When Distress and Inconvenience goes bad because fairness has been left behind

Last week I was talking about money awards and what they’re made up of. This week I’m still focusing on distress and inconvenience, but, I’m specifically looking at where it can cause trouble for the business and leave the consumer feeling that things are unfair. 

During the ten years I worked as an adjudicator I saw some underwhelming examples of complaints handling where businesses had really missed the mark in terms of an award. Some businesses seemed to grossly underestimate the amount of problems that had been caused by their error.

Or, there was the flipside where the customer reacted badly to what had been offered, feeling that it was unjustified, unfair or ridiculous. Clearly, the two sides of the complaint coin are very different, but with the same outcome – entrenchment in a case, with neither party able to meet in the middle.

It’s funny how the ones that have gone wrong always stay with you, as a complaints handler. But this case in particular sticks in my mind, because emotions were high on both sides before it had even reached my desk. So, by the time I innocently picked up the case, as an adjudicator, it was clear what had tipped the customer over the edge. And it had all started going pear-shaped with the business’ investigation, or lack thereof.

The business had done an investigation into a complaint, not a great one if I’m honest, but nevertheless it reached an outcome and then offered £100. Now, this wasn’t a complicated complaint on the face of it. It was about a simple change of address that hadn’t been completed by the business. ‘Simple’, I thought, until I saw the letter to the customer and my heart sank to my toes.  

There was no justification for the amount and the letter that accompanied it was…let’s just say a little thin on details. There’s nothing wrong with a short letter, but it does need to at least address the points raised by the consumer. This one didn’t – just we’re ‘sorry for any inconvenience’ and here is £100. Nothing about his personal information having gone to a previous address, nothing about the previous address having been a family member and nothing about them having discovered the loan he hadn’t told them about or the fallout from that. All of which came out after I spent the time talking to the consumer.   

And while I’m on my soap box, nothing used to irritate me more as an adjudicator than uncovering a lot of detail from the consumer that had not been unearthed before. All because the right questions, or even no questions had been asked, I would discover a whole host of issues that would then justify an increase in compensation, along with the obvious fact that the complaint hadn’t been looked at properly. Is it any wonder in these situation the customer was entrenched?

Anyway, where was I? So, you can see why a consumer might be a tad upset when they come to the ombudsman because they think they’ve been ignored, or ‘fobbed off’ leaving them feeling as though they’ve been treated unfairly. I’ve seen numerous examples of this and some of it’s totally unintentional by the business, but they all have one thing in common – they simply haven’t really listened to the customer and have thrown an amount of money at the in the hopes of resolving the matter.

If you take the time to listen to what the customer has said, you’ll get a full grasp of what they consider to be the impact and also they’ll give you a clue (or tell you outright) what they want to sort the matter out. It’s then that you can start to understand whether the consumer is someone that is open to meeting you in the middle or whether it will be a case of providing your compensation amount and seeing how it lands. This also means that it feels fair to everyone involved – not just the process, but the final outcome and the distress and inconvenience that has been offered.

Actively listening really is the key to getting to grips with a complaint and any redress that you’re looking to offer to resolve it. And it will get the consumer to engage with the process and it just feels fair.

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