New consumer complaints service launched

What sort of complainer are you?

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Ombudsman Services, which runs the government-backed complaints schemes for energy and telecoms, is to start handling consumer complaints in any sector.

The new Consumer Ombudsman will give people one place to go if they have a complaint, so long as they have given the company a reasonable amount of time - up to 8 weeks - to resolve the problem.

It's being created in line with a new EU directive that comes into force in October, and which asks all member states to make Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) available across all consumer sectors.

There were 66 million complaints about products and services last year, according to the latest figures from the Consumer Action Monitor - that's one every 1.2 seconds.

But many more people just grin and bear it, with 40 million problems not pursued, mostly because it's 'not worth the hassle'.

Customers also say they find the process of complaining too daunting, and that the legal system is complicated, hard to access and increasingly expensive.

"Our research shows that as a nation we're complaining more than ever before, but that frustratingly we don't always know where to go," says Lewis Shand Smith, chief ombudsman at Ombudsman Services.

"As a result, we've opened our doors to complaints in any sector. This is good for consumers because it will provide swift, independent resolution to a problem without the risk of legal bills and drawn-out court proceedings.

"It's also good for business as having a proper redress system in place means they will build up consumers' trust."

And while you might not think that the British need lessons in how to complain, the Consumer Ombudsman service has some tips.

First, it says, identify what you want to achieve. Don't get emotional, don't be embarrassed and admit your part in the problem if you have any fault.

Address one complaint at a time, and ensure what you say is clear and fair. Keep records of all correspondence, paperwork, bills and receipts, and if asked to send them anywhere make sure you send photocopies and keep originals.

If you don't get anywhere with a direct complaint, work out where to go next. If your complaint hasn't been resolved quickly (normally within eight weeks), you can go to Ombudsman Services for any complaint outside financial services.

Which type of complainer are you? The Ombudsman Services quiz

1. The morning post arrives with a new pair of shoes for you from an online retailer. One is slightly damaged. What do you do?
a) Leave it alone – the damage isn't too bad and returning them by post will be too costly
b) Have a good old moan to your friends on Facebook
c) Contact their customer service department and ask to return the shoes for a full refund

2. On your way to the train station you order and pay for a coffee. It arrives and is only half full. How do you react?
a) Walk away, you don't want to make a scene. Make a mental note not to return to that coffee shop again
b) Turn your back and grumble - then tweet about your shoddy coffee c) Politely point out to the barista that your coffee is not satisfactory and ask for a replacement

3. You jump on the train but the ticket inspector tells you that you have brought the wrong ticket. What do you do?
a) Humbly pay the fine
b) Get off at the next stop and refuse to pay - then rant on social media.
c) Pay the fine and take down the manager's contact details so you can write and complain about unclear ticketing

4. At lunchtime you go out for lunch with a friend and order a salad. It turns up with minimal chicken and a few limp salad leaves. Do you...
a) Eat it anyway as you're hungry
b) Take a picture and share the sloppy service with your friends
c) Complain to the headwaiter and get a free meal

5. When you get home you open a bank statement. It shows you went overdrawn for five days and were excessively fined - all because a payment was taken fraudulently. What do you do?
a) Change your bank
b) Phone your bank and ask the operator to clarify their charges. Name and shame your bank on your social networks
c) Contact customer service, explain the problem and get a refund, compensation and an apology

Mostly As: The meek customer who will generally not complain (Doormat Dave)
These customers tend not to complain, but simply vote with their wallets and move their custom elsewhere. For them, complaining seems like a waste of time and effort because they believe complaining is unlikely to get their problem resolved. These customers have little faith in the system or in their own ability to complain, and may feel that they don't know where and how to complain effectively.

Advice: From fatalist to assertive
You have to complain – some of the time. Good complaining is assertive, and bad complaining is aggressive, while no complaining is just passive. While you may feel complaining is ungracious, you can express your feelings and complain in a respectful way. The most effective complainants are those who have a clear idea of what they want to achieve from their complaint, and who set it out clearly to the person to whom they are complaining. If you want a refund, for a product or service that didn't live up to your expectations, say so. If a refund won't be enough, say that too. If you are simply looking for an apology, then make it clear. This makes your complaint much easier to deal with and also more likely to be resolved to your satisfaction.

Mostly Bs: The social complainer (Wishy Washy Walt)
Social complainers are more concerned with warning their friends, family and social media followers about an offending product or service than about making formal complaints. These customers may also be motivated by frustration and revenge, seeking to right a perceived injustice immediately by spreading negative word of mouth. Social complainers may feel intimidated about complaining directly to an offending company, believing that it's quicker and easier just to 'let off steam' with their friends.

Advice: From social to smart
You should give the company in question the chance to put matters right in the first instance. This means speaking or writing to customer services, outlining exactly why you are complaining and how you want the matter resolving. Try to be concise. Stick to the facts of your case, saying what happened, when it happened and how much money was involved. If the error has left you out of pocket, forced you to make other plans or even affected your health, say so. But do not provide a long-winded story. Make sure you keep written records of those you have spoken to and what was said, as well as times and dates. If the complaint is not resolved to your satisfaction, or you don't think it is being dealt with sufficiently quickly (normally within eight weeks), it is time to take the next step by contacting an organisation like Ombudsman Services.

Mostly Cs: The direct complainer (Switched-on Sunita)
These customers are the most effective and vocal complainers, often taking to social media to make their grievance heard and getting results fast. These people complain the right way – the assertive way – so that what they say is effective, kind and fair. They go about complaining in the right way and fully understand their rights. They always remember to keep a record of all receipts, bills and transactions and to send photocopies if they are asked for. If they don't get resolution directly with the company they know to go to an ombudsman who can help further. They remain calm and do not get aggressive when raising their complaint and use the correct channels to get redress, either it being an apology or financial compensation. These customers are confident, efficient and knowledgeable when it comes to their rights.

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