Faster complaints resolution times don’t need to be a trade-off with the right customer outcome

By Sophie Mowczan, Market Research and Insight Lead, Huntswood

Last month, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published the complaints figures for regulated firms for the second half of 2019. The data showed an increase in complaints from 4.29m in the first half of 2019 to 6.02m in the second half of the year, driven primarily by a 75% increase in the volume of PPI complaints received. The volume of all other complaints, excluding PPI, also increased by 6% when compared with the first half of 2019, from 2.18m to 2.31m.

This data was collected before the current Coronavirus pandemic, which itself is now causing new operational challenges for firms. At the start of the lockdown, customers were likely to be sympathetic to delays in customer service, claims and complaints. However, as time passes, we are already seeing this tolerance starting to wear thin. Expectations are beginning to return to pre-Coronavirus levels and potentially even surpassing these as consumers face increasing financial pressures. The FCA has also meanwhile published guidance reminding firms of the importance of complaints resolution at this time and confirmed that the regulator also expects normal service to resume.

It is vital that firms take the time to achieve the right outcome for a customer following a complaint, without having a detrimental impact on the speed of resolution. The latest FCA data shows that there is no clear correlation between the proportion of complaints resolved within 3 days and the percentage of complaints resolved in the complainant’s favour. Therefore, this would indicate that firms were successfully driving the right outcomes for customers, and not compromising a high-quality complaints process for speedier resolution times.

Sophie Mowczan
Sophie Mowczan

However, Huntswood’s Complaints Outlook 2019 found that customers had even higher expectations of resolution times, in addition to quality. A quick resolution was highlighted as one of the most important factors in driving customer satisfaction within the complaints process, with 76% anticipating a resolution at ‘first point of contact’ (FPOC). Yet, only 20% of customers reported this in  reality. This suggests a gap between the performance of complaints handling teams and customers’ expectations of fast and efficient resolutions. The benefits of getting the right outcome within the right timeframe are well demonstrated by increasing retention and advocacy levels, as shown within the research.

Thankfully, there are a number of smart ways in which firms can achieve the right outcome for customers quickly and more efficiently:

Single customer view

Firms should ensure that customers can contact them through a variety of channels–70% of customers whose complaints were not resolved at FPOC interacted with their provider through at least two different channels during their complaints journey. However, the key is to have a single customer view which enables frontline staff to have an up to date breakdown of the customer’s history with the organisation across all product and service lines. This will save time, create a seamless complaints experience for the customer and could increase the chance of FPOC resolution.

Vulnerable customers

Identifying vulnerable customers early in the complaints process increases the chance of a successful resolution and reduces the likelihood that complex claims will need to be escalated to the ombudsman.

A consequence of the Coronavirus pandemic is that consumer vulnerability has never been more important and relevant, with a large proportion of the UK suffering some impact on their finances, and many customers likely to be considered more vulnerable as a result. It is important that any changes to circumstances or signs of vulnerability are identified during initial conversations. Firms should try to ensure adequate resource is available, and frontline staff have undertaken the correct training to have difficult and sensitive conversations with customers.

In addition, firms should look to use other data to highlight vulnerability. For example, new advances mean it is now easier than ever to spot a loss of income and take proactive measures and interventions. Ensuring a single holistic view of each customer will also help to identify vulnerable individuals at the earliest possible opportunity.

Explore automation as part of the channel mix

Huntswood’s Complaints Outlook 2019 found that 50% of customers don’t mind talking to an automated system as part of the complaints journey. This strengthens the business case for firms to explore automation to help increase the chances of resolving more complaints at FPOC and enable frontline staff to deal with more complex issues that require direct contact with customers.

Empowering the frontline and acknowledging fault

Finally, it is imperative that even where resolution is simple and possible at FPOC, staff have the right training and are empowered. The training of frontline staff should focus on both knowledge and empathy, with many customers simply wanting an apology and reassurance that the issue will not arise again.

As we enter a new phase of the Coronavirus pandemic, consumers will look to firms to help them address their financial situation and will expect results quickly. It’s important that firms continue to be able to demonstrate that they can deliver the right outcome for consumers at the earliest available opportunity.