Thursday, 19 December 2013

The growing voice of the customer – The CFPB complaints database

Continuing our US theme, Chris Smith discusses the growing voice of the customer and the use of the US regulatory body's database.

One of the interesting side effects from the social media revolution of the past three years is the power that social media has given to the consumer and the challenges that this has caused for business. Poor treatment of customers can no longer be swept under the carpet by large corporations claiming it as a small error impacting only a handful of customers. A great example of this would be the challenges faced by Blackberry earlier this year. The organization initially tried to down-play the scale of the issues being faced but the consumer uprising across social media networks quickly highlighted the size of the problem. This just highlights how customer voices in aggregate can now be much louder than the brand itself.

We’ve seen the same trend recently across the debt collection industry where the customer’s voice is now being heard, loud and clear. The CFPB’s latest innovation, their consumer complaints database, has recently released details on the debt collection complaints that have been made since July; this database now contains in excess of 8,000 complaints and is growing at over 200 complaints per week. These directly identify the creditor, debt buyer or collection agency involved and the cause of the complaint; furthermore, this information is now publically available for all, including the regulators themselves, to see.

It is becoming ever- easier for customers to raise complaints direct to regulators, through the existing consumer complaints portal and the upcoming ‘hotline’. As such, we anticipate the volume of high level complaints to grow significantly through 2014, indeed since the release of the database the number of complaints being sent to creditors per week has steadily grown by 5% each week, so doubling every 15 weeks. So, what does the industry need to do in response to this to slow this trend?
We believe that there are two broad strategies that the industry needs to focus on; mitigation and harvesting:

• Mitigating complaints at source can be achieved by putting the customer experience at the forefront of the agenda. This means not only “ensuring adherence to regulation” but analyzing and improving the customer experience at all touch-points within the collections lifecycle.

• Harvesting complaints internally will prevent the escalation of disputes and issues into high level complaints. This means ensuring all disputes are responded to in a timely fashion and even encouraging customers to complain directly to you to enable any challenges to be resolved directly.

One major learning from large corporations’ reaction to the social media explosion is that listening is crucial and can provide far reaching benefits. Given this emerging voice in our industry, we now need to ensure that we are not only listening to regulators, but also listening hard to our customers.

Chris Smith, TDX Group

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