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Creating a ‘complaints handling culture’ for better customer outcomes

04 September 2019   (0 Comments)

Sarah Lawrence is Director of CWSL Training which she runs with co-Director, Caroline Wells, an award-winning customer insight professional. Both previously worked at the Financial Ombudsman Service. They are delivering a workshop at the UK Credit & Collections Conference (UKCCC) in September entitled: ‘Delving beneath the surface - knowing your customer and their complaint’.

For us, the debt collection and debt purchase sector are ahead of the curve in the financial services industry in areas like vulnerability and knowing how to deal with delicate situations. This is partly down to the fact that companies are dealing with a highly sensitive issue and people who are likely to be in difficult circumstances. However, one area where there is room for further improvement across the credit industry, is in complaints handling.


While working at the Financial Ombudsman Service, we saw time and time again how companies wasted their precious time and resources with complaints. This included hiding their head in the sand and not properly dealing with or learning from the complaints they received. That’s a real shame, as it not only impacted on the business’ reputation, but also the complaint outcomes and therefore the customers themselves.


The thing to remember is though, just as customers can be fearful when it comes to dealing with debt – hence the greater likelihood of complaining – businesses, particularly smaller companies, tend to be fearful and defensive about receiving and dealing with complaints. This can lead to the ‘head in the sand’ mentality meaning that complaints aren’t dealt with as quickly or effectively as they could be. In particular, where complaints can be about something life changing for the customer, as is often the case with debt, the priority should be to understand and start working to resolve them immediately. I’ve seen cases where the Ombudsman has upheld a complaint on the grounds that the matter has been delayed for no good reason, so companies need to get better at opening up a dialogue with the customer as soon as possible.


Another key factor for us this year, has been the FCA’s Business Plan that emphasised ‘cultural change’ in financial services and complaints is a key area where this will be benchmarked. We set up CWSL Training to help firms better understand complaints and complaints handling, which in turn can evidence to the FCA that they are going above and beyond functional complaints handling to embrace this cultural change.


This means creating a positive complaints handling culture, which starts with understanding and empathising with the customer, key skills this sector already has. When dealing with customers day to day, businesses have to think about the bigger picture of issues they may be facing in order to reach the best and fairest possible outcome when it comes to their debt. A lot of the time this is about meeting them in the middle. But when it comes to complaints, sometimes these basic principles are forgotten and businesses focus on worrying about the repercussions, instead of the person on the end of the complaint and how best to deal with their issue. Our training centres around empowering people that deal with complaints to understand more about the background to it by knowing the right questions to ask as part of their investigation.


The next step in bringing about cultural change in this area is how you view complaints in the first place. I won’t say that “complaints are a gift” (too cheesy!), but they should be a learning opportunity. Complaints can identify trends and root causes of issues that can help to prevent future problems. If businesses can anticipate and deal more quickly with potential problems, then complaints are less likely to go to the Ombudsman where they are then outside of their control.


That’s why we’re excited to be able to share our practical tips and insights with delegates at the UK Credit & Collections Conference soon.


Sarah and Caroline are speaking at the upcoming UK Credit & Collections Conference (UKCCC) in Newcastle.


UKCCC event site

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