How has COVID-19 impacted consumer complaints?

What is the effect of COVID-19 on consumer complaints?

Every year Ombudsman Services conducts a survey on how consumers are complaining for its Consumer Action Monitor report. Having surveyed more than 6,000 people this year it found that the average number of complaints per person fell sharply from 3.7 in the period pre lockdown to only 0.95 in May, the lowest figure in the 7 years history of undertaking the survey.graph showing decrease in complaints per person


Ombudsman Services Covid19 stops complaining in its tracks

Were consumers more tolerant during lockdown?

It seems consumers were more tolerant when things went wrong during the lockdown period, potentially giving businesses some slack. 24% of those surveyed said that they did not complain at all during lockdown, as they were more lenient. 41% said that they had become more tolerant of poor service and 10% say that they were less tolerant.

However, it does not take into account that fewer transactions were taking place, so there would be less to complain about perhaps? (Airlines aside!)

Although 24% said that they did not complain due to their increased tolerance, unreported complaints to potentially culpable product or service suppliers only went up 3% from 62% to 65%. One has to wonder if some people just wanted to appear more tolerant?

The number of consumer reporting negative feelings about a complaint also dropped significantly.

Graph showing percentage of people showing negative feelings pre Covid and duringgraph showing the drop in negative feelings about companies

Complaints in the near future

Businesses should take note, however, as 16% of consumers said that they intended to pick up the complaint once life becomes nearer “normal”. Reasons for this could be two fold. It is probable that they are more concerned about other pressures that Covid has brought them and once these subside they will pick up the complaint. It’s just lower down the list at the moment.

But businesses are being warned to expect an increase in complaints as lockdown restrictions ease, with one in six people (16%) intending to pick up a complaint once life becomes more ‘normal’.

COVID-19 impact ‘varied’

The July 2020 Institute of Customer Service Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) states that the impact of COVID-19 has varied across sectors and organisations. Customer satisfaction with Public Services, especially Local Services, has improved, whereas the Tourism and Insurance sectors appear to have been adversely impacted.

People will certainly have other things on their minds rather than complaining. However, at some point they will still need to get that refund. Whilst they may be more willing to wait they certainly aren’t going to allow themselves to be out of pocket. It could be that we see a sharp increase in complaints over the next few months or a steady increase at the very least. And, where consumers have been tolerant, if they have given a company time then they are likely to become more frustrated if a company then doesn’t deal with their issue swiftly.

We are likely to see complaint trends return to pre Covid rates and businesses need to ensure that they invest in customer service and complaint handling in order to provide both loyal and newer customers with excellent service. This will build reputation and retention and ensure that their business is in a good shape to survive and thrive.


3 More habits of an effective complainer

Techniques to improve your complaining skills!

If you are not used to complaining, don’t like complaining, get fobbed off easily, but don’t like being out of pocket there are things you can do to help you improve your technique.

101 Habits if an Effective complainer book cover with logo


See  101 Habits of an Effective Complainer and for detailed help of laws, template letters information and advice get How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!





But in the meantime here are three more tips:

shapes border how to improve your complaining habits

1) Believe complaining effectively is not negative

Many people will say that complaining is negative, brings down your mood etc. This can be the case, when you are not effective. Do something about the complaint. That is being positive, moaning can be damaging and bring you and others down. Saying “I complained and I got my refund/repair/redress…” etc. is a very positive statement which can encourage others to complain effectively and get results.

Complaining is good for your health! When I wrote an article about this on LinkedIn years ago there wasn’t anyone who disagreed! Peter, who provides leadership coaching and mentoring, said “Complaining is NOT negative – if that’s not a double negative !! 🙂 but some people exploit that perception in order to make you feel bad about raising concerns etc. Great businesses see complaints as a way of raising their game. Bad ones shoot the messengers, in general.”

2) Point out helpful feedback

If appropriate to the situation, point out to the company to which you are complaining that you hope that your feedback has been useful to them in developing their customer service. This demonstrates that you are looking to continue shopping with them if they handle the matter well.

Gavin Patterson was CEO of the BT Group from September 2013 until February 2019. He spent an hour each day responding personally to customer emails. See Calling all CEOs: please read emails from your customers and learn about your own business.

He believes that customer feedback is the single most important category of information coming into the business.

3) Don’t be opportunistic

Effective complainers are not about seeing a complaint every time they go into a shop or receive a service. It is simply about complaining when things genuinely go wrong.

Remember The Complainers documentary on Channel 4 in 2014? The Complainers Giving Complainers a Bad Name?

There were examples of people who complained just for the sake of it who went on and on and on at the same people for trivial things and they made themselves look very silly! As The Daily Telegraph put it “the difference between a valid complaint and a cathartic lashing-out was one of several distinctions largely ignored by The Complainers.”


Cover of How to Complain updated 2019 large cow logo


For lots of help, consumer laws, advice and  templates GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!