Consumer activism is on the rise

11 February 2014
LONDON: British consumers are making complaints about products and services at the rate of one every 1.2 seconds but many still hold off doing so in the belief that businesses don't care, a new report has claimed.

Ombudsman Services, a business handling complaints and offering dispute resolution, surveyed 2,023 adults in Great Britain and found that almost a third of Britons (32%) were more likely to complain about poor service now than they were a year ago. Consumer activism is on the rise, it said.

But while its Consumer Action Monitor report revealed there had been 38m customer complaints in 2013, an even larger number – 40m – had gone unaddressed as consumers suffered in silence.

In part this inaction was down to the potential hassle involved as respondents who had thought about complaining but then not acted pointed to the time and effort involved. Cynicism was another factor, as 36% indicated that big businesses were only interested in money and didn't care if something went wrong with a product or service.

The report said this sentiment highlighted the importance of trust between businesses and consumers.

When consumers did take action, they were most likely to contact the company responsible first, with social media proving an increasingly popular means of gaining attention. Some 27% of those complaining used this method, compared to just 9% opting for traditional routes.

Writing in The Drum, Mark Lowe of communications agency Third City, noted that "the most important marker by which consumers judge a company is the very last customer service experience they had", and argued that this was "one truly effective way for a brand to differentiate itself".

He added that too few companies and brands took this seriously enough but they would have no choice but to address it because technology meant "the opportunities for customers to exact revenge will only increase".

Those sectors attracting the most complaints in the survey were energy and retail (both 17%), followed by internet telecoms (14%). Holidays (6%) and transport (5%) featured less prominently.

Data sourced from Ombudsman Services, The Drum; additional content by Warc staff
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