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Firms must learn from complaints, not dismiss them

FSA’s data focussed on top managers with the accusation that many of them do not take complaints seriously

bob
BOB YOUNG MANAGING DIRECTOR CAPITAL HOME LOANS

Last month the Financial Service Authority revealed its latest complaint figures by sector and also for individual lenders in the mortgage market.

The unsurprising news is that the first six months of this year showed a considerable increase in the number of complaints about mortgage business over the second half of 2009.

Mortgage complaints totalled 22,662 for the first half of 2010 compared with 12,232 in the second half of 2009.

It is important to realise that not all the 22,662 complaints would have been upheld. It has been widely reported that generally the bigger banks have more complaints upheld than others.

But there will be a variety of reasons for the increase in complaints, perhaps greater knowledge about the complaints process and the not insignificant fact that during harsh economic times, complaints about the biggest monthly debt consumers have are always likely to rise.

We want a system that allows consumers to complain when it is justified but I am not sure the Financial Ombudsman Service should be offering an iPad to consumers who issue a complaint on a specific National Complaints Day, as it did recently.

This undermines the process and seems to suggest it is okay for consumers to take a punt on complaining when there could be no material reason for doing so.

Complaints should be taken seriously by all, not reduced to a ’take a chance, win a prize’ mentality.

Going back to the FSA’s complaints data, we were intrigued to see the significant number of complaints some of our non-bank lender competitors had accumulated over the six months.

For example, Mortgage Express received 1,125 complaints, SPML 632, Preferred Mortgages 585 and Kensington 557.

In the spirit of transparency, let me reveal that over the first half of this year CHL Mortgages received 44 complaints.

What is interesting is the focus on senior management and the accusation that many top managers do not take complaints seriously and that this dismissive attitude filters down the chain to those who interact with customers and are supposed to deal with complaints.

In our business, all complaints are highlighted, discussed and worked on by our senior team. If we are not aware of them, how can we change and develop our procedures to ensure we do not receive a similar complaint in the future and that the complaints are handled sensitively and competently?

Taking ownership is a phrase that is often bandied about in management circles but it is certainly important when dealing with complaints.
The first point is to ensure they are dealt with properly but the second point is perhaps even more important – to ensure that the business learns from its complaints.

No-one wishes to receive them, but they are a fact of life. The dumb response is not to take them seriously and not implement any changes after getting them.

Let’s hope the new FSA proposals on complaint handling will go some way to ensure a higher standard when mortgage businesses deal with complaints in the future.

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