Your Friday Entrepreneur Fix features the founder of the country’s first complaints handling business Jo Ucukalo, who’s using her ability to resolve disputes to build a rapidly growing business.
Jo Ucukalo has always been better at resolving complaints than most people, so much so that family and friends had her doing it on their behalf for years. She looked into the $14.2 billion complaints market, and realised a complaint is often a business process gone wrong or badly communicated – something she knew she had the ability to change.
Now, she’s using her unusual skill to build a fast-growing business.
Ucukalo launched Handle My Complaint three years ago after realising there wasn’t a service on the market to help consumers resolve their disputes. In just that short span of time, her business has resolved over 4,000 complaints, sorting out everything from a refund for a defunct hair straightener to an $85,000 reduction in early termination fees on a fixed home loan.
Strong demand for her services has allowed her to expand the business’ offerings; with Handle My Complaint now also helping businesses with their complaint management practices. Growth has been at its most rapid over the past 12 months, with the business handling two to three times more complaints per month now than it was last year.
Here, Ucukalo shares what’s most difficult about launching a completely new concept onto the market and offers some expert advice for how businesses should be handling customer complaints.
Q. What have you found to be the most challenging aspect about getting the business off the ground? How have you managed this?
The biggest challenge was getting the service to market. With a new concept, it was difficult to define the service and the fee structure, create a marketing strategy and to know where to draw the limits around our service. It’s been a combination of research, trial and error and asking friends and family for their opinions.
We don’t really have a competitor to evaluate and see what they’ve done well and what’s worked and what hasn’t.
Q. Do you have any advice for how small businesses should handle customer complaints?
It’s important to understand there are two main causes of complaints. Essentially it comes down to poor communication and a failure to deliver what’s promised to customers as well as what’s expected.
First, take a look at the complaints you’ve received in the past and categorise them into these two categories. Determine the root cause of the complaints and look to resolving the cause.
Next, train your staff to look for signs of brewing dissatisfaction. Some complaints can be very subtle, like pushing an unfinished meal to the side. Sometimes a complaint hides another issue – for example if someone is ‘complaining’ about a high energy bill, they may actually want to make a payment arrangement because the real problem is that they don’t have the funds. It’s all about asking the right questions and finding good ways to communicate with people.
Remember that very few people will actually approach a business directly with a complaint. It’s usually poor service that tips them over the edge into making a formal complaint.
Most consumers aren’t great at identifying what outcome they’re after to resolve their complaint. Don’t be afraid to ask your customer what it would take to make sure they continue to be a customer.
Q. What do you love most about being an entrepreneur?
I like the challenge – the challenge of learning new skills and taking the business to the next level. This is what keeps me motivated.
I love the fact that I truly don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in five years’ time. Obviously I have a business plan, but the business operates so dynamically that we could be anywhere in five years.
Q. Is there anything you know about business now, that you wish you’d known when you launched?
I didn’t appreciate how difficult it is to market to consumers without a significant budget. Consumers have short memories, so if your business isn’t in front of them regularly, it’s easy to be forgotten.
I’ve been fortunate with Handle My Complaint; we’ve had great support from the media to spread the business concept and name. Our subject matter is infinite so we’ve built some great relationships.
Q. Are there any words of wisdom you like to refer to when times get tough, or if you’re having a bad day?
It’s really important to enjoy the process of what you’re creating. When times do get tough, it’s reassuring to know there’s something enjoyable around the corner. When you’re having trouble achieving revenue targets, it also helps to remind yourself that there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing.
I also tell myself that the bad days make you appreciate the good. You never know what adventure or opportunity is around the corner.
Q. What’s next for Handle My Complaint?
We’re in the process of designing software that will bring complaint handling inline with how consumers want to interact with organisations. Consumers want quick responses without having to provide the same information multiple times.
When you consider that consumers waste the equivalent of $14.2 billion annually and it costs businesses $6.6 billion per year to resolve complaints, the market is massive.
We’ll have a prototype available shortly and will be looking for investors for the product within the next few months.