When it comes to taking our money, the banks and insurance companies are not slow off the mark.
But when customers have good cause to complain, it can take months of agonising and frustrating inconvenience to get it sorted.
Of all the problems that pass across my desk, anything involving mortgages, credit cards, cars, household insurance or retail finance can be the most time-consuming and intractable.
But an increasing number of people are becoming hacked off at the cavalier and indifferent way they are being treated by the financial institutions when they have cause to complain.
They’ve learned effective complaining strategies and are increasingly resisting being chased from pillar to post.
There are clear guidelines to winning the battle and getting satisfaction. Success often depends not just on the strength of your case, but just how you put it over.
DRAWING THE BATTLE LINES
The key to getting a positive result to a complaint lies in the preparation.
Don’t delay – once you know there’s a problem get your facts together and complain. It’s not easy to talk directly to many bank or insurers these days as they have centralised phone systems. Get into the queue, and be patient.
When you get through, be prepared to summarise your complaint and take the person’s name you are speaking to. Many complaints get off on the wrong foot either because the subject matter is not clear or you are talking to the wrong department or person.
Ask about the company’s complaints procedure, and request a written copy. Don’t let them get away with stalling your complaint Make sure they stick to their published deadlines.
GETTING YOUR COMPLAINT ACROSS
Take the time to follow up your phone call by putting your complaint in writing. It’ll get more attention if you send a letter marked ‘complaint’ rather than just sending an email.
Make sure it contains the basics like account or policy numbers, and your contact details.
Keep your letter to the point, clearly set out what the issues are and the remedy you expect.
Resist the temptation to make unreasonable or inflated demands, as they will only undermine your case.
Keep records. Many providers wriggle out of genuine and serious complaints because their customers keep inadequate records.
Always keep copies of letters and e-mails, make notes of telephone calls, who you speak to and what the outcome was.
Remember it’s always the piece of paper or letter you didn’t keep that frequently turns out to be crucial.
DRIVING YOUR COMPLAINT HOME
You’ll be surprised how many documents go astray in a big organisation. Never send originals, only photocopies.
However strongly you feel about your complaint don’t involve multiple recipients. It’ll just end up at the bottom of all their in-trays.
For peace of mind, the Post Office will provide you with proof of posting certification.
It’s a free service, and you’ll be able to prove that you sent a letter to a recipient on a specific date. Remember for proof of delivery, you’ll need to pay for the certification or registration.
Always be polite and assertive, but not rude. Intimidation and aggression will get you nowhere and is likely to be counterproductive.
Be patient. Rome was not built in a day.
Complex complaints may require detailed investigation across a number of departments, but remember financial institutions are obliged to reply within reasonable timescales. Don’t forget that you need to be readily contactable and available to respond to any reply.
Keep your powder dry before escalating your complaint to external bodies or regulators. If you’re later judged to have been too impatient, it will go against you.
FINANCIAL OMBUDSMAN SERVICE
The last port of call for most financial services complaints. The ombudsman service is free. For initial help with your complaint go to financial-ombudsman.org.uk or call 0800 023 4567.