Silence Isn’t Always Golden

Author: Sarah Lawrence


There was a time, way back when I was an adjudicator that a sign of a good outcome wasn’t just confined to an acceptance from a customer. It usually included no response at all, and then I’d close the complaint, moving swiftly on to the next one.

This also pre-dated any survey, and so I blissfully went on with the rest of my day/week/life, completely unaware of whether the customer thought the matter had been resolved. It meant I had no idea of what they thought about how I’d reviewed their complaint, whether they thought I was doing a good job or whether, actually, they thought I was totally useless, along with the Ombudsman Service. This would’ve been useful information for both me and my employer, but instead there was silence…

Shouting into the void And that’s where we still find ourselves as an industry, especially when you see the huge disparity between a customer’s perceptions of a resolution of their complaint and a business’*. This particular study referred to businesses feeling that in just over 80% of cases the customer was satisfied with the resolution. But compare that to the actual perceptions and, actually consumers were only satisfied in 8% of resolutions. Whatever way you cut that, it’s an appalling stat. Little wonder then that the customer can often feel as though they’re shouting into the void when it comes to complaining.

And when you couple that with the amount of time it can take to get a resolution, it makes for a genuinely crappy outlook for complaints and resolving things to the point that the customer is happy to buy back into your brand. That means businesses are up against it when it comes to counteracting the poor perceptions of resolutions and a complaints handling system that might not be working to the best of its ability. You’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds very negative, but there are things you can do.

Root Cause Analysis It can seem obvious when we say the best type of complaint, is not to have one in the first place, but that requires a level of Utopian non-reality that frankly no-one is capable of. So, what’s the next best thing then, Sarah? I’m glad you asked, it’s taking the time to get to grips with your Root Cause Analysis so that it can help you spot those issues before they become so systemic and habitual that they’re expected by both customers and staff alike. It’s never a good place to be when you have staff making excuses for something that they know is an issue, but they know there’s no hope of it being fixed.

Here’s the thing though, while the regulator has an expectation of what needs to be included in the Root Cause Analysis, that sets the bar very low and is, well, let’s put this bluntly, for their use not yours. It ticks a box and helps the regulator get an overview on what’s happening out there in the industry. What it doesn’t do though is help you spot your issues and that’s really what you need it to do.

Getting everyone on board I recently talked about a wheel of feedback that you need in your business. So, often we talk about ‘bottom-up’ or ‘top-down’, but neither of these work when it comes to working with your Root Cause Analysis, because, really it needs to be multi-functional and:

  • Enable frontline staff to feed up the line what they’re seeing on the frontline.

  • Enable managers to spot themes and trends that indicate an issue that needs sorting out before it affects more customers. This in turn helps managers  to ensure that staff aren’t bored to tears by having to apologise and resolve a complaint about that issue…again.

  • Engage the board so that they can empower the people on the front line to sort the matter out, to get other departments involved to right the issue (especially if it’s a tech issue), and to see why they should invest time in it.

That’s the key thing, it has to engage so many people and for that reason it really needs to make sure it’s targeted to each group. I mean how many times have we stared at a PowerPoint presentation with loads of pretty graphics and it’s not spoken to us, because it simply isn’t relevant? That’s the key point, it can be ‘data rich’ and ‘information poor’, because as wonderful as it is to have those stats, if they aren’t relevant, what’s the point of collecting it in the first place?

So, making sure it’s needed and relevant is key to making sure that everyone gets on board and can understand why it’s needed.

I get that, but so what? Still not convinced?  Let me cut to the chase then and put it this way – if you do this, you’ll sort out those issues that impact on your customers and prevent yet more people encountering a fixable or avoidable issue. It’ll protect your reputation. It’ll ensure that your business’ values are embedded throughout the business, because frankly getting things sorted should be on everyone’s agenda. And your staff will feel part of something bigger because they can see they’ve made a difference by reporting it up the line and seeing it sorted.   

And, it’s for that reason your Root Cause Analysis represents so much more than just ticking a box. It represents a very real, tangible tool for making sure complaints numbers fall, redress payments fall and customers remain satisfied with your business. Which, all pays dividends, because these are precisely the three things that the FCA wants to start to benchmark when it comes to measuring cultural change**. 

If you get in now and start to put your Root Cause Analysis to work, you’ll be ahead of the curve when it comes to the cultural change the regulator is looking for and you’ll have engaged, happy staff willing to go that extra mile for you. And, even better you keep and retain happy customers, that want to stay engaged with your brand and your products. 

All this from root Cause Analysis? Well, yes and no – if it were that easy everyone would be doing it, but it’s a key part of the process! 

*Source – Huntswood and Henley Business School ‘The complaints outlook 2019. **Source – FCA business plan 2019-20 https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/business-plans/business-plan-2019-20.pdf

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