What's the big deal about final response letters anyway?

I’m glad you asked. When I worked for the Ombudsman Service on the technical desk, I would often be speaking to businesses about how to resolve a complaint. Conversations would revolve around the circumstances – what had or hadn’t happened, who did what and when etc. I’d also often find I was talking at length about the redress – which makes sense, because as we discussed in July, it can be something of a minefield.

However, there were significantly less conversations about what should go into the final response letter. But, when I think about it, it’s no coincidence this was the case, as when it comes to the DISP rules, the Ombudsman is very clear about what is theirs and what falls to the FCA.

Without wanting to bore anyone to tears, DISP 1 covers all of the process before the complaint goes to the Ombudsman for consideration. It outlines what the business needs to do in terms of its complaints process and what it needs to be sending to the consumer. And it includes all of the requirements for a final response letter, including what you need to include to make it a final response. And it very much falls in the FCA’s domain if you get stumped.

The list includes:

  • It must be issued by the end of eight weeks (for non-payment services complaints);
  • It must be a written response;
  • It must also outline the outcome – be that accepting and offering redress, offering redress, but not accepting the complaint or rejecting the complaint, with your reasons;
  • It must include the Ombudsman’s leaflet and the website address;
  • It must start the clock ticking by telling the consumer they have six months to refer the complaint to the ombudsman;
  • And lastly it must say whether the business waives any time bar limits.

And that’s all assuming that you have reached a conclusion by the end of the eight weeks. If you haven’t then there’s a list of requirements that you have to adhere to, as well.

Whew! That’s a lot of information isn’t it? And it’s all very dry, bland and lacks the key things that make for a good, convincing final response letter. Which is frustrating for businesses, because there is a skill to writing these letters and making them such that the customer knows you’ve got the complaint and you’ve listened.

And that, so often is the real problem. I have seen a lot of final response letters – some of them have been OK, some of them have been just awful and some of them have been flipping amazing. And there was no pattern to it either. It wasn’t as though all big businesses or the bigger users of the ombudsman service had nailed it. They hadn’t. And it wasn’t as though all smaller businesses, and the less experienced businesses wrote the not-so-brilliant final response letters. 

So, how can it be that there is such a variation in terms of the final response letter and the results it gets then Sarah? For me, it very much comes down to a number of key things, which can be easily implemented by a business:

  • Clearly set out the complaint, to show you know what it’s about;
  • Set out the relevant points of your investigation by showing your logic and working out;
  • Outline the findings, with logic that can be followed and lay out any redress clearly;
  • Write in clear, plain English, so that the customer can see you know what you’re talking about.

Sounds easy doesn’t it? But here’s the thing, if it was easy all businesses would be doing it. If it was that simple, then the chances are there would be less requirement for the complaint to be referred to the Ombudsman because there has been a breakdown in communication or the customer gets frustrated because that feel they’ve not been listened to.

And that’s why this month we’re talking in detail about final response letters, because businesses can do the best investigation in the world and really nail their outcome, but if they can’t communicate it to the customer, then putting it bluntly they might as well have flipped a coin and saved everyone some time. 

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