In this analysis, our expert consultancy team does a deeper dive into the latest complaint handling trends. We examine how firms can improve their operational effectiveness to reduce uphold rates and complaint closure times, and enhance the complaint process for customers.
Complaints volumes down
With 1.84m complaints received in H2 2021, all Financial Services (FS) firms across the sector experienced their lowest volumes since H2 2016. This reduction was felt in varying degrees across the board with the Insurance sector (12% down from H1 2021) continuing its recovery from PPI claims, and Home Finance (14% down) returning to pre-Covid levels after incredible demand in the property market over the last few years.
Investment firms experienced the biggest drop (34%) with Pensions complaints down by 17%. Consumer Credit complaints were down by 24% from H1 2021, primarily driven by a reduction in irresponsible lending claims and the lingering effects of more tolerant forbearance measures brought in during the pandemic.
The question firms need to ask is whether this trend is likely to stay or if the cost of living crisis will push numbers back up again as consumers struggle with their finances in the face of rising prices. We expect the customer credit and home finance sectors to be particularly affected by the increasing squeeze on household budgets, as well as the insurance sector where there is evidence of consumers cancelling or adjusting their policies to save money. Travel and holiday insurance claims are also expected to increase due to the problems we are seeing with airlines struggling to staff and run a complete schedule of flights, a situation expected to continue well into the peak summer holiday period.
Work to do on closure rates
The FCA record two closure rates as key indicators of good complaints handling ,
1 - the number of complaints closed within 3 Working Days (3WD) which they expect to be a high percentage and;
2 – the number of complaints still open after 8-weeks, which they expect to be a low percentage.
The latest figures are interesting as despite the drop in volumes, there have not been vast improvements in these metrics, likely due to increasingly complex complaints.
Insurance firms are the only ones to buck this trend, showing marked improvement for their 3WD closures – up to 49% from 45%, while their 8-week breaches dropped from 16% down to 9%. Banking also performs well with 3WD closures at 52% and 8-week breaches at 4%, and consumer credit firms are not (yet) judged on these metrics.
The investments, home finance and pensions sectors all traditionally experience lower 3WD closure rates and higher 8-week breach rates due to the complex nature of their products and the complaints they deal with as a result. However, even with all sectors seeing a reduction in the numbers of complaints, these two key performance indicators are not following the same trend. For home finance, 3WD closures have dipped, with just 38% being closed in this timeframe. For the other two, 8-week breaches are a cause for concern with investments staying high at 19% and pensions increasing from 17% to 26%, both above the FS sector average of 7%.
What can we learn from uphold rates?
Uphold rates indicate how many complaints are resolved in favour of the customer. Examining the root cause of these complaints can indicate where the business can improve its services or communications.
Both banking (55% of complaints upheld) and home finance (60% upheld) have seen little change in their rates, despite the drop in total volumes, indicating that both sectors could be doing more to understand and improve underlying issues. Consumer credit on the other hand reduced their uphold rates by 4%, down to 41%, most likely again due to them getting a good handle on irresponsible lending practices.
With PPI recovery continuing in the insurance sector, a more genuine uphold rate of 63% has now been revealed which gives the sector some work to do to show the kind of improvement they have seen in their closure rates in this area.
Again, investments and pensions firms fare similarly with investment uphold rates increasing from 50% to 59% and pensions seeing a very high uphold rate of 72%. For both sectors, the complex nature of their products often leads to confusion on the part of the customer, resulting in high uphold rates both internally and with the Ombudsman. This is a continuing trend and would indicate firms are running with continuing issues with processes and/or systems without addressing the root cause analysis (RCA). Maximising their complaint data and revising their RCA approach could help identify recurring problems and lead to significant business improvements.
Top tips to improve complaints handling operations
With the Consumer Duty on the horizon, along with its mandate to put the consumer central to all business decisions, now is the time for FS firms to drill deeper into their complaints data to identify key root cause issues and take action to improve processes, products and communications based on direct customer feedback.
And as the cost-of-living crisis escalates, firms can expect an increase in customer contact volumes, and complex enquiries and complaints. We recommend the following three steps to take a proactive approach to customer contacts and complaint handling:
- Empower the front line – Make sure your front-line staff are empowered and supported to resolve customer complaints at first point of contact. With increasingly complex complaints being raised, and the growing expectation from the regulator and Ombudsman that financial providers take a more holistic approach to their customers’ welfare, call centre and other front-line staff are having more involved conversations and being tasked to look for and act on a growing variety of cues. Whether this is to help identify customer vulnerabilities or to truly understand the root cause of the customer’s problem, calls often take more time and expertise than previously. Staff should be supported by training, systems, processes and colleagues to be able to adapt to these changing trends.
- Have clear escalations with the right expertise – Inevitably, there will be complaints that cannot be handled by even the best trained and resourced front line. The fact is that customers rarely mind being passed to a more dedicated or specialist department if they quickly get to someone who can help solve their problem. It’s important to have a process for transferring or escalating the customer, but equally important are the front-line team to quickly identify those in need of specialist help. Having the right expertise in house, however, is not always the most cost-effective option. For large scale customer contact programmes, or highly specialist conversations, it can be a better option to outsource, either for additional capacity or to have a team dedicated to the project so it doesn’t impact your business as usual teams.
- Get proactive with root cause analysis – This is possibly the single most important thing that businesses can do to make a difference to their complaint performance. Whilst not customer-facing, the positive impact of acting on clear root causes can be felt across the whole organisation and your consumers. And the best thing is, that it uses the data you already hold within your business. At EQ, we take a three-step gather, analyse, act approach to helping our clients optimise their RCA processes and results. This can help to identify smaller and growing trends. The large problems are probably obvious without in-depth analysis. By identifying the smaller and growing trends, you can act on them to resolve them early and reduce the need for costly large scale customer contact remediation programmes.
Part 1 of 2, look out for our deeper dive analysis into the trends within the Consumer Credit Sector.
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For further information on how to use data you already hold to improve complaints performance, read our whitepaper or talk to our experts.