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Talking Business: 'Protect yourself from bogus or weak complaints'

Dean Dunham is chief executive and ombudsman at The Retail Ombudsman.

The Retail Ombudsman has been operational for three weeks and is off to a flying start. We have only just started the process of engaging and signing up retailers, yet the response has been very positive - and we have handled more than 1,000 cases already.

Talking to many retailers and reviewing the cases that have come in so far, it is clear that bogus and weak complaints are a problem. For example, one customer contacted us after paying cash for goods and trying to return them without a receipt. They had no proof of purchase, therefore the complaint was rejected. So far we have rejected about 65% of complaints.

As well as the usual issues you would expect, such as returns, we have received some more unusual complaints. Perhaps my favourite concerned a courier who delivered goods and left them in the wheelie bin - only for the binmen to empty it before the consumer could retrieve them. Believe it or not, this was not an isolated incident.

Many complaining consumers become internet lawyers and arm themselves with wrong information or legal ‘advice’, which they apply to their situation. This is a retailer’s worst nightmare, as it means they are confronted with a consumer who won’t take no for an answer and will often broadcast your decision to the world on the internet, if they do not agree with it.

Some websites will loudly broadcast customers’ complaints. Those comments can remain online indefinitely, telling future customers that something once went wrong with your service - even if it didn’t. If a retailer rejects a customer’s complaint, they can defuse the situation by reminding them that their decision is not final and refer them to The Retail Ombudsman to adjudicate.

I’m pleased to say most of the retailers engaging with us (we have agreed not to name any for now) are well respected for customer service excellence and see The Retail Ombudsman scheme as an additional badge of this. Seeking out our logo for shop windows and websites is a way of growing confidence in their brand.

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