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Talking Trading Standards – with Leon Livermore, former head of CTSI

I talk with former CEO of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI). Leon Livermore, in a series of  interviews. In the first one we discuss his work at CTSI.

Leon in his kitchen

What is the CTSI?

Leon Livermore was the CEO of the CTSI, for almost 8 years until March 2021. The CTSI works with the Government, UK and EU Parliamentary institutions, businesses, consumer organisations and other regulatory bodies to maintain and improve customer protection. It is also responsible for reinforcing fair markets and supporting businesses in their legal duties, competitiveness and success.

Businesses need to be aware of/members of the CTSI as it helps them understand their legal obligations and enhances their reputation, profile and performance.

I’ve met him a few times at various events and sort of got on! I say “sort of” because over the years I’ve co-written two research reports on Alternative Dispute Resolution. (ADR) [1]. Both of these were highly critical of the CTSI and CAA, in particular, for their approval and monitoring of ADR schemes.

So I thought it would be interesting to have a chat about his time at CTSI and challenge him on ADR too!

When The Complaining Cow chatted with the former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore

 

The forum meeting Leon refers to in that clip was replicated:

How approval bodies are failing to properly approve and monitor Alternative Dispute Resolution -

 

Pride and enjoyment

But we started with the easy stuff! I asked Leon what achievement he was most proud of and what he had enjoyed the most during his time at CTSI. He was most proud of achieving chartered status, having applied for this a number of times, and having to sort out qualifications and other issues. This status placed the profession on the same footing as others and clearly gives CTSI the mandate from the UK Government (it is awarded by HM the Queen through the privy Council) to speak with authority on all matters of Trading Standards and competence.

He enjoyed the work involved with introducing and implementing the CTST-Approved Codes of Practice.

Leon Livermore ex CTSI CEO talks about his proudest achievements

The challenges of regulation and possible solutions – Challenges born of crisis but soon forgotten

When asked what the biggest challenge was, Leon was highly critical of the Government and the current regulatory system. He spoke of Grenfell and of Whirlpool and said how, at the time of the foot and mouth crisis, money was heavily invested in animal health and welfare which was subsequently reduced because people lose that collective memory for past disasters.

“Take 60-70% out of the regulatory network, no-one notices until it goes wrong.”

It doesn’t make sense to have around 220 individual local Trading Standards services now, he says. That model was designed when everyone shopped locally and they obviously don’t now! There is a disconnect, with Government saying that local Trading Standards should undertake the consumer-facing work but localities not having the funding to carry out that work. Recognising that no-one is going to change the structure of Trading Standards, he calls for accountability at the level of Central Government. Grenfell and Whirlpool brought a focus on safety and a Minister was put in place who could be held to account.

Leon Livermore former CTSI CEO talks with The Complaining Cow about challenges of working in CTSI.

Whirlpool drier recall – more spin than real action?

We discussed our joint contempt for how the Whirlpool situation was left to the local Trading Standards department in Peterborough when it was a national problem. I wrote about Whirlpool a lot on my blog, including a report in 2018 which brought together a number of Freedom of Information Requests and statements from relevant bodies. Whirlpool – The tumble dryer story without the spin. Leon spoke about having to sit “with the bad guys” in a meeting with BEIS (Department for Business, Enterprise, Industrial Strategy (I call them BEIGE!) and having to try and justify the decision made by the local authority, when it should never have been left to them. He also spoke of how CTSI “…called for a full recall ahead of Which? and anyone else” and that this was at the same time as Peterborough Trading Standards department was giving different advice to Whirlpool.

Although there was nothing wrong with the advice they gave, which was their job to do, it just “didn’t pass that mum’s testIt didn’t sit right but it is hard for a local regulator that is exposed to so much risk to follow the letter of the law, he said. He argues that this is when the national regulator needs to come in and say what is in the best interests of consumers and provide the quicker more simple solution

In 2018 the Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) was established on the back of the Whirlpool events. Leon praised the set-up of the Food Standards Agency and their work with local authorities and hopes that the OPSS will work in a similar fashion and so if something similar ever happens again then work will be quicker. But he is concerned that faulty and dangerous machines are still being used. He wants a system that protects people more efficiently but that people’s memories are so short!

Leon Livermore former CTSI CEO discusses the Whirlpool events with Helen Dewdney

Next time in the interview series

Look out for the next episode where Leon and I talk ADR! Having had good debates, arguments and differences of opinion over the years, what does he think now? What will we agree on and what did he think went wrong. Most importantly, how could the ADR scene be improved?

Notes

[1] These reports were:

Ombudsman Omnishambles:  Serious unresolved issues affecting the operation of the ombudsman ADR system in the UK

and

More Ombudsman Omnishambles: The UK ADR landscape 20 months on…

 

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ADR Ombudsman Business Latest News

Complaining customers warm to responsive companies

Every year Ombudsman Services produces its Consumer Action Monitor. It undertakes research with consumers regarding complaints. This year it looked at the impact of Covid 19 on consumer complaining habits during March and September in 2020.

Figures released today (9 March 2021) by Ombudsman Services in its Consumer Action Report 2020 reveal that 83% of respondents agreed that a “Well-handled complaint increases my loyalty to a provider”.

Loyalty and complaint handling

10,149 consumers were asked about complaining to energy and telecom providers but it is likely that this would apply to other companies of all sizes too. Companies would do well to take heed of the findings. With it costing at least 5 times as much to gain a new customer as it does to retain one it is a very ignorant, arrogant, naïve or complacent (or mixture of any of the 4) company that does not pay attention to the value of good customer service.

From the Consumer Action Monitor 2020:

graph

A well-handled complaint is one where the customer has been shown empathy, listened to, understood, treated fairly and given a satisfactory response in a timely manner. But it is widely known that the telecom and energy sectors are the worst for doing any of these things!

During March to September 2020 consumers showed leniency and tolerance to providers, as they complained less than in the preceding year. However, the reasons for this are not fully discussed. For example, it could be that consumers were under stress in other areas and that complaining about a provider was taking a back seat.

Understanding of Alternative Dispute Resolution when needing to complain

There is a huge lack of consumer understanding about Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Only 3% of consumers knew that providers had 8 weeks to resolve a complaint before it could be escalated to an ADR provider, such as an Ombudsman.

The CAM research asked consumers how long they thought companies had to resolve a complaint:

The number of respondents knowing exactly where to take a complaint was a shockingly low 25%. The lack of awareness of ADR and what is does was quite apparent.

Dispute Resolution: What it all means.

The CAM report asked consumers:

It was quite clear that consumers do not know or fully understand the time scales relating to complaints. A huge amount of work needs to be undertaken to raise the understanding of ADR for consumers. The reports Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles outlined some problems with the ADR sector in the approval and monitoring of ADR providers and how the current and growing landscape is making things more confusing for consumers.

Vulnerable customers and complaining

The CAM report identified that during 2019 70% of vulnerable customers said that they would rather “suffer in silence” than complain. However, in 2020 this figure dropped. The number of those people identifying as vulnerable also decreased. The report suggests that this may be because of the support measures put in place during the pandemic. Whether these figures change once the support is removed will be interesting to see. I, for one, certainly don’t believe that it is because providers have upped their game and done the right thing in helping vulnerable customers. My 79-year-old mother was told by Sky that “no”, an engineer could not fit her new router and she should get someone to help. Bearing in mind that this was during lockdown, someone coming into the house would actually be breaching guidelines, whereas an engineer would not. Sky was clearly not supporting vulnerable customers in this case.

Green issues

Consumers showed a keen interest in green credentials and used relevant information when deciding a provider with which to contract. 65% of respondents said it was important for their energy provider to have good green credentials and 56% for telecoms. 44% of consumers said that energy and telecom providers must take green issues more seriously. There is, of course, much work to be done to ensure that the information is accurate in this area too.

The future for telecom and energy providers’ customer service

It remains to be seen if complaints from consumers will start to increase as we get through to the end of the pandemic. There could be a lot of movement in the sector as people become less tolerant or expect better deals and more redress in return for their tolerance. Certainly companies have a long way to go in improving service quality, especially for vulnerable customers. Expectations are likely to rise and providers are unlikely to improve quality in line. So, there should be more input from the regulators OFCOM and OFGEM to ensure that they do more to assist customers, especially those who are vulnerable. Consumers clearly expect resolutions to be quicker, therefore regulatory and approval bodies for ADR providers need to do more to raise standards and shorten these time scales, which were set long before emails were the norm!

It will be interesting to see how the green agenda pans out. Will it continue to grow as a factor in choosing a provider or will consumers make more economic decisions post pandemic?

One thing is for sure, energy and telecom providers need to up their game in customer service!

Further information for consumers

All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers

All you need to know to make a complaint about energy

Cover of How to Complain updated 2019 large cow logo

 

For more help, advice, tips, information and templates buy  How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

The Complaining Cow free support for businesses

Join the Facebook Group Customer Service: Compassion, Care and  Integrity  A private group where you can give and get support, advice and share good practice on how to improve complaint handling.

Free download Customer Service: 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals a few tweaks to your customer service can help you reduce risk to reputation, finances and impact on customers and increase sales.

Customer Service how to turn customers into superfans raving about your products/services

Customer Service: 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals

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