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CMA steps in where the CAA fears to tread

CMA investigates and takes enforcement action

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should be the regulator for air transport in the UK. However, it is increasingly clear that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is doing the CAA’s job for them.

During the course of this year the CMA has taken action against a number of companies which were not giving full refunds where they were owed due to coronavirus cancellations.

This includes: Sykes Cottages and Vacation Rentals in June, Bijou Weddings Group in September and yesterday (15 December) the announcement that following CMA action, LoveHolidays. The company had committed to pay out over £18 million to customers waiting for money back after their holidays were cancelled due to coronavirus.

CAA: A regulator that fails to regulate

In July the CAA reported on its airline refunds review. A number of airlines were found to be hugely failing in their legal duties and they gave commitments to the CAA to resolve the matters. For example, on 3 July, Ryanair published a set of commitments on its website about timescales for processing cash refunds.

Ryanair confirmed that 90% of its backlog would be cleared by the end of July 2020 with all refund claims made in April to be processed by 15 July and most of the claims made in May to be refunded by the end of July. This statement has not been updated and just a quick glance on Twitter and in Facebook groups dedicated to Ryanair complaints shows that Ryanair customers are still waiting for refunds.Ryanair aeroplane in sky Dean Dunham AviationADR CEDR

Commenting on the review, Richard Moriarty, CAA Chief Executive said: “The airlines we have reviewed have responded by significantly enhancing their performance, reducing their backlogs, and improving their processing speeds in the interests of consumers.

“There is still work to do. We have required commitments from airlines as they continue the job of paying customer refunds. Should any airline fall short of the commitments they have made, we will not hesitate to take any further action where required.”

However, the CAA has failed to take any further action, appearing to believe that no further action is required.

CAA defers but the CMA brings action

It would appear that the CMA disagrees. Today, 16 December, the CMA announced that it was investigating whether airlines have breached consumers’ legal rights by failing to offer cash refunds for flights they could not lawfully take.

The CMA says “The investigation will consider situations where airlines continued to operate flights despite people being unable lawfully to travel for non-essential purposes in the UK or abroad, for example during the second lockdown in England in November.”

The CMA is aware that, in some cases where flights were not cancelled, customers were not offered refunds, even though they could not lawfully travel. Instead, many were offered the option to rebook or to receive a voucher.

How the CMA will work with the CAA

The CMA says that it will be working closely with the UK Civil Aviation Authority as it progresses its investigation.  Its press release continues:

“While the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) leads on consumer protection in the airline sector, the CMA has undertaken extensive action in connection with cancellations and refunds during the pandemic and is well placed to support the CAA on these issues. The CMA and the CAA continue to work closely and share the same enforcement powers to tackle breaches of consumer protection law.

The CMA will now be writing to a number of airlines requiring information to understand more about their approaches to refunds for consumers prevented from flying by lockdown.

Following a careful analysis of this evidence, the CMA then will decide whether to launch enforcement action against individual airlines.”

CMA forced to act on airlines failures

It is quite clear that the CMA has had to step in and walk where the CAA fails to tread.

Paul Smith, Group Director of Consumers and Markets at the CAA, said :

“It is right that consumer rights are upheld throughout this period and we welcome this investigation from the CMA, which follows our review into airline refunds earlier this year. The CMA has been leading on a broad range of issues arising during the coronavirus pandemic and we will continue to work closely with the CMA in support of this investigation.”

This defensive stance from the CAA makes the regulator appear ridiculous. As the CMA states, it has the same enforcement powers as the CAA. But the CAA has done nothing to enforce anything since their review earlier this year. Airlines continue to flout the law and the CAA appears to have done nothing to ensure that airlines have kept to their June commitments.

CAA compared with other regulators

No other regulatory body needs another organisation to step in to support their enforcement work. The other regulators, such as Ofgem (Energy), Ofcom (Telecoms) or the Office of Rail and Road (Transport) are able to enforce the law themselves.

Future for the CAA and ADR

So, why does the CAA need help? Because it is ineffective and unwilling to take on the airlines face to face. Has CMA simply had enough of watching this farce unfold?

Hopefully this action by the CMA will shame the CAA into taking further action by itself.

It is the job of the Civil Aviation Authority to investigate airlines but it has continued to take no action. The CAA has told me in the past:

“Should any airline fall short of the commitments they have made, we will not hesitate to take any further action where required.”

However, time and time again it has not done so. The CAA has shown itself to be not fit for purpose. Instead it is finding in favour of airlines and continuing to allow them to behave illegally. The CAA has shown itself to be not fit for purpose. The CAA needs to use its enforcement powers to revoke airline operating licenses where airlines do not comply with the law.

Aeroplane in sky with clouds AviationADR Dean Dunham, CEDR, CAA

Further information:

A new Chairman started at the CAA on 1 August 2020. But unfortunately the new chair, Sir Stephen Hillier, has been ineffective in tackling airlines that are continuing to break the law on consumer refunds.

CAA launches consultation and tells no-one… launched a consultation on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) but didn’t tell any stakeholders, as Which? calls for a single Ombudsman in the sector.

Report cover Dean Dunham, CDRL, CTSI, CAA, OA,

Crowds of people with report covering OA, CTSI, CA, CDRL, Dean Dunham & others

More Ombudsman Omnishambles report which looked at approval and monitoring of ADR schemes and followed Ombudsman Omnishambles which looks at the failings of regulatory bodies, including the CAA.

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

Ryanair tops CAA refund complaints

Getting help for Coronavirus cancellation claims and shopping help and advice for getting refunds and redress

 

 

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Business Good customer service social media

10 Top tips for avoiding complaints and managing them

The Complaining Cow’s Ten Top Tips for the Complained Against!

Search well and you can find lots of help in improving your customer service, complaint handling and customer experience, sales etc. But perhaps it’s time you looked at what a seasoned complainer gets most annoyed about, the annoyances you don’t know about and the people you don’t reach when gaining feedback and then what you can do about it?! Perhaps a customer is best placed to advise you on how to improve the customer experience and show who you are missing when you gain feedback and how you can improve your sales.

1) Dealing with customers on the telephone

If someone rings to complain then they may well be irate and/or rude. I advise people never to ‘phone, only to write, unless absolutely necessary. This is because it is easy to get really angry, forget your points and be rude. You have the right not to deal with someone if they are being rude. I say this as an experienced complainer. Try to calm the caller down but be assertive. Recognise that they have a problem they wish to discuss but state that you will only listen if they please calm down so that you can help. You cannot help until the emotion has been dealt with. Staff should always be polite and apologise where necessary. You win people round that way. But it must be genuine, we can all tell when it’s just being said to shut us up!

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.

2) Empower your staff

Nothing frustrates the complainer more than having to repeat their complaint. Train your staff well. Ensure that they are equipped with the right knowledge and tools to deal with complaints both at face to face contact with customers and in the Customer Service department.

If your staff are working face to face train them to gauge when someone wants to talk and when they don’t. Absolute pet hate of many customers! Think about which staff will use their initiative and when they should be encouraged to do so. Also what they will do with “Rules”.

Where are your customer service skills? How do you improve them?

 

“Have a nice Day” NO thank you

So often my complaints have been about staff not knowing the answer or giving misinformation. Obviously at times you will have new staff! Make sure that there are always more knowledgeable people easily to hand. This is a common problem!

The best quality you can ever look for when recruiting is common sense! Everything else comes from good training and looking after your staff well. Looked after staff look after customers.

3) Always ask for clarity/more information so that it is easier to resolve the problem

Having written countless complaints for lots of people where they have previously failed to gain redress, I have seen time and time again that people have not given enough information – it’s badly written or things just aren’t clear. Don’t deal with a complaint as quickly as possible. Go back and ask for more information and/or clarity if necessary. It could well be that there is some really useful feedback for you if you are open and prepared to find out more.

Often companies try and deal with the initial complaint and make more problems for themselves because they have assumed something incorrectly. If in doubt, ask a colleague then ask the customer, never ever assume. You’ll see examples of how this piece of advice should have been followed in some of my more protracted complaints!

4) Social media

Twitter and other Social media streams may be good to communicate with customers but give the staff the tools to be able to do the job properly. Good training and good management support with efficient and effective systems and processes to follow and test them. I’ve used Twitter to try and resolve a complaint and the staff tweeting didn’t investigate properly and made the matter worse.

Remember the power of social media. Even ignoring one tweet can lose you business.

Why CEOs should have a presence on social media

5) Improve your internal and external communication

You’ll see throughout my consumer blog posts, that one big common factor when making the biggest and/or longest complaints is the poor communication between departments. So often, once the CEO’s office has been contacted it is found that one department didn’t pass on a piece of information to another. Set up adequate systems and test them appropriately.

Identify, explore and reduce the risks associated with your correspondence with vulnerable customers

Calling all CEOs: please read emails from your customers and learn about your own business

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.

6) Set up meaningful log systems

Log your letters, phone calls and emails regarding complaints. Ensure adequate records and systems are kept of categories of complaints so that you can monitor and improve on all areas including those you didn’t know about! Keep records of which ones you have had to pay out the most/frequency/amount. Keep records of how the complaint came in, whether it was escalated with sections for why etc. as this in itself gives rise to another complaint. You will be able to see what types of complaints are fewest but costing you the most and the complaints which are the most frequent so that you can address appropriately. Ensure your system is filled out with every complaint that comes in. Set up regular predetermined dates to address each category and revisit for patterns/changes. Obviously you will need to keep records of what has been done to address issues to date. You will need to have very large systems if you have several stores of course!

7) Feedback tools warnings

Don’t use gimmicks for gaining feedback. Utterly pointless. One store I sometimes shop in has put in one of those interactive screens where you tap on the answer. Some people will just keep pressing a negative button skewing your figures and children just press it to get the sounds. It’s also insulting to your customers. You can’t possibly use that feedback and we know it.

You can use Mystery Shoppers but be aware of the many limitations. The Complaining Cow is a Mystery Shopper! I registered with many years ago but I did very little, mainly because the pay is poor and I was only doing it for a bit of fun and pocket money! But I can tell you that very few test their shoppers before they go out on assignments and anyone can apply with any standard of education. I’m sure Mystery Shopping companies will tell you that anyone can apply but not everyone is accepted! This may be true but the rates for jobs do not equate to anything near even a low level manager’s salary so you’ll see my point. Also, what’s the point of sending someone to buy a pot of margarine and take it back? It’s not real. Use a real scenario, the real family shop. What’s the point of asking a Mystery Shopper to undertake a flight when what you really want to see is what a family who really fly with you thinks? It’s the same with meals and take-aways. The differences in experience are vast. There are numerous ways of doing this!  See The Complaining Cow Confidential, Tailored Mystery Shops.

When you are using feedback forms, complaint letters/phone calls/emails you are actually only reaching a limited type of customer. Think about it. People who are prone to wanting to give their opinions are like me! How are you are going to reach the people who aren’t assertive, don’t give their opinions willingly etc? These people’s views are just as important and, dare I say it, possibly more important than mine! That’s because these are the people who will not use your store again and will not tell you why. You don’t know what you don’t know! A friend of mine often tells me to hold back if I don’t like something in a shop. She is non confrontational and too lazy or doesn’t have the time to write a letter of complaint or write with suggestions on any feedback forms! However, she does walk out of shops, they DO lose her custom but they don’t know who they lost or why. For example, Marks and Spencer haven’t been doing too well lately. One of the things they may have done to address this is pack more clothes in. Perhaps an “Expert” told them that they needed to put more “stuff” in the stores to sell more. No-one asked the customers though did they? My friend who used to regularly spend hundreds of pounds in M & S now hates shopping there. Why? You used to be able to see through and over rails and move about easily. Now, it’s common to barge into people looking at the next rail and you can’t see where you need to go if in a rush. Twice we have left early because the place annoyed us and the last time we heard a mother say to her daughter “Let’s get out of this place it’s too crowded.” So, they lost 3 customers in as many minutes. Do you think the powers that be in Marks and Spencer know?

Remember, if you ask a customer if their expectations were exceeded and they say “yes” that they might have had a really bad experience before so anything is better! Choose your questions carefully to get you the information need not the information you want to hear.

8) Gain feedback creatively

Look for creative ways of getting feedback, even risky ways. Just because you use feedback forms, Twitter, Facebook and direct feedback through complaints etc. doesn’t mean that you are getting the most useful or best information. Yes use tried and tested methods but if you want to gain over your competitors why not do something different? Try inviting a group of people who have recently complained about your service to tell you what they think of your store/service/organisation! This will be risky, you are going to meet/deal with people who used up your time and annoyed you and you may get given a mile long list but these are the people who complain, these are the people who have no problem telling you how you could improve, these are the voices of the people who use you. Surely you need to hear them? Ask someone from outside your organisation to facilitate the session to ensure that you really get the information you need.

Guide customers with humour!

I haven’t seen children and young people mentioned on any customer service website or advice website! Are you a family friendly organisation? Ask the children and young people! They generally don’t write letters of complaint (although mine is encouraged to and he’s only 4years old!) they don’t tend to fill out feedback forms and younger ones aren’t using Social Media. But again, their views are important, they are aiding their parents/carers in deciding where to shop etc. Is that another untapped resource that you have been ignoring in gaining your feedback? How are you going to get their views? Creatively! (Not using your existing staff because different skills are needed. You wouldn’t ask your customer care team to undertake youth or playwork would you?!) How you do this needs to be planned carefully and appropriately, with due care and attention to legal issues, experience and knowledge of the people undertaking this work for you.

Know Your Customer

9) Reward customers for their feedback

Reward your customers for their feedback. You are doing that when you send goodwill gestures to those who complain to you. (So you should, as they have taken the time and trouble to bring the matter to your attention and if you use the feedback well it will save you far more in the long run). You pay your senior managers a high wage and you may even pay for consultants but the best people to tell you how you can improve are your customers so reward them for telling you and they will remain loyal.

Remember the general adage “Happy customers tell 3 of their friends, unhappy ones tell 10”. However, with the development of Review sites, Internet Forums and Social Media the figures are now much bigger!!! How far you go in making amends can make a huge difference. If you remain unconvinced read my Blog! How many people am I telling about service?!

10) Thank your customers!

Always respond to customers. Thank them for their feedback. It doesn’t matter how big or small your organisation, that customer, however frustrating/persistent s/he may have been, could have given you the best piece of information to improve your sales! It could have been the one thing that numerous customers are annoyed about. There are many ways you can and should do this too!!

A little positive thinking about complaints and feedback can improve your customer service and sales enormously and if you need more help with creativity and a different angle look here!

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.

The Complaining Cow logo, complaints, consultancy, speaker, workshops and more

Bonus tip!

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Look to become a member of an Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme. 5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted. Being a member of a scheme can be really beneficial to businesses and it gives consumers faith that there is support if something goes wrong with a purchase. There are some issues with choosing the right scheme Ombudsman systems needs urgent shake-up, says Parliamentary Group  and see Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles. These reports look at the approval and ongoing monitoring of ADR providers which will help you choose an appropriate one.

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

The Complaining Cow Services

To see how The Complaining Cow can help you improve your customer service see Services.