Articles on how to handle customer complaints are still being published frequently by field experts. Recently, researchers from both America and Canada looked into the effect a company’s digitally processing of complaints has on its customers. The researchers explicitly looked at the psychological and emotional advantages and disadvantages of the use of digital channels when communicating with young adults. An interesting study, especially because customer services via Whatsapp and the use of online robots within customer care processes have gained momentum this year.
The media have hyped the use of online channels during customer care trajects. Specifically because of its cost efficiency, approachability and average time needed per complaint. From a practical point of view, digital and automated customer care services do have a lot of quantifiable advantages. But what effect have these services on the psychological and emotional processing in this specific target group and why does that even matter?
The importance of creating an emotional connection
The emotional connection your target audience experiences is a determinative for their brand loyalty and the way they speak about the brand within their social environment. A strong connection equals having the best odds for them to act as brand ambassadors and endorsers of your proposition without the need of further incentives (nudges do contribute to actual behaviour though).
The importance of having brand ambassadors are backed up by many types of research that show generations have more trust in the opinions of peers than in traditional marketing. A share of heart, therefore, holds a lot of value for organisations.
The research results
During this study, researchers let their subjects perform stress-sensitive tasks during which they were supported in real life or through text. The real life support led to a more positive emotional state amongst subjects compared to textual support. Both systems were subjectively valued the same.
One could conclude that the emotional commitment with a brand could be better strengthened by using resources with visual components. Channels with social interactions components can contribute to a sense of self-worth, establishing and maintaining brand connections and creating the sense of belonging. This research shows that personalised interactions are more powerful long-term because parties have the opportunity to respond to non-verbal cues that are often lost in a purely textual environment.
Which implications do these results have for handling complaints?
To strengthen brand loyalty, it could prove to be beneficial to conduct further research on the long-term consequences on brand loyalty and brand perception when using textual customer care only. A more rigorous action would be to adapt customer complaint protocols in order to incorporate visual support in customer care processes.
If you decide to adjust protocols, you could make clear distinctions based on the type of complaint (built in an assessment system), in which complaints with clear emotional components are processed differently than the more practical complaints.