Resolver releases data today on the number of people who made complaints in the last year – and the figures are breathtaking. Over two million complaints were raised by people using our website to get an issue sorted out, as we moved from the last days of PPI to the pandemic.
We get used to hearing big numbers all the time in the media but let that sink in for a moment. Two million complaints. It’s really important to remember that behind the trends and themes, our data represents millions of individual stories, situations and scenarios that have led people to Resolver to seek help.
Our annual data covers more than 100 different products and services covering across the UK economy. The big numbers are fascinating, the increases and decreases alone tell lots of stories about what’s driving people to distraction on a daily basis. I’ll be looking at some of the themes and surprises in my blog later in the week.
Resolver’s annual data covers the last financial year, running right up to the depths of the lockdown in April. Yet many of the issues that affected our lives in 2019/20 seem like distant memories. Remember PPI complaints? Or how concerns about Brexit rocked the economy?
In 2019 we began to see patterns in our data week-on-week. The reduction in complaints in a sector is often related to a decrease in usage of a service. For instance, we can see a decrease in complaints about high street shopping, this reflects the shift in how we buy things and the unprecedented rate of closure of shops. We noticed reductions in rates of complaint about things like restaurants, in line with nationally collated data demonstrating that the nation was tightening its belt and going out less. Elsewhere we could see the impact of underlying financial concerns more starkly with complaints relating to credit products and the payment of bills bubbled up ominously.
Yet there were signs of hope for the economy as it was clear some consumers were still prepared to spend. With travel, online shopping and package delivery complaints hitting record levels. Clearly people across the UK were treating themselves where they could – and that certainly helped the economic outlook.
Flash forward to February and the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic was becoming apparent. Then, almost overnight it seemed, the world changed. We learned about furloughing, social distancing and lockdowns. There was a period of weeks where we saw the nation go into a phase we have termed, ‘survival anxiety’. The enormity of what was happening made people pause and this was reflected in our complaint volumes.
And then in March it was time to take action. Millions of people turned to Government and companies’ helplines, often waiting hours to get through, only for computer systems to fail, and getting the right and clear information and advice became challenging.
This meant Resolver had to fundamentally change and adapt too. We offered free assistance to businesses to help them prioritise their most vulnerable customers and provided customers with the very best way to contact a company during the crisis. We also advised on when it might not be right to contact a company, with so many urgent complaints and businesses struggling to cope with demand, we were determined to play our part responsibly. I believe it was vitally important that everything we said publicly, from our tips on TV to the guides we published, encouraged people to behave responsibly and to compromise where appropriate to support businesses trying to do the right thing.
These challenging times mean that there will inevitably be a dip in some aspects of the service a business can provide, no matter how hard they try. The sheer number of people getting on the phone and going online will overwhelm the existing frameworks set up to help people sort out problems. I believe that the public has been pretty patient, all things considered. But as lockdown has lengthened there has been a clear shift in the public mood – and that’s reflected in the big and sustained rise in complaint volumes over the weeks.
So, as Resolver publishes a look back on a turbulent and unprecedented year, it’s important to remember that our data is as much a social commentary as it is about the lessons businesses need to learn from their customers. And as we re-emerge into a post-lockdown world, there’s a real opportunity to fundamentally change things for the better by understanding what people want and need.