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ombudsman news

issue 124

March/April 2015

talking change

I didn’t have to look far for something to back up the point I wanted to make - that the future isn’t easy to predict. Looking back over old issues of ombudsman news, I found that issue four - back in 2001 - explained our approach to a particular type of insurance we had concerns about.

At the time, few people anticipated what “loan protection insurance” - or “PPI” - would mean for financial businesses and the ombudsman nearly ten years later. But on reflection - despite the unprecedented and unforeseen scale of PPI - I think it’s developments outside financial services over that time that have had even bigger implications for the work we do at the ombudsman.

Given how widely they’re now used and talked about, it’s hard to believe that relatively few people had social media accounts a decade ago. But things have moved on rapidly. And many people now find these informal, online networks the most convenient way to express their dissatisfaction - and the most effective way to get their problem sorted out.

The rise in popularity of social media - and the way it’s changed the way people behave - shouldn’t only be a game-changer for businesses. I think it’s a major consideration for every “public-facing” organisation - the ombudsman included. A particular challenge for us is that unlike a commercial business - which can choose its customer base - we were set up as a service for everyone across the UK.

This means we have a responsibility to be ready to sort out whatever the number and nature of problems that consumers refer to us. And this isn’t easy to accurately forecast.

We also have a responsibility, of course, to respond and adapt to our customers’ needs. Part of this constantly adapting means keeping pace with changes in communications and technology. If we don’t, then we risk missing out on important conversations. And if our decisions were to seem out of touch, it’s unlikely they’d feel fair.

But in responding to general trends, we need to avoid jumping to conclusions. Contacting organisations through social media might be second nature to some customers. But others might not even have internet access. Even among social media users, some people might expect an online reply, while others might prefer a more formal paper trail.

In the same way, we’d never assume that people contacting us through our new webchat service are always from younger age groups. Instead, we need to understand the personal and practical reasons why people - whatever their age or location - prefer to contact us this way.

The point is that we’re not all the same - and people increasingly expect to see that reflected in the way they access services. For the ombudsman, this means we need to understand different people’s lives and livelihoods. For example, this month’s case studies show some of the range of issues faced by people working in farming and agriculture.

By not assuming - and by listening instead - I’m determined that our service will remain relevant and accessible to everyone.

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.