The opening of the new £189 million Birmingham Library this week showcased a great example of a successful marriage between old school ways of learning and the new digital world. It houses one million books alongside digital information screens, public access computers and a painstakingly rebuilt 19th Century Shakespeare Memorial Room.

It represents the intelligent union of not just the analogue and digital eras, but the days of yore when words were scribed with a quill and mail arrived on horseback. Visitors to the Birmingham Library can go seamlessly from viewing an original Shakespeare folio to ‘Googling’ quotes from his famous works.

In contact centres today frontline staff still struggle with outmoded systems and processes which belong to the ‘Old School’ of customer service and are not suited to the ‘New World’ of real-time multi-channel contact. Anachronistic systems and disconnected processes often lie at the heart of customer frustrations and drive complaints.

Complaint handling masterclass
A critical area in which a disconnect between old ways of doing things and new world customer expectations can have serious ramifications, is complaint handling. This week MBNA, one of the UK’s largest credit card issuers for 20 years, gave an excellent masterclass webinar to CCA members on the benefits of its innovative new approach to complaint handling.

MBNA described how the establishment of two highly-skilled specialist units has had a major impact on how the business uses insight from complaints to drive business improvements, improve the customer experience, and to resolve complex complaints faster and more efficiently.

Complaints resolution used to be done on a silo-ed basis, with no consolidated view. Now there is joined-up thinking and shared information, with all complaint case evidence stored and retrievable, providing a full audit trail.

MBNA set up a Customer Advocate Office which operates independently to frontline businesses, is not constrained by process and budget and has more autonomy than any other business area. It comprises case managers selected from top performers across frontline customer areas. It also has a special Manager Escalation Team (MET), staffed by long-serving employees with heightened empathy skills to tackle particularly complex cases which can be escalated further to a ‘Customer Committee’ which gives customers a voice and real empowerment within the organisation.

The starting point for the successful radical overhaul of complaints handling was having the courage to open what MBNA calls ‘Pandora’s box’ and to challenge its legacy business processes to determine they were right for the business and its customers today.

Social media best practice lessons
Customers largely prefer to complain by email and phone (and some still write letters) but there is an increasing propensity to use social media to vent frustration over complaints.

In the tightly-regulated and complex financial services sector, organisations have been given little guidance by the industry regulator on how to engage with customers via social media on the sensitive issue of complaints. Consequently they are proceeding with caution, while monitoring developments carefully.

Senior members of the CCA network (including MBNA) are sharing best practice on social media engagement and collaborating effectively with businesses in other sectors on ways to solve common problems. It demonstrates the unique value to be derived from our expert networks which represent a valuable learning resource and first-class debating chamber on topics pertinent to every customer-facing organisation.

A sting in the tail for BA
The perils of not having an effective 24/7 social media response team were highlighted this week when BA suffered an embarrassing ‘naming and shaming’ at the hands of Hasan Syed who made innovative use of social media to air his grievance.

Annoyed that BA had lost his father’s suitcase, he purchased a ‘promoted Tweet’ so he could reach BA’s 300,000 Twitter followers. He tweeted: “Don’t Fly @ British Airways. Their customer service is horrendous.”

Four hours later BA responded: “Sorry for the delay in responding, our twitter feed is open 0900-1700 GM, Please DM (direct Message) your baggage ref and we’ll look into this.”

The episode may spark copycat action as more disgruntled customers hijack the ad platform of large companies to voice their anger. The target on complaints is moving fast, making it difficult for companies to formulate effective strategies. CCA will continue to lead debate on this important topic, so get involved and share your concerns and your smart responses.

I’d like to close with some words of wisdom on the importance of speed from “The Bard’s “Merry Wives of Windsor”: “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”