We’ve done a lot of writing about consumer complaints here on the Compli blog recently. Two weeks ago, we featured Hudson Cook attorney Michael Benoit’s guidance on complaint resolution and what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is looking for. And last week, with Wendy Miller, we learned how companies that prioritize complaint resolution not only stay in business, but outperform their competitors.
However, there’s an aspect of consumer complaints we haven’t discussed here yet. It’s ugly, messy, and more than a little sinister:
If consumer complaints are the superheroes that seek to save your business and keep your employees on track, your compliance spreadsheet is the supervillain standing in their way—and it’s powerful enough to take them all on at once. No matter how good your intentions or how organized you think you are, spreadsheets and other manual compliance management systems cause gaps: missing, mistyped, or miscategorized data, as well as confusion over who handles complaints and when.
Remember the statistics: each complaint you receive counts for roughly 27 unhappy consumers. You can’t afford to lose a single one to the rows and columns of an outmoded, manual compliance management system. Here’s what Brian Larson, Compli’s Director of Sales, told our audience during Consumer Complaints: Your Company’s Broken Windows:
The Many Advantages of Automation
About two-thirds of the way through our complaints webinar earlier this month, we ran a poll: How do you manage complaints—manually or through an automated system?
As it turns out, many members of our audience told us they go the manual route—they’re spreadsheet jockeys. The results didn’t surprise us, as countless consumer finance and auto finance organizations we talk to still haven’t adopted an automated system for compliance. It’s too bad, because there’s so much to gain from automation.
An obvious advantage of automation over manual processes, says Brian, is recordkeeping and organization:
“[T]he ability to track complaints, to log them, categorize them, and route them to the appropriate person or people—this can be any inquiry. This can be even part of the process of deciding, ‘Is this truly a complaint?’ But at least you have a record of it coming in. That’s only to your advantage.
“How can you make an informed decision with either incomplete or bad data? It’s very difficult, for one thing, and it may even cause more problems by leading you into the wrong decision.”
Organization enhances accountability and oversight. Confident that their organization’s data is in order, a leader can make pivotal decisions for the compliance program at a glance, and rest assured they’re protected if a regulator comes knocking:
“Everything is documented. I think we’ve all heard that idiom, ‘Document, document, document.’ This allows you to show your due diligence, the notes, the supporting documentation, history of activities that were taken with this particular complaint. All of that is documented and captured for you—even, hopefully, dated and time-stamped so, again, you have that defensible audit trail about what is taking place with this particular complaint.
“This allows you to show trends when you start looking at this data across the organization over time, and identify the root causes. Or is this a systemic problem? And that’s really what your capital providers and the regulators are looking for: Do you have the ability to identify whether or not you have a systemic problem and then self-correct accordingly? I think we can all agree that we would rather identify those problems upfront, as opposed to waiting for a third party to identify them for us.”
And then there are the resource savings. Spreadsheet jockeys have a lot to rein in: the details of complaints, emails from in and outside the organization, compliance activities to assign and track. As Brian told us, “the number of hours it takes to properly organize and manage these types of activities is just time-intensive, and it’s prone and fraught with potential risks and issues along the way.”
An all-in-one, automated system lessens the burden on compliance personnel by giving your organization a single dashboard to manage any and all complaints. The program is open to anyone whose job is to address complaints rather than a single manager or supervisor. Automated compliance management systems like Compligo assign tasks by role, not by individual, so if a person who’s responsible for complaints leaves, misses work, or gets transferred, someone else can immediately take their place. No institutional knowledge is lost.
“Depending on your size of the organization,” said Brian, “we see where an automated system to manage and track your complaints can save you hundreds at the least, if not thousands of hours on an annual basis just in paper chasing and being a spreadsheet jockey.”
The Bottom Line
Confession: I’ve been a spreadsheet jockey. I’ve wrangled complex sets of data and I know how tedious and challenging the process can be. You delete one cell and suddenly a column is in the wrong place, last names are spilling into the “Address” field, formulas no longer work, things start concatenating left and right, and, before you know it, the program freezes and you’ve lost your most sensitive data.
In the compliance world, there are few scenarios more nightmarish than all of that happening to a critical and federally scrutinized document. Seriously, it’s like a super villain taking down your organization from the inside.
“It just puts so much [stress] on the human interaction,” said Brian, “and as we all know, it will be a ‘when,’ not ‘if.’ There are going to be errors there.”
Automation reduces the room for error significantly, if not completely. Most organizations already understand this but haven’t adopted a new system either because they don’t recognize the urgency of the situation, or they believe such a system is too difficult to set up.
So, instead of selling you on it myself, I’ll let our Sales Director sum up how everything we’ve learned in this series leads to automation:
“Clearly, the CFPB, as well as your capital sources, the big banks, are certainly watching this. In the case of the capital providers, they’re being tasked and held accountable by the CFPB just as the individual consumer and auto finance organizations are. So they’re required to look for this. And we see more and more, the state attorneys general are picking up this torch as well.
“Don’t waste an opportunity to drive process improvement. As we’ve seen, there absolutely is a business case for it, as well as a regulatory or a risk installation case. And focusing on a system or a process and the technologies to do this efficiently helps you balance both of these. They do not need to be mutually exclusive. Doing it correctly with an automated system should be a time saver. It should be an error preventer, and save countless hours across your organization, ultimately keeping things from falling through the cracks.”