What are the barriers to complaining?

Ombudsman Services | Sept 16, 2019

In June 2019, we published our annual Consumer Action Monitor (CAM). Now in its sixth year, CAM is a trusted and respected barometer of customer service and customer experience in Great Britain.*

This year’s research found that consumers have almost twice as many gripes about businesses than they did a year ago – 4.2 per head compared to 2.5 in 2018. However, many complaints are not being acted upon.

Consumers are increasingly turning to social media to vent about issues without taking their complaint any further, especially among younger generations, with 38% of 17 – 37-year olds using social media in this way – compared with 8% of those aged 56 - 74.

Consumers are also increasingly simply walking away / switching provider when they receive unsatisfactory service – 52% in 2019, compared to 40% in 2018.

Disengagement with the complaints process

When an issue arises, not only is there frustration around the problem itself, this is made worse by the feeling that it shouldn’t have arisen in the first place. With 78% of people agreeing with the statement, ‘I should never need to complain after I buy something’, there’s an immediate perceived breach of trust when something goes wrong.

78% agree should never have to complain

It appears that consumers are further disengaged with the complaints process due to a perceived idea of complaining being hard work. Findings from our research indicate that a key reason behind consumer demotivation when it comes to raising a complaint, is that, ‘I did not think it would be worth the hassle’, with 45% of consumers agreeing with this statement. A further 28% agreed with the statement, ‘I could not be bothered’.

These attitudes appear to be particularly prevalent when the product or service is of little monetary value. Almost a third of consumers (31%) said that, ‘Given the amount I paid for the item, it wasn’t worth the time’.

Hassle, time, can't be bothered

‘Complaining fills me with dread’

A concerning finding is that half of the public report that the idea of complaining fills them with dread. This feeling is strongest among younger generations, with 64% of 17 – 24-year olds agreeing with this sentiment – compared to 32% of those aged 65+.

Consumers in vulnerable circumstances also suffer with feelings of anxiety around the complaints process. In this year’s survey, 28% of respondents identified as being in a vulnerable situation which meant they needed help dealing with a company. 67% of these respondents said they don’t even know where to begin in the complaints process and 63% reported finding the process stressful.

Implications for consumers and businesses

If consumers feel demotivated at the prospect of complaining, they’re less likely to seek redress when things go wrong. This can leave consumers feeling frustrated and helpless.

For businesses, adapting to changing consumer needs and demands is critical in order to remain relevant in the marketplace. When it comes to complaining, harnessing opportunities to receive and address complaints shows customers that businesses welcome their feedback and recognise the value complaints can bring.

Technology and social media open up unprecedented opportunities to reach out to consumers and speed up processes. Customer expectations are changing with the development of new technology and businesses must be responsive and flexible to changing demands.

Share your thoughts and successes with us

With an increase in complaints and a behaviour shift towards passivity when it comes to complaining, there’s a significant challenge presented to businesses. How can a business address issues and improve from mistakes when their customers are suffering in silence or simply switching provider? Does this affect customer engagement with businesses and trust in brands?

If you have an opinion on this matter, we want to hear from you! Perhaps you’ve noticed a shift in customer behaviour and engagement with your brand in recent years? Or maybe you’ve successfully implemented initiatives and measures to bring customers back on board and restart the conversations that can help you grow? Please share your thoughts and stories with us at OSMarketingCommunications@Ombudsman-Services.org

Where Ombudsman Services can help businesses

If you’re an energy or communications provider, we can help you build sound and effective complaint-handling processes and policies. Our data and insights will enable you to improve your complaint handling and customer service more generally. Want to know more? Email Applications@Ombudsman-Services.org and we’ll be in touch.

Purple Line

*All research referred to in this blog relates to Consumer Action Monitor research commissioned by Ombudsman Services and carried out by Deltapoll between 4 - 8 March 2019. The survey was nationally representative and involved 4,000 interviews of adults aged 16+ from across Great Britain. The Consumer Action Monitor is published annually and is now in its sixth year. Click here to read the full 2019 report.