Complaints Handling 101: Really Understand What the Problem Is

Interview with the Financial Ombudsman's Head of Customer Insight about customer interactions best practice and complaints handling.

Caroline Wells is the Head of Costumer Insight at the Financial Ombudsman Service, the independent body set up by law to investigate and settle complaints between consumers and the financial services industry.

She previously spoke at the Customer Experience Exchange for Financial Services about fairness when dealing with customers and today CX Network caught up with her to discuss new technologies she's implementing to improve customer interactions, and she provides guidance on settling customer complaints, highlighting the importance of truly understanding what the problem at the heart of the complaint is.

Hi Caroline, first of all can you tell us what your role as Head of Costumer Insight at the Financial Ombudsman Service entails?

I look after our strategy of how we survey customers and how we're listening to them with every single interaction that we have. We're not just interested in when someone is not happy and making complaints to us about it or filling out a survey, but it is all those day-to-day interactions we make with our customers that actually provides us with the most useful information.

SEE ALSO: What You Need to Know About Customer Experience in Financial Services

At the moment I am specifically involved with bringing in particular technologies to help us, such as voice and text analytics, which is really interesting. It is going to help us pick up on all those conversations, either over the phone or in writing. And it will really help us pick up on any frustrations that people might be having, or something that is really great. We're really good at picking up on when people aren't very happy, but we're not so good at picking up when people are actually really happy with what has happened to them.

We're interested in picking up all of that in the conversations we have day-to-day; between us and consumers, and us and business customers. And really understanding what it is that they like and don't like, and what they want more out of us.

How is this technology able to analyse the difference between satisfied and unhappy customers?

It depends on how good the supplier of the technology is, but you can have things where you can pick upon certain phrases. So you can teach this programme to listen out for phrases people might say. Or it might listen for a particular pitch. So if somebody starts speaking quite low and slow, as they get more irate they become a little bit more squeaky and a little bit louder - and it can pick up on that.

When are you planning on implementing this new system?

We're hoping September time. At the moment we're doing an awful lot of work around understanding what we can use it for, because it is not just about insight as in what our customers think about the service that we are giving them, but we also want to use it to be able to understand more about the language that people use when they are talking to each other about complaints. This means that we can be much better when looking at articles and advertising as we can use words that people can understand.

Complaints handling is one of your areas of expertise, what are the key steps you believe customer experience leaders should be taking when settling a complaint with a customer?

The first thing is that you need to make sure you really understand what the problem is. So often we see that customers are not very good at articulating what the problem is. In particularly for financial problems this can be quite complicated as there is a lot of jargon. It is really hard for a customer to lay-out, in the kind of language and terms that we might use internally, what the problem is.

And sometimes they don't even know what the problem is, they just know that something doesn't feel right. So we get an attempt from a customer to set out as best as they can what they think the problem is, and sometimes you get a sense where a customer feels like they have to act in a certain way in order to get the results that they want. What you end up with is layers of behaviour and language use which completely masks what the problem is.

If a business doesn't dig underneath that and doesn't really understand what the customer is feeling, and it does come down to feeling a lot of the time, then any investigation you do will be completely off track. It's a really simple thing and a really common problem, we see it all the time.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced yourself in your role at the Financial Ombudsman Service? And how did you manage to overcome these?

The scale of change, and how quickly we change because our customers' expectations are always increasing and changing. And for us one of the challenges has been around not finding out more, because we collect an awful lot of data and I know this is true for other organisations we talk to as well, but more is not best; we need to be better at getting less information but it being more actionable. So, my biggest challenge was tackling this. We had loads and loads of feedback from customers and it was almost too much.

So the challenge was going through the sea of information?

Exactly. Find out what really matters and tackle what really matters to put it right for people. For us it was a wall of sound and we couldn't actually hear what was going on because there was too much of it and we had to scale it back so we could really focus on what was going on.

And how did you scale it back?

Taking a look at when we survey people; what we ask, how much we ask and how much we expected people to be able to reflect back over an entire customer journey, which was almost impossible for them to do. We have broken it down to bite-sized chunks for our customers, so they're in the here and now when they give us feedback. We know exactly what it is about, exactly when it happened, and we know exactly how they feel.