FloodsGales, floods, illness … disruptions to daily life this winter have massively impacted contact centres, some of which are struggling to cope.

Call volumes have rocketed – and so have customer complaints, which have become increasingly vocal, through the use of social media.

In fact the Ombudsman Service, which provides dispute resolution for the communications and energy industries, has reported that Britain has become a nation of complainers. New figures from the Ombudsman Service’s first ever Consumer Action Monitor* show there were 38 million complaints about products and services last year – equating to a complaint every 1.2 seconds. And 2014’s adverse conditions are making it worse day by day.

The Ombudsman Service say Britons are keener to take direct action when they have a problem, with millions using social media to get companies’ attention. They also found that last year 40 million problems weren’t pursued through the Ombudsman, thanks in part to the perception that complaining is ‘not worth the hassle’.  More than a third (36 per cent) of people surveyed believed that big businesses are ‘only interested in money and don’t care if something goes wrong with a product or service’.

 Ken Reid of contact centre software provider Rostrvm Solutions said, “No business can afford to have unhappy customers, whether they complain or not – they will just lose that customer – and contact centres are mostly at the front line of all this. Whatever life throws at a business, it has to be geared up to provide excellent customer service. It’s not just what product you use or what you do, it’s how you do it.  It’s vital that you have both the right technology and the knowledge on how to utilise it to its full potential.”

This might include having the right systems to deal with queues and keep customers informed, or having a joined-up approach to multichannel, so that the contact centre agent has access to the full customer history. For example, if a customer has tweeted several complaints about a service but is now on the end of the phone, the agent must be able to access the details of the tweets as well, so that the customer feels listened to and doesn’t have to repeat themself.

How to reduce the queues is often the main challenge – blending workers between inbound and outbound to cover gaps can be beneficial only if staff are fully trained and briefed. Homeworking is another valuable method of keeping the contact centre running at full capacity at times of adversity – but only if the homeworker has an appropriate system and is confident in how to use it.

Basically, it comes back to planning and investment  – don’t put off planning for a crisis and invest in the right technology and people if you’re a contact centre – it’s as simple as that if you want to impress customers. 

* The Ombudsman Service report is at: www.ombudsman-services.org/consumer-activism-on-the-rise.html