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ombudsman news

issue 127

August 2015

listening and learning

We can learn a lot about financial businesses and their customers – how they’re thinking and acting – from the complaints that are referred to us. But I think there’s as much insight to be gained from the conversations we have outside any official complaints-handling process.

One way these conversations happen is through our technical advice desk – our expert team offering practical guidance to businesses, consumer advisers and others who resolve complaints day to day. When I last visited the team, they’d just answered a call from the manager of a small car dealership, who’d received a complaint from a customer who’d been sold an insurance policy with their car.

The manager had never had a customer complain before – and he wasn’t even sure if his dealership was responsible for what had happened. It was by searching online for help with dealing with complaints that he came across our website – and the number for our technical advice desk.

After talking things through – and explaining why we couldn’t give a definite answer without hearing both sides – we were able to give the manager a clear steer on how to go about looking into what had happened. And we later heard he’d been able to settle things informally with his customer.

So what can we take from interactions like this? Well, each year, around 95% of the businesses we cover don’t pay any case fees at all – because so few, if any, of their customers refer complaints to us.

For some of these businesses, that’s because they’re dealing with complaints effectively. But others, like the car dealership, simply may not receive many –  if any at all. While that’s obviously encouraging, it also means that receiving a complaint may be extremely stressful for the business involved – not to mention the “unknown” of having the ombudsman step in. 

So our early contact with businesses – whether we’re answering specific questions or offering general reassurance – is essential in helping us see the bigger picture of complaints. Fundamentally, we can learn how businesses – and not only their customers – are articulating problems, acting on them and feeling about them.

And if we know where businesses’ questions and concerns lie, we can understand how best we can support them to resolve complaints at the earliest possible stage. Our technical advice desk is just one part of this support – and each year we talk face to face with hundreds of smaller businesses where they live and work.

The same goes for our conversations with consumer advisers and front-line organisations – which we highlight in this month’s ombudsman focus. We know that the problems being raised and tackled at community level don’t always reach us. Many are sorted out without us – but some may be left unresolved. By talking to the people who others turn to for guidance, we can better understand what’s going wrong – and how we can work together to stop it happening again.

I’m convinced that these ongoing conversations are as vital to encouraging fairness as any decision we make. And I hope people at the front line of complaints – whether they’re in an office or in a community advice centre – are reassured that we’re here to listen.

Caroline Wayman

Caroline Wayman
Caroline Wayman
chief ombudsman

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.