Complaints at record high in UK

Customer service complaints at record high in UK


The latest findings from the Institute of Customer Service act as a stark warning to brands that may have assumed last year's pandemic-related rage represented the peak of consumers' angst towards them.

25th Jan 2022

The Institute of Customer Service (ICS) has published findings from its latest UK Customer Service Index (UKCSI), which states a record 13% of people made a complaint to a company in 2021 in the UK, the highest figure since the survey’s inception in 2008.

The landmark figure coincides with increases in complaint numbers recorded by various industry ombudsman services in the UK in 2021, including housing and financial services, which recorded a 21% and 58% rise respectively, at certain points across last year.  

For the UKCSI, 10,000 people were asked about their experiences with businesses and how they interact with them.

Alongside the complaint rise, 16% of respondents also stated they’d ‘experienced problems with a brand's service in the past six months’.

Numerous issues are affecting customer service levels in the UK, including supply chain delays and goods shortages pertaining to Brexit. The coronavirus pandemic has also seen an increase in frustration and unmet expectations among consumers, both in the UK and around the world.  

Another issue affecting customer service is the rise in agent burnout that has been brought about by the pandemic and the increase in complaint-making. During the lockdown, cases of abuse by customers directed at staff soared, as anxiety and frustration boiled over into verbal – and even in some cases physical – attacks.

Jo Causon, CEO at the Institute of Customer Service, stated: “Although satisfaction with complaint handling and overall satisfaction has improved, we need to address wider service chain issues if we are to improve the nation’s performance and productivity.

“More customers than ever before are willing to pay a premium for quality service. This suggests there is an opportunity to invest in delivering the real value that customers expect and deserve.”

34% of UKCSI respondents said they would be willing to pay more for better service – another record high for the quarterly study. However, numerous businesses have been criticised for pricing changes relating to customer service quality in the past, suggesting the process of delivering on this requirement is far from clear-cut.

Adam French, consumer rights expert at Which? added that many issues highlighted in the UKCSI came down to brands failing to meet customers’ shifting expectations:

“The pandemic has revealed some of the best and worst of customer service. Which?’s research found that 7 in 10 people felt more loyal to a retailer if it had been reliable and accommodating throughout the pandemic.

“With online shopping becoming the norm, consumers should be able to expect the same level of customer service when shopping online as when shopping in a store.

“Any retailers falling short – either online or in store – must up their game to make sure no one is left frustrated or out of pocket due to bad customer service.”

The very nature of customer complaints has shifted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with increases in issues relating to digital services and cancellations replacing many more traditional complaint causes, such as billing and delivery issues. Many businesses continue to undertake rapid digital transformation projects to meet the shifts in demand caused by the pandemic.


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