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Not sure if this has been posted before - but I found it interesting reading. Patronising as hell to the consumer but they will learn. So here goes . . .

 

Stop your complaining?

 

The OFT recently inferred that the low level of complaints levelled against the debt collection industry could be because consumers simply aren’t aware of how to complain. Jane Bowden, Operations Director of The Lewis Group, suggests that it could be that the industry is professional in what it does and therefore does not attract high levels of complaints…

 

It used to be one of those defining things said about ‘Britishness’ that we never complain. Over the last decade, the barometer has swung violently in the opposite direction. Now we are positively encouraged to complain. Many that do are simply opportunists looking for compensation; and in the case of debt collection, they are opportunists looking to get their debt written off as well as being compensated for the privilege!

 

In the debt collection industry, perhaps more than any other, complaints are inevitable. The very nature of the business puts agencies in the front line. To explore whether there is any truth in the OFT’s assertion that the low level of complaints is because individuals don’t know the procedures to follow, rather than – as I believe – the ever increasing professionalism of our industry - we first need to define what we mean by a ‘complaint.’

 

Complaints will commonly fall into only a few categories:-

 

* The DCA has acted in a threatening, intimidating or harassing manner

* The DCA has breached the Data Protection Act

* The DCA has made a mistake

* The DCA’s client is guilty of any of the above

* The debt shouldn’t be with the DCA as it is in dispute

 

By anybody’s definition, either one of the first three would be regarded as a complaint, and for the DCA, the most serious. The last two complaints would need to be addressed by the client.

 

For the OFT to suggest that the level of complaints is low because the public isn’t familiar enough with a company’s complaints procedure is, in my opinion, unrealistic. No-one, surely, would ever buy that argument? People are much more willing these days to complain, and they don’t have to be aware of a specific ‘procedure’ in order to make their feelings known. Creditors in the Financial Services arena are required to make their complaints procedures clear, and do so. The OFT’s comment is an unhelpful red herring.

 

So if the number of complaints is low, and it’s nothing to do with not knowing how to complain, then why else might it be?

 

One of the theories put forward is that collection agencies have grown too soft. The steady move towards ‘managing’ debtors and seeing debtors as ‘customers’ that can be rehabilitated is a strategy that has been given tremendous currency in recent times, not because the industry is trying to shake off its hard man image, but rather because it is a strategy that works!

 

It is probably true that there is a correlation between higher complaint levels and higher collections. The trouble is, at what cost to the client’s reputation?

 

A client should undoubtedly have the right to expect that the number of justifiable complaints levelled against its agency should be zero. The inference in a complaint is that the agency has somehow strayed from obligatory and agreed ‘codes of conduct and practice’. The majority of clients require compliance with their own codes of conduct and practice and commonly will require the DCA’s they use to be members of the Credit Services Association that imposes its own Code of Practice. That does not mean that no-one ever complains, nor does it mean that any complaints received are not valid. What it does mean is that the level of complaints should be at a minimum, they should be fully investigated, and the vast majority should be found ultimately to be unjustified.

 

In all probability, an agency that receives a high number of complaints will either be stepping over the boundaries of ethical trading, or at least pushing those boundaries to the limit. There may be a perception that the ones that receive fewer complaints may indeed be taking a ‘soft’ approach, and achieving poorer collection levels, but the reality is likely to be very different. It is more likely that they are professionals, using a highly skilled workforce observing the codes of conduct and good practice to the letter to attain satisfactory levels of returns.

 

This leads us to another interesting point: to what extent do clients expect complaints against their agency? This is an easy one to answer. Yes they expect complaints; but no they do not want them to be complaints that can be justified. They have their reputations to protect, and it is essential, therefore, that a third-party acting on their behalf does not in any way bring their name into disrepute. Some creditors have raised the profile of complaints to such an extent that they maintain a specific ‘log’ and use it as a tool to review the performance of their agency.

 

Against this need to protect reputation is also balanced an acknowledgement amongst many clients that a level of complaints is inevitable - even justified complaints (no-one is perfect). There is a whisper that some clients see too few complaints as evidence that their agency isn’t trying hard enough - an interesting suggestion. Money recovered can be measured; impact on reputation is rather less tangible.

 

So if we accept that complaints are, after all, inevitable, how do we ensure that they are kept to a minimum?

 

To some extent, the old adage about rubbish in, rubbish out holds true. Investigating a complaint is time-consuming for both the creditor and the third party, and it is imperative therefore that the debt instructed to a third party is valid, and excludes disputed or unresolved matters.

 

Training is also essential. I believe that one of the reasons for the low number of complaints is because the industry is professional in what it does. It is well run, and save for a handful of cases, extremely well disciplined. It is imperative to have professionally-trained collectors who know what they can and cannot do.

 

Within The Lewis Group, for example, we have a specific training module aimed at preventing complaints. It teaches collectors about what triggers a complaint, and how to manage contact with a debtor to minimise the likelihood of a complaint occurring. Small issues can easily escalate into more serious complaints if not properly handled. A debtor who is left feeling frustrated or angry is more likely to complain, even if the original issue was no complaining matter!

 

Complying with relevant statutes and regulation is of course a minimum. A robust and documented complaints investigation and handling procedure is also a must, as is the ability to record calls to avoid a ‘your word against theirs’ scenario.

 

A debt collection agency that endeavours to maximise collections for its clients whilst conducting itself in a professional manner, adopting a firm but fair approach, will still receive complaints. Some will be valid, but can usually be remedied and prevented from happening again. The majority will have arisen out of indignation, embarrassment, and in my experience, most commonly simply as a delaying tactic.

 

It is fair to say – and I think here the press should shoulder some of the blame – that there are debtors who believe that if they complain their debt will be written off because the DCA or Client fears a formal complaint to a regulatory body will result in negative publicity. Either that, or they will be prepared to pay them off to keep them silent.

 

The rules for handling complaints are simple. Treat every complaint as valid and do not allow any complacency to sneak in. Investigate thoroughly, and where the complaint proves valid, hold your hands up, apologise and take whatever action needed to prevent such a complaint arising again.

 

The vast majority of complaints prove to be unjustified after investigation and if this is the case, do not be afraid to tell the complainant and continue to pursue the debt. A wise client will use a DCA that values its own reputation, the reputation of its client and the reputation of its industry and therefore conducts its business in a professional manner. The Debt Collection Industry is predominantly a professional one and one that serves not only its clients but the majority of individuals who honour their debt commitments.

 

The Public today knows more about their statutory rights than ever before, and are not backward in coming forward to share their views. If complaints are low, then perhaps the industry is getting it right.

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:eek: Do these people live in the same world as everyone else? It's not from Lewis Group, Division Base: Saturn, is it? 'Too soft'...basically saying we're a nation of complainers who couldn't find our way out of a paper bag. Thanks, LG, not.

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Click the scales if I've been useful! :)

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  • 1 month later...

I have just rec'd a letter from SLC in response to my CA request, saying they have passed my details to them??? I dont owe the SLC anything as I have repeated informed them, I have always deferred and once became disabled let them know, all goes back to 95 and since I am now over the age limit where they can request payment??!

'rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number, shake your chains to the earth like dew, which in sleep had fall'n on you, ye are many, they are few.' Percy Byshse Shelly 1819

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