a conclusion that satisfies the customer.
  2. A process to define and manage "campaigns".
  3. A system to support the processes for case and campaign handling.
  4. Specialist customer contact staff trained, briefed and motivated to perform their role in using the process for handling contacts.
  5. Other staff aware of the process, how it works, and their role in ensuring cases are managed through the process.
  6. Senior managers committed to reviewing the process for its success, using data produced by the process and by wider customer research, and exploring the implications of the data for improving the performance of other marketing and service functions.

We need to add a word or two on how these six principles interact with one another. They start from the general point that individual contact handling should aim to minimize customer dissatisfaction or, more positively, maximize satisfaction by ensuring that the issues customers raise are acknowledged and resolved.

From this it follows that the process and system a company uses should ensure that the cases customers present are handled well. Both process and system should also enable the company to extract information from cases to enable it to manage more general problems (such as service or marketing process design failures) and opportunities (such as new product ideas) more effectively.

Computerisation has revolutionized the way in which companies handle contacts and cases. While computers deliver considerable benefits for individual contact handling -- for example, the ability to input and cross-reference information at the point of customer contact and process individual cases -- their real significance has been the ease with which computers can collate and report on individual cases for management action.

However, a company should carry out computerisation with caution as only a system which has been well thought out and adapted to the specific needs of a firm will succeed. This does not necessarily imply detailed customisation. Our experience suggests there is a high degree of commonality between the needs of different companies, whether in terms of the nature of the contacts they handle or the systems they integrate. A comprehensively specified and well designed system ought to encompass all these likely requirements.

But even if standard customer contact handling systems can be applied in different companies, this does not imply there is a single correct way to handle cases. Our research shows that the relationship between different companies and their customers varies, a variation that occurs between business sectors as well as between companies. The technical complexity of a product or service, the number of customers, the frequency of interaction with customers, their expectations, the nature of the industry and the role of the customer in the distribution channel hierarchy, are just a few of the factors that dictate the shape of the system a company can use. Besides this, loyal high-value or frequently purchasing customers may require a different process to that available to the majority of customers.

For example, many respondents in our survey have two or more distinct groups of customers -- such as individual consumers and business customers -- and different channels for reaching them. In this situation, if the types of transactions, relationships and contacts are different, each group of customers may need a different approach, possibly even a different department.

As a result of this large possible number of special situations, we must stress that this analysis of best practice is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive. Rather, it simply aims to outline some of the key areas of contact handling which every company should recognise as important.

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