Arma Members Login

Tel +44 (0)20 7978 2607

3rd Floor, 2–4 St George's Road,
Wimbledon, London SW19 4DP

Do complaints add value?

13th December 2016|POSTED BY: Admin

Following on from their entertaining session at the 2016 ARMA Regional Briefings, John Baguley from Ombudsman Services: Property explores this question.

It’s an interesting question and one that’s often met with mixed reaction. Do complaints really add value? Do I really need to try and attempt to achieve resolution? It’s not me that’s unreasonable it’s the customer, surely?

And then we have the fact that ARMA requires membership of an ombudsman scheme (a decision proven to be ahead of its time, given the introduction of mandatory redress for letting and mananging agents was only introduced in 2014). That must also add to the cost, and surely encourages consumers to complain?

All of these thoughts are understandable; receiving a complaint is never a good feeling and dealing with them can be time consuming and costly.

But let’s start closer home, have you ever complained about a product or service? How did the outcome make you feel? Did you feel confident in the abilty of the firm afterwards or did the way it was handled make you feel powerless? Without access to alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as that provided by an ombdusman scheme, many customers in this situation will simply resolve never to use the same company again. ADR can help businesses retain customers by offering an independent and impartial service for redress, helping to restore relationships where they’ve broken down.

In addition to core complaints resolution we also undertake research. The latest is our Consumer Action Monitor (CAM). CAM runs annually and asks a series of questions about complaints and what consumers feel about firms when they make a complaint. The results are interesting:

  • 52% think more highly of a business that handles complaints efficiently
  • 75% would be more likely to return to a company if a complaint they made was handled well; in stark contrast to 8% if a complaint is handled badly
  • 26% would be more likely to buy from a business offering dispute resolution
  • 43% would feel more confident in a company that offered access to a dispute resolution service, such as an ombudsman scheme.

CAM also confirms that consumers are increasingly less willing to accept poor service - a whopping 82%, compared to 67% in 2013.

Love not money

Another interesting statistic is that, for most consumers, simply having their problem fixed is their main goal and fewer people than ever are seeking financial compensation - nearly half would be happy with just an apology. Most customers are reasonable and CAM supports our view that effective complaints handling adds value to a business.

Good complaints handling to put problems right, when they arise, is a really powerful way of maintaining and growing customer satisfaction.

So, what does good complaint handling look like?

Those of you who attended the recent ARMA regional briefings heard us talk about the analogy of the frog. A simple but effective way of demonstrating how small problems can become big problems unless small problems are addressed when they are tadpoles.

Good complaints handling is not about putting up barriers, but a clear, open complaints handling process. Complaints should be acknowledged quickly and all matters addressed. It should not be unduly onerous, and remember, pointless additional levels of investigation often offer little added value and can antagonise the customer further. Complaints handling is not a pick and mix, only answering those parts you feel comfortable about; it’s about addressing all matters, good and bad. And remember, a complaint is:

‘Any expression of dissatisfaction, whether oral or written, and whether justified or not, from or on behalf of an eligible complainant about the provision of, or failure to provide a service.’

Tips for your customer communication:

  • Reply in plain English; avoid jargon and legal speak
  • Keep the customer informed and keep to publicised timescales. If you can’t meet the timescales, communicate this as soon as you can.

Poor communication runs through many complaints we see and often the ombudsman’s investigation explains issues which, had they been explained initially, could have been prevented.

If matters have gone wrong:

  • Acknowledge the mistake
  • Apologise, where appropriate
  • Offer resolution which is proportionate to the complaint.

When there’s an error, address it and put it right. Don’t defend the indefensible; the frog only gets bigger if you do. However, don’t be afraid to defend your cause if it’s right to do so. But if you do, remember to explain fully the reasons why.

Keep your complaints handling process to two-three stages and signpost to the ombudsman if resolution is not achieved.

Referring a complaint to Ombudsman Services: Property

The complaints handling procedure should take into account the fact that a case is only eligible to be brought to us after eight weeks.

Use the deadlock letter where you can. Without a deadlock letter, a complaint is valid for as long as the Statute of Limitation allows. On the other hand, with a deadlock letter, the time a complainant has to refer a complaint is limited to 12 months.

About Ombudsman Services: Property

In the last financial year, April - December 2015, we resolved 680 property complaints.

The most common complaints were:

  • Homebuyer survey / valuation 33%
  • Property management - landlord 14%
  • Residential management agent 8%.

Ombudsman Services: Property is an approved redress provider for the entire property sector. We are professional, we are impartial, and we have a proven track record that clearly shows that we are good for consumers and good for business.

For more information please telephone 0330 440 1634, email or visit our website at