BLOG: Do Complaints Stories Tell The Whole Story?
Complaints figures always make great news stories, but do these genuinely reflect what’s going on in the industry? Mark Jones, Unicorn director, breaks it down . There’s been some mixed news regarding complaints in the industry, depending on what reports you read, over the past couple of months. In March we had the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) being “deluged” by new complaints about banks and other financial companies last year. Come April, new FCA figures were showing that consumer complaints fell by 15% between July and December 2013. However, down 15% in what was otherwise, an overall, a 38% increase on 2012. Three-quarters of complaints at the backend of 2013 were still about PPI, with chief ombudsman, Tony Boorman, stating, “Over 1,000 people every day are still asking us to sort out PPI problems they've not been able to resolve directly with their bank." We talk so readily in our industry of culture change and new attitudes towards TCF. But when these are the sorts of headline figures that the majority of the public still sees, is it any wonder that scepticism and mistrust of banks and other financial institutions still abound? The ‘good’ news continues to be usurped by the bad. Lies, damn lies and statistics As Martin Wheatley, FCA chief executive, said: “They (firms) all should be striving to ensure that customers are being treated fairly and not given cause to complain. “This (15% fall) is an indication that firms seem to be putting customers at the heart of their business, however, there is clearly more for us all to do to show consumers their interests come first.” General insurance, current accounts, credit cards, savings, home finance and mortgages, life and pensions, investments - whatever the sector there is no hiding from the need to shift public opinion, not to mention addressing the requirements of new consumer credit regulations and Mortgage Market Review for many of these. Unfortunately there is no quick fix - culture change, by its very nature, takes time. But if financial bodies continue to take the right steps towards changing behaviours of employees – not just of those at the coalface - to better manage customers’ expectations and avoid complaints, and communicate that well to customers, will we start to see more appreciation that the industry is at least trying to sort itself out? Will things like the 15% fall in complaints start to become a more common occurrence on the news agenda, instead of complaints hitting record highs? PPI will continue to tarnish the industry for a while yet, but we need to look beyond those PPI complaints, and the easy headline figures they generate, and see what other patterns are emerging in complaints reporting. Where are the headlines about the number of complaints about banking products, such as current accounts, savings accounts and credit cards, falling by 3% compared with the first half of 2013, representing a 23% decrease since the second half of 2012 and the lowest half-yearly number of such complaints since H2 2006? Isn’t this one indication that the message is getting through about TCF? The reasons No-one can affect these headlines like the customer-facing staff – they make all the difference. Continuing to help employees understand how encouraging a change in their own behaviours will lead to a positive shift in cultural mindset within their own business, the industry at large and ultimately public perceptions, is key. As someone who worked in FMCG and then banking in my early career, customer service has always been at the heart of everything I encourage L&D, HR and compliance to focus on. Understanding the root cause and the granular elements, which will have a positive impact up the line in terms of employee behaviours and a change in culture, in my view has the biggest impact in increasingly happy customers who complain less. This demands a training approach that doesn't just treat compliance as a 'tick box' exercise, but that enables employees to really get to grips with understanding how and why issues such as TCF, complaints handling, financial crime etc should be dealt with, and practice applying that knowledge practically. Technology provides outstanding opportunities to deliver genuinely in-depth, immersive, practical online learning through the use of video, outstanding graphics and other engaging multimedia experiences. Combined with the fact that people's lifestyles today are so mobile-led, learning that can be access 24/7 across the whole gamut of devices people use in their everyday lives can play a lead role in embedding the change of culture and behaviours demanded by the public and in line with new consumer credit regulations and MMR. We will have to live with negative complaints headlines for a while longer I think. But I genuinely believe it’s only a matter of time before firms start to be rewarded for the diligence I am seeing everyday in trying to bring about the changes that will make the biggest differences to complaints headlines. Keep the faith!