Fairness And Consistency, The Hardy Perennial Of Complaints Handling

Sarah Lawrence

Sarah Lawrence

Sarah has spent over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry, including over 16 years working at the Financial Ombudsman Service. Sarah specialises in customer service and complaints handling, with extensive experience of management and mediating complaints and is dedicated to passing on her knowledge and experience to businesses to improve complaints handling, customer service and consumers’ perceptions of the industry.

If you were to ask me, what are the two key concepts that businesses don’t seem able to get to grips with when it comes to complaints, it would be fairness and consistency. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m judging businesses for not being able to grasp this fully, It’s just that it’s one overarching themes I see time and time again.


It doesn’t matter whether it’s a process that’s not working, getting to a ‘position’ on a complaint theme or an individual complaint, I can still spot where fairness and consistency has been missed. And some of that comes down to trying to turn what is a rather fluffy concept, into something concrete which can be turned into training and a process.


So, let’s start at the beginning. Fairness is the underlying principle on which the Financial Ombudsman rests (DISP 3.6.1), which is why businesses need to start getting to grips with this if they are going to minimise their interactions with the organisation.


Fairness needs to be in every facet of your process, so if you have terms and conditions and processes, its sticking to them so that all customers are treated fairly and consistently. It’s no good offering one customer the world and the other nothing, in what looks to be very similar issues.


But what does this actually look like when used in the right way then? Let me give you some small examples to illustrate my point. Your process needs to treat everyone the same, regardless of who they are, their age, their vulnerabilities or how they communicate with you. Be it email, social media, or good old fashioned snail mail, the process needs to treat everyone equally. Just because someone hash-tags you on Twitter, doesn’t mean they should jump to the front of the queue.

Complaints, fairness

Its also about complaints handlers looking at complaints consistently, meaning that someone who is screaming the place down, doesn’t get preferential treatment over someone who is quieter, but who’s had an equally dismal experience. Or offering someone a payment because they’ve been nice or nasty to deal with, it’s not about rewarding or condoning, the award is there to compensate for what has happened.

Another example, is when it comes to looking at the complaints themselves, its making sure that if you’ve seen this complaint before that everyone is treated the same. What I mean here, is yes, themes are important, because no-one needs to keep reinventing the wheel. However, it’s also about making sure you’re looking at the individual circumstances of the complaint and by assessing the impact and resulting ripple effect of the complaint on that individual customer.

If you recognise any of these examples, you won’t be alone, these are real examples that I have seen from multiple sources. But, now you’re aware of them, it’s making sure these unfair and inconsistencies are addressed and resolved. Its not to make your process more difficult, its just the fairest, consistent thing to do, which should benefit you and your staff when it comes to resolving complaints.

complaints, fairness


RegTech is a relatively new word but one that is key to the long-term success of managing compliance issues, complaints included, in the future. Regtech is the collective name, used by the FCA, to describe software solutions that manage compliance related processes more effectively, so increasing the probability of firms’ complying with the regulation, and at a lower cost.

Worksmart has picked up the ACQ ‘Complaints Management Solutions Provider of the Year’ award for the last two years for their complaints and feedback management system, Caresmart.

Caresmart has four key features that directly address the issues raised above:

  • Consistency: Caresmart guides handlers through a standardised process so aiding consistent case management.
  • Case Review: Caresmart provides case handlers with the ability to review previous outcomes of similar products and/or complaint types, flagging those cases that escalated to the Ombudsman and detailing the Ombudsman decision.
  • Redress Payments: Caresmart enables case handlers to see the highest, lowest and average redress payments made on similar cases. This way, handlers can check their potential payments for fairness and consistency.
  • Reporting: Caresmart’s reporting pack allows for complaint decisions, redress payments and learning opportunities to be analysed and any trends identified.


If you would like to know more about how Caresmart could help transform your complaints processes, contact our friendly and knowledgeable team on: 01908 613613 or email us on:



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