Resolver blog – Can’t complain?

3 min read
July 22, 2020

Have you noticed how hard it is to get hold of some businesses these days?

During lockdown, it’s become increasingly difficult to contact many organisations due to the sheer volume of people seeking help. From holiday firms to supermarkets, customer service emails have been temporarily suspended and call centres have been off the hook.

I was recently invited on to The One Show to talk about the problem of businesses making it harder to get in touch. The reaction was extraordinary – so strong in fact, that the Watchdog team and The One Show have launched a special #cantcomplain campaign.

To highlight the scale of the problem, consider our numbers. Our data shows more than one million people came to Resolver in the first three months of lockdown after trying – and failing – to contact a business directly.

Astoundingly, more than 50 million people tried to find contact details for the top 20 most searched for UK businesses during this period too – and that’s on just one search engine.

Now, as lockdown loosens, the high street is open again and online providers of goods and services are trading once more. Yet countless numbers of people are still struggling to contact businesses – and we’re talking some pretty major brands here.

So what’s the problem?

Before lockdown

In the two years before Covid 19, Resolver had been increasingly warning about organisations making it hard to contact them. We helped around three million people sort out their complaints. Without fail, one of the biggest issues of complaint was customer service.

While it might not be the initial problem that people contact a business about, customer service features in more than two-thirds of the complaints we receive. Within those complaints, the main issues are:

  • Speaking to a human
  • Finding a contact telephone number
  • Being unable to email a complaint in
  • Being made to write a letter to complain
  • ‘Help’ pages that send you in circles but don’t answer questions or provide contact details
  • Forms you have to fill in on the website
  • Email responses that you can’t reply to
  • Call centres that can’t help or transfer/cut you off, and
  • Call centre audibility and accessibility.

The overwhelming impression we’ve found from our users is they feel that businesses are actively trying to make their customers give up on making a complaint by making it too hard to contact them.

Startlingly, the main target for these organisations seems to be email. By removing email addresses, people are limited to making complaints by deeply unpopular online forms or by post.

Email removal and customer relations

Resolver is currently being told by roughly one firm a week that they are considering withdrawing email addresses. This is a huge blow for our users as:

  • Email allows people to express their complaint calmly and in their own terms
  • The complexity of some problems means you can’t adequately cover all the details on a phone conversation
  • Phoned complaints are reliant on the business recording all the details of the problem and acting on them, and
  • You can’t attach documents or pictures by phone or on a chatbot.

Many businesses have introduced online forms, yet these often are limited in scope and result in emailed responses that you can’t, in turn, email back to or appeal a decision. Online forms are basically one-way communication and effectively bring complaints in-house, where businesses can register and respond to them as they choose. They take the service out of ‘customer service’ and allow many businesses to hide the scale of dissatisfaction that may exist.

Meanwhile, chatbots should only be used to accentuate customer service – not as a blocker designed to stop people taking things further. A good chatbot should be able to identify if it can help in a few simple interactions. They can help with standard questions – but they can’t address the emotional complexity that comes from a complaint.

After lockdown

Our greatest concern is the number of businesses that have reduced their customer service teams – or options – to get through lockdown, but who have failed to reactivate phone lines and emails since.

I’ll be launching Resolver’s own ‘Can’t Complain’ campaign in support of The One Show very soon, and  look out for more of our data which will reveal the problems our users are facing when making complaints. But we need your help to keep an eye on businesses. Please use the #cantcomplain hashtag to shop the businesses that aren’t playing ball.

Alex Neill is the CEO of Resolver and a long-standing consumer rights campaigner. 

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