How to avoid having a car-crash complaints page

Why are some businesses better at empathy than others? We’d been pondering this for a while at our consultancy. And we came up with a theory: if your business is good at customer service, it’s probably because your teams are good at being empathetic, too. So we decided to put it to the test. We created the Schwa Score for empathy and analysed online comms from eight UK banks in Which? magazine’s 2020 best banks for customer satisfaction.

A big part of our research involved analysing complaints pages

They’re a dead giveaway for overall empathy levels because you can see a brand’s true colours when it has its back to the wall.

And we noticed a few trends along the way.

So, in no particular order, here are five things customer service, marketing and comms teams can do to avoid having a car-crash complaints page.

1. Choose language that won’t rub people up the wrong way

If your customer wants to make a complaint, chances are they’re already pretty miffed. So if you overload them with long sentences and complicated language you’re only going to wind them up more. Try using a readability checker (there’s one built into Word) to make sure you’re keeping things simple. It won’t tell you everything, but a high score generally means you’re on the right side of formal/normal. Think of it as the difference between asking a customer to ‘utilise a digital notification service’ versus getting them to ‘let you know online’.

2. The process matters as much as what you say

Can you reduce the number of steps a customer has to go through or links they have to click? Or cut the time it takes to get back to them after they’ve filled in an online form? These things matter. Because if you tie the process up in red tape, you aren’t showing empathy at all.

3. Take it on the chin and don’t get defensive

It’s a complaints page. Not a ‘feedback page’, as one bank tried to rename it.

Watching a business or brand on the defensive is always cringeworthy. So peppering your complaints page with phrases about your typically ‘excellent customer service’ or ‘dedicated team’ just won’t cut it. At best, you’ll sound tone deaf. At worst, like you’re subtly implying that it’s the customer’s fault if they’ve had poor service.

4. Say sorry (like you mean it)

There’s a huge difference between ‘we’re sorry’ and ‘we’d like to apologise for the inconvenience’. You know it. Your customers know it. Enough said.

5. Consistency counts (but customers can spot a template at 20 paces)

If you always post the same templated response on social media, it’s a dead giveaway you’re on autopilot. So take the time to check your response sounds like you’re listening - delete anything that doesn’t relate to what the customer wants.

Banks are far from the only businesses who struggle with their complaints pages. At Schwa, we’re often asked to help clients unpick tricky pieces of writing, complaints pages included.

Written by Hannah Moffatt, creative director at corporate communications agency Schwa