Tips for resolving client complaints

Posted On Tuesday May 19, 2020

Recent financial market turmoil has created an exceptionally challenging environment for financial firms and their customers. Past market downturns have demonstrated that in such difficult times, consumer complaints increase, placing an additional strain on firm resources. If history is any guide, you may find your firm dealing with unusual and unexpected complaint volumes. The purpose of this resource is to provide you with information to help your firm resolve these complaints as effectively as possible.

Tip #1: Remain open to consumer communications of dissatisfaction
Nobody likes to hear criticism, especially when they are trying to deal with other challenges too, but it is vital that you establish and maintain easily accessible mechanisms for receiving and responding to consumer complaints. Consumers who are dissatisfied will find a way to express their concerns – if not to you, then to their friends, neighbours, media, regulators, etc. If the complaint process is difficult for them, they will become more frustrated and hostile. However, when complaints can be made easily and they are dealt with quickly and appropriately, consumer trust in the firm can increase to higher levels than it was prior to the consumer’s dissatisfaction. Firms that prioritize the handling of consumer complaints are more likely to resolve them faster, preserve client relationships and avoid escalation.

Tip #2: Communicate, communicate, communicate
Clear, open and regular communication is essential when dealing with consumer dissatisfaction. Often, our natural emotional instinct in such situations is to disengage and hope problems settle down on their own, but this is almost always counter-productive. You literally cannot be too communicative with a dissatisfied consumer, so make sure that they know you understand their concerns and are actively responding to them. Check in frequently, even if it’s just to say that your team is still working toward a resolution. Radio silence or challenging, confusing communication only increases consumer frustration and distrust, reducing the likelihood of an effective resolution and increasing the probability of escalating demands.

Tip #3: Avoid hostile engagement at all costs
Consumers often express their dissatisfaction to financial firms in highly emotional, challenging and sometimes personal terms. Sometimes we see files where a firm representative has responded in kind and it is never productive. When dealing with consumer complaints, it is essential that you make every effort to look beyond the hostility to understand the underlying concerns and motivations of the consumer. If the consumer is motivated by shock, anger, fear or desperation, responding with compassion, understanding and openness will be far more effective in moving the dispute towards a satisfactory outcome for both parties.

Tip #4: Be honest and realistic
Separate yourself from the problem. Carefully, look at the file and the facts from the consumer’s perspective. Do they have a valid point? Have errors been made? If so, tackle that problem head on – denial and delay will only lead to increased hostility and escalation. Fair settlement offers save everyone time and money and will help to build respect and trust among your clients as well as your staff. Forthrightness and honesty are disarming to those who are hostile. The more honest and realistic you are, the more likely that your client will also be willing to look at the circumstances from your perspective and the better the chances of reaching a satisfactory resolution for both of you.

Tip #5: Ensure consumer complaints are part of your continuous improvement cycle
There is no better source for compiling information to improve service quality and customer satisfaction than the experiences of those who are least satisfied with your firm. Even where complaints are based on a misunderstanding or are otherwise without merit, they can provide insight into the ways in which your firm’s practices, disclosure or products can be improved. Every complaint should be resolved with a view to understanding how it could have been avoided or its impacts minimized with an intentional mechanism for feeding that information back into your firm’s product and policy development processes.

Tip #6: Invest in your dispute resolution processes
It is easy to view consumer complaints as a cost-center and drain on your firm’s productivity. But poor complaint handling processes will ultimately cost your firm money and clients and can expose you to regulatory intervention. When firms invest in their complaint handling process, they build trust and reputation, retain clients, improve products and processes, and save time and resources in the long run. They are better places to work and better places to do business.

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