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Why customer complaint numbers remain at record levels in 2021


When the pandemic first hit, service tickets soared, telephone queues became common and there was a huge backlash towards customer service and support teams. So why are customer complaints still so high?

21st May 2021
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The last 15 months have been a major challenge for complaint handling teams, especially in specific sectors such as finance and travel.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, as we revealed, the week of 15 to 22 March 2020 saw a 20% jump in the number of service tickets being issued compared with the same period last year.

And research from Chattermill highlighted a huge negative backlash towards customer service and support teams in the travel sector, in particular, as a result of swathes of holiday travel being cancelled due to COVID-19.

But what does the complaint landscape look like now? A new research study from Resolver has found that consumers have significantly shifted their focus of complaint from that of the pre-COVID era.

Resolver’s Annual Complaints Data 2020/21 report incorporated data on over 100 of the most complained-about products and sectors in the UK, leaning on 900,000 complaints made during the pandemic period so far.

It found that online shopping, delivery, travel and takeaways bore the brunt of the majority of complaints made during 2020 and 2021.  

Online shopping dominated, with 267,141 complaints out of the 900,000 representing a 138% on the previous year. And despite high street shops being closed for long stretches of 2020 and 2021, complaints only dipped by 8% - to 65,501 cases.

Unsurprisingly, package delivery complaints were the second most complained about, with 91,906 complaints made specifically about the delivery firms. A further 111,150 complaints about deliveries were made against online retailers themselves.

Complaints specifically about the travel and holiday industry topped 110,000, whilst more than 70,000 complaints were made about banking and financial services companies.

Complaints about takeaways increased by 42% as the UK switched its eating habits during lockdowns.

Pushing staff to the edge

A consequence of the ongoing consumer backlash is that the customer service sector is beginning to show signs of burnout and attrition.

A recent survey commissioned by Enghouse Interactive states 91% of contact centre professionals say that they are likely to leave their in 2021 - a very worry statistic.

48% of these staff report stress or emotional burnout, while 66% of contact centre staff say that have not received remote training/advice on health and wellbeing in the home workplace since working remotely.

60% say their organisation has not put any new training or policies in place to improve mental resilience for new recruits since March 2020.

The onus is on organisations to improve both the employee and customer experience, as countries slowly ease out of the most severe side of the pandemic and new ways of working and consuming are established.

“The pandemic has changed life for everyone and its impact on our behaviour, how we live and how we engage with services is here to stay,” says Resolver’s Chief Executive, Alex Neill.

“Given the upheaval, it’s extraordinary that complaints remain at record levels - and it’s worrying that the things people sought help with have transformed too, involving increasingly serious issues.

“Looking back over the last year, we can see that people showed remarkable patience and restraint when faced with the challenges of lockdown. Only immediate problems like refunds for holidays and flights drove the initial surge in complaints. But as the year wore on, we saw patience turn to frustration across numerous sectors. Hundreds of thousands of people began to struggle as some businesses stopped playing by the rules and started making it much harder to contact them to complain.”

Even the sectors that have seen complaint numbers plummet have done so as a result of great expense to their businesses.

Airports, for instance, saw complaint levels drop dramatically over the last 15 months, but only as a result of aviation travel become near extinct for the majority of 2020 and 2021.

Estate agents were also complaint about significantly less in the last 15 months, however Resolver’s research states the industry can “expect a big leap this year as the market heats up”.



Replies (2)

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By LinkedIn Group Member
21st May 2021 11:09

This comment posted in the MyCustomer LinkedIn group by member Gary Segal:

Some customers are accustomed to complaining. The pandemic made people even more frustrated especially in the first part of the pandemic when everyone had to stay indoors - caused great frustration.

This caused people to complain more. And customer services will be under great pressure still for some time. But I firmly believe that we will curb the complaints at some stage.

How long do you think the complaints will be escalating?

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Replying to LinkedIn Group Member:
By Neil Davey
21st May 2021 11:10

It sounds as if issues with item delivery are responsible for a large proportion of the complaints, so you'd imagine that as in-store shopping becomes more common again that we'll see the complaint numbers begin to drop.

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