The Ombudsman’s Corner: 23rd September 2022

At the Legal Ombudsman, we have recently carried out some research to gain a better understanding of the quality and transparency of online complaints information on service providers’ websites. We wanted to understand how easy it is for customers who potentially want to complain to access information on how to do so from service providers’ websites. This month, I am going to share the findings of that research with you, and make a request – to look at your own firm’s online complaints information and ensure it is clear and easy to find.

Our own internal data showed us that, despite regulators bringing in new rules in 2018 which requires service providers to improve the transparency of their complaints handling processes on their websites, this had little impact on the number of customers who brought complaints to us first before complaining to their service provider. We had envisaged that the Transparency Rules would have a big difference in reducing the number of our premature contacts, but this was not the case – they remain at a consistent rate of around a third of all contacts we receive.

Although we recognise that online contact is not the only way that customers raise complaints with their service providers, it is nonetheless one of the most common methods of obtaining this information.

When we looked at the websites of those service providers with the highest volume of early complaints, we found that complaints information was not readily visible or accessible and there was an inconsistent approach to how complaints information was being presented. We therefore commissioned an external research company, to conduct further research on how accessible this information was to customers.

41 users of legal services were asked to take part in a series of online tasks relating to the process of making a complaint and the transparency of complaints information on a sample of service providers’ websites.

What the research found was that people often opted to look for complaint information from the home page or from within the “Contact us” tab initially. Many of the people who participated in our research did so to then find that the information wasn’t there, which often meant that they then had to scroll through multiple menus before finding the information which was further obscured by the assumption that consumers would read “the small print” contained within the footer of a web page.

The research showed that there was a general call from the participants for complaints information to be more prominent on legal service providers’ websites.

The conclusions drawn supported our assumption that premature contacts remained constant despite the Transparency Rules as a consequent of a lack of information or information being difficult to find on service providers’ websites. Our position is always that service providers should welcome complaints and not fear them, as they can be a learning exercise which the service provider can use to improve the service they provide to all their clients.

The benefits of publishing clear online complaints information are proven to be far greater than not publishing them at all; for example, learning from the feedback, and financial benefits too as we find it is far less costly to deal with a complaint appropriately at the first stage than to let it drag out unnecessarily and have the Legal Ombudsman involved.

Our message is therefore to encourage all service providers to review their online complaints information and where necessary increase the transparency of their complaint’s information to help set more positive expectations with consumers. We believe this should also reduce the need for customers to bring their complaint to the Legal Ombudsman and assist firms in resolving matters early, which is great both for the customer and the firm.

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