Alex’s blog: did we learn any lessons the second lockdown around?

5 min read
December 22, 2020

Despite most of us still living under incredibly tight restrictions, 2 December spelled the official end of another 28 days of the nation being confined to our homes. ‘Lockdown 2’ may have seemed more swift than the first at almost a third of the length, but what did it mean for the treatment of consumers, and did organisations learn from having to move into action the first time around?

Firstly, complaint volumes were down compared to the first 28 days of lockdown one in March. This is perhaps not surprising since those sectors in which we saw complaints rocket at the start of the pandemic here in the UK may not have been as utilised – such as travel. But digging into the data further showed me that there were stories to be told than simply ‘complaints are down’.

Our consistently most complained about sector throughout the year – shops – actually saw complaints drop by 15% in the second lockdown. This slightly masks that they had almost four times the number of complaints as the next highest (finance, if you were wondering). But it may indicate that some of the issues we saw at the start of the pandemic around refunds and returns in particular are starting to become easier to be dealt with, or that given this total will include supermarkets, customers are more sympathetic to the issues that surround increased demand and having to act quickly.

However, other sectors or services gave me much less optimism that things are working out better for consumers the ‘second time around’.

Airlines are not playing fair – confirmed

The service with the largest rise in complaints during the second lockdown was airlines – staggeringly climbing by more than 4000%. This, given my observations over how airlines have treated customers during lockdown two didn’t shock me, but I remain appalled at the fact that more than 8 in 10 of these complaints related to charges and cancellation issues – especially given that across all our complaints data, these issues actually fell by almost 80%.

We are aware that flight cancellations during lockdown seemed to be more ‘pick and choose’ than a blanket policy for those that were simply not allowed to travel, and on the flipside we are more than aware of what the travel industry has had to endure during the pandemic. But our data provides further evidence to me that airlines in particular have not learned that their customers’ loyalty will undoubtedly be damaged by putting them in an untenable position – at a time when that loyalty is needed more than ever. 

We can see this is compounded in a significant downturn in how customers were feeling at the end of their complaints to the travel sector compared to the start of it. Whereas other services actually saw this increase when compared to those that complained during lockdown one (meaning that customers were happier at the end than at the start), it would seem that travel (and particularly airlines given the volume during this second period) are falling woefully short of resolving issues satisfactorily.

Customer service issues were common 

Some sectors saw a rise in customer-service related complaints during the second lockdown – which both surprised and disappointed me. I’d have been hoping for an uptick in customer service during a second lockdown, given potential lessons learnt first time around and the fact that systems and procedures that had to be altered very suddenly are now well-established.

Increased complaints towards energy companies may seem predictable given the time of year – but increased customer service-related complaints are to me a sadder state of affairs. At a time when everyone is trying to navigate almost a year at home, and in the spirit of being kind, you would have thought providers of one of the most essential services to consumers right now would mean that these companies would up their game. 

Across all sectors however, we are aware of businesses still not having returned to their full customer service operations nine months after the pandemic became real in the UK – which we remain wholeheartedly against. There is simply no excuse for avoiding or delaying responses to customers now – and as I have repeatedly said, if a company is willing – in fact encouraging customers to buy its products or services, it should be at least able to ensure its customers can communicate and yes – complain – if they need an issue put right. 

Package deliveries remain a consistent source of complaint

Looking at the overall picture of the year in Covid-19, despite reducing in volume in the period between the two national lockdowns, delivery issues are climbing once again. 

Resolver has often highlighted the pressures that delivery drivers are likely feeling, with significantly increased demand and high targets imposed on them among the issues. But that’s no excuse for orders not turning up at all, late arrivals (particularly if you’ve paid to have that item arrive more quickly) or parcels being left in places where they can be stolen or damaged – in fact the latter is very much ‘treat others as you would like yourself to be treated’ in my book. I remain concerned that with the latest news surrounding Christmas plans, these types of complaints are only going to rise in the weeks ahead. 

Customer satisfaction not to the levels we’d like

It’s true that since the start of lockdown our users’ satisfaction with how their complaint has been handled has edged up on average in many areas. But when you consider that the bases for these were very low at the start this isn’t something to celebrate. 

Our data is telling us that while there have been some improvements over the course of the pandemic, the treatment of customers still has some way to go. I’m clear that delighting consumers rather than merely being passable is a key determinant of success, but right now I am merely asking businesses to play fair. There’s still a long way to go during this pandemic and with winter ahead, I suspect that a number of the issues we have seen over the past nine months will not abate. This in itself doesn’t mean a sector is a bad performer in customer service, but if our data is anything to go by, I’d certainly like to see more examples of fair and reasonable treatment for the people who are potentially keeping many of these services afloat. 

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