What happens if complaints timeframes are cut in half?

Right now, in late November 2021, if you lodge a complaint with a Financial Services business, they have 8 weeks to resolve it before you are entitled to escalate to the Financial Ombudsman Service. The 8-week time frame dates back to the creation of ombudsman services in the UK, and it was originally intended to allow for correspondence and evidence to be sent by post. But even in modern times, the timeframe has, for some businesses, proved difficult to stick to during the increase in complaints activity we’ve seen across the industry over recent years, and it is a key factor in the looming threat of a post-pandemic surge. Recent years have seen complaints functions at organisations of all sizes challenged, and they’ve had to solve new problems in new ways, always with the 8-week clock ticking.

So it’s understandable that there is a lot of concern about government proposals to cut the limit by half, to just 4 weeks. Put forward under a consultation on “’Reforming Competition and Consumer Policy’” which opened in July and closed in October, this would arguably be the single biggest shake-up to complaints rules in decades. What should firms do? How do you prepare and adapt for such a harsh constriction in time frames, especially if your complaints staff are already pushed to their limits just keeping on top of the number of complaints? Could news that financial services complaints have to now be solved in one month actually see a further increase in consumers complaining?

The most straightforward response would seem to be scaling up complaints teams, and for many businesses, I think that will be necessary. But doubling your complaints headcount to try to half response time presents many challenges. For smaller organisations, they may struggle to physically fit more staff in their offices. Businesses that have already adapted to remote working may be ready for that particular challenge, but I know complaints is one of the functions that we’ve seen face more hurdles than most when it comes to a smooth, efficient remote work approach.

And where will everyone find the staff for a potential 100% increase in headcount? With many permanent workers not moving during these times, highly skilled and experienced complaints professionals are already in high demand. If every single financial services business and banks of all sizes are seeking new complaints staff at once, the pool of available quality contract talent is going to very quickly be eaten into.

That question of skills and experience is going to be a key one – the type of work complaint handlers do has changed so much over the last ten years, and any business thinking about moving across staff from other departments or taking on people with no experience and training them up will need to carefully consider if they’re creating the kind of empathic, vulnerability-smart complaints teams who won’t generate any further complaints themselves.

If the 4-week reduction happens, it will undeniably be a huge challenge to adapt to, unlike anything the complaints sphere has faced before, but I think it’s one smart organisations will rise to. There’s an opportunity here to make customers feel valued and to rapidly tackle problems that in the past could have slowly soured a consumer’s feelings about a brand permanently. And Kind Consultancy can help. We have experience of installing full complaints teams, both temporarily and permanently, into organisations of differing sizes across Financial Services. We work with transformation experts who can oversee any necessary changes to policy and procedure, vulnerability champions who can ensure your staff are delivering on your duty of consumer care and highly experienced complaint handlers themselves, people who are already adept at satisfactorily closing complex complaints as quickly and efficiently as possible.

For a confidential conversation about how Kind can help your business, contact selena@kindconsultancy.con or call 01226432100. Sent from my iPhone

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