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A nation of Veruca Salts: are brands losing control?

it’s official.  We are now a nation of complainers.  According to the Ombudsman Service Consumer Action Monitor, a record 66 million consumers vented their fury against shops, banks, tradesmen, energy firms and phone companies last year, almost twice as many people as 2013.

This got me thinking about the cultural shift taking place between consumers and brands. Brands and companies once held the power over their customers, but the balance is tipping.

Consumer expectations in the UK are growing and consumers also appear to be losing their British reserve, becoming much more comfortable with voicing their concerns and no longer suffering in silence.

Digital technology, the power of online reviews and social media have given customers back the power and companies are left walking on eggshells desperate to retain their reputations.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it’s leading to a more competitive market where lean and effective customer service agents are the facilitators to staying ahead and retaining customers.  But it can sometimes feel like a power struggle between a company and its customers.  Does it really have to be that way?

Customer relationships used to be about mutual respect. Traditionally interactions would take place in person, over the counter, where you could engage with someone whom is human and see that they are working to help you. Now we’ve moved to faceless interactions, we’ve lost some of the emotional and human elements of communication; consequently our trust levels reduce as we find our selfs increasingly owning “the problem”. All of this is taking place in a culture where we’re continually investing in brand engagement, promising more to customers while trying to overtake the competition and .

So what’s the impact? Customers are less engaged and more sceptical. It’s understandable, staying loyal is harder with a faceless organisation than your local greengrocer. This in turn makes customers quicker to anger when a problem does arise – we’re probably all guilty of it, but have you ever stopped to think – would you treat the average shop assistant in the same way you do a call centre worker or a brand on twitter?

People are also becoming conditioned to push to the front of the metaphorical queue by using social media to voice their frustrations. You could say we’ve turned into a nation of Verruca Salt’s, shouting to get our own way.   Some brands seem to be making a rod for their own backs – their worry about looking socially savvy and avoiding public negative feedback means those customers can often get a quicker response using social channels than traditional ones.

Wise companies will make the customer’s initial enquiry the real focus of their customer experience efforts in 2015.  All too often failed self-service interactions lead to email, or chat, or phone contacts. And if their request isn’t resolved by those channels, then the chances are consumers will quickly vent on social media, where, ironically the supporting are often more empowered to address the customers issue .

It’s a complex picture; only by understanding what drives contacts across each channel will contact centres and customer experience directors be able to create contact strategies that meet the need of their customers.

It all starts with empowering the agent.  It’s difficult to build relationships of mutual respect when your target is to handle a call within three minutes and you have no insight into a customer’s interactions with your brand on other channels.  But that is still what many agents are still expected to do.  In 2015, I expect to see many more contact centres putting meaningful interactions at the centre of their contact strategy and that means giving the agent the autonomy and technology he or she needs to meet customer needs.

As industry analyst Forrester has said, “In 2015, the race from good to great CX will hit the gas pedal”.   Empowering your agents to resolve a higher number of first contacts, will not only lead to a drop in complaints, it will also be crucial to winning this race.

To find out more about the findings of our multichannel research, read the full Multichannel Maze Report.