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.
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.
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.