Boosting the Bottom Line with Complaint Management

Transforming customer complaints into guidance about business management is an art - an art that has been mastered by customer-service teams at Sage, Aegon, and HSBC. The three finance-management companies have focused on complaints to improve products and serve customers better - earning recognition from UK Complaint Handling Awards judges in the process.

The companies’ complaint-handling initiatives led to documented improvements in customer loyalty and satisfaction - and a healthier bottom line.

Michael Hill, Chairman of the UK Complaint Handling Awards and Complaint Management Expert at Resolver comments:

“Many companies view complaints as a negative, but they can be valuable assets. The best customer-service managers understand that feedback – especially negative feedback – can help a company identify trouble spots and improve products, services, and business processes. Customers who take the time to complain are like volunteer consultants with informed opinions about how your company could do a better job.”


Sage Group supports businesses around the world with integrated accounting, payroll, and payment systems. The company’s UK office provides worldwide support to 900,000 business customers in 27 global markets.

Sage CEO Stephen Kelly initiated a shakeup in complaint handling and customer feedback in 2015. Instead of soliciting and handling customer reviews privately, the company chose radical transparency. The company now aggressively solicits public feedback via an external service. Customers, potential customers, and even competitors can read customer reviews and complaints.

The result, after two years, has been higher customer satisfaction and fewer complaints. Sage has grown its business, too. It turns out that positive feedback from real customers is a pretty effective marketing tool.

Still, it was a gutsy move.

The first thing that happened was that Sage started getting a lot more feedback from customers - and that turned out to be a good thing. It helped managers discern trends and discover problems that might not have been detected for months using traditional one-complaint-at-a-time methods.

For example, Sage altered its auto-renewal process in response to specific complaints from customers who found the process unfair. It was complaints, too, that led the company to reduce its customer onboarding process from four weeks to one week.

Sage’s SagePay payment products are heavily regulated. Because price and technical functions are largely dictated by regulations, Sage distinguishes them from competitors’ products on the basis of customer service. Complaints have empowered managers to focus their efforts on improving customer service to make the products more competitive.

When Sage took reviews public they knew they had to up their game. They committed to contact every unhappy customer to effect a resolution within 24 hours. The dedicated team within the customer service department is responsible for making these contacts. Metrics from their experiences are used within the company to assess performance and improve both products and business operations. Sage’s vice-president of customer service reads every review, positive and negative.

Customer service personnel collaborate with workers in other business units to resolve customer issues and devise solutions that address not just the current complaint, but future customers. This cross-department focus has helped Sage transition from its traditional business model by adopting a new customer-centric focus.

Sage implemented the initiative with Trustpilot, which gives customers an avenue for sharing authentic feedback to a single team that handles all feedback across all Sage products.

The company chose Trustpilot, a free service, and it solicits feedback aggressively. Customers are invited to share feedback on their Sage experience with “TrustBox” links that invoke pop-up windows for sharing information about their interaction with Sage. TrustBoxes are displayed throughout the Sage website, including pages that appear upon on-boarding and after interacting with customer service agents. The TrustBox displays Sage’s current rating and invites customers to leave a review.

The customer service team passes this data along to other departments to support the improvement of products and business processes.

Before Sage began referring customers to Trustpilot, it had a 5.5 TrustScore on the service. After two years, the company rates 9.7 out of 10 possible points. The company’s Net Promoter Score rose from +27 to +32 in 12 months. That’s what happens when you get serious about collecting, managing, and using insight from customer reviews.

“Trustpilot is open to the customer, so they can talk about any point in the customer journey,” says Sage customer experience manager Michael Tully. “They can leave some feedback completely unsolicited and that’s gold dust to us. We get that full spectrum of what a customer feels about Sage as a brand.”

Sage’s Trustpilot-based initiative earned it top honours in the 2018 UK Complaint Handling Awards, where judges praised the company. “Sage’s customer service team engages directly with customers to rectify problems, with individual employees to improve performance, and with internal departments through working groups and shared results.”

The judges concluded, “The team used customer feedback, including complaints, to embed new processes and culture throughout the company.”


Aegon’s complaint-handling initiative earned it silver awards in the 2018 UK Complaint Handling Awards in both the banking and investment category and the product and service improvement: improving customer experience category.

Founded in 1831, Aegon is an international provider of life insurance, pensions, and asset management. The company manages more than £607 billion in assets with businesses in over 25 countries. The company has about 2 million customers in the UK alone.

As a traditional pensions and investment company, Aegon found itself in the 21st century with old-style complaint-handling processes that focused on resolving complaints on a reactive basis instead of using customer feedback to reduce complaints and improve service.

Aegon’s legacy systems were sufficient to meet regulatory requirements, but in 2016 the company resolved to update its processes and support a company-wide goal of establishing a more customer-focused culture. Aegon’s customer service department resolved to improve complaint handling, use feedback from customers to drive business change, and engage colleagues to show how important complaint handling can be.

Management set out to achieve these goals with four areas of focus:

  • Improving customer experience during complaint handling and resolution
  • Improving the analysis of complaints to identify and eliminate the causes of customer dissatisfaction
  • Establishing customer outcome criteria for managing staff performance
  • Elevating complaint handlers within the company by boosting empowerment and rewards

Along the way, Aegon introduced a complaint-recording system that intelligently routes complaints to the relevant service desk. It added complaint officers to its back-office staff. It allowed customers to specify their preferred method of contact. It eliminated a requirement for customers to accept complaint-resolution offers in writing. And it broadened its definition of “compensation” to include gift hampers, beauty products, flowers, drinks, payments to charity, and more.

The company also created monthly reports listing the top five complaints, identifying both their causes and their sources. It discarded a traditional silo approach and gave management in all departments access to customer feedback, even if it was seemingly unrelated. It hired analysts and gave them specific training to help them identify the root causes of common complaints.

Aegon also conducted an industry review of complaint-officer salaries, which led to a 22% salary increase, boosting employee retention and engagement. Attrition in the department has dropped to zero compared to 33% in the preceding nine months.

Aegon has seen big results from the initiative.

  • Overall complaint volume dropped by 23%.
  • Average time to acknowledge receipt of a complaint has been reduced from more than five days to 3.7.
  • Complaints resolved within four days rose from 9% to 31% over two years.
  • Follow-up work dropped from more than 25% of complaints to less than 5%.
  • Ombudsman reversals were reduced by 32%.

“Aegon resolved systemic problems with its complaint culture,” the judges observed. “These changes are the early stages of a big journey, but the company has already put complaint handling on a secure road. The work is looking very positive and I can see plenty of opportunities for blue-sky thinking.”


HSBC’s Service Recovery Team initiative earned the company two top awards at the 2018 UK Complaint Handling Awards. The company took top honours in the finance and insurance category as well as the product and service improvement - improving customer experience category.

One of the world’s largest banks, HSBC operates an international network of about 3,900 offices in 67 countries and territories. The company’s 30,000 staff members serve 15 million customers with products and services for retail banking, commercial banking, and wealth management. About 14,000 employees deal directly with customers and may be called upon to handle complaints.

HSBC’s complaint-handling teams used to be scattered throughout different departments and offices. The company was committed to handling complaints well, but the process was kept in the background. A management review concluded that the teams lacked focus and were inefficient. Customers didn’t always get the best resolution and the teams worked in silos, so their good ideas weren’t always widely shared.

Customer surveys revealed that as many as 85% felt the bank hadn’t “gone the extra mile” in resolving problems. Nearly two-thirds felt their issues hadn’t been resolved in a reasonable timeframe.

That’s why the company created the HSBC Service Recovery Team, which unites all of the bank’s complaint handlers, along with analysts and change agents, to improve customer outcomes and prevent future complaints. The teams share best practices and coordinate resources on a companywide basis.

HSBC supports front-line staff with a new Phone a Friend team that provides advice and support on resolving complaints as they happen. The team has broadened its focus to conduct coaching and training for staff members, so they are equipped to provide better service online, on the phone, and in person.

New policy and governance teams review outcomes to ensure they are fair and reasonable. The teams also ensure that valuable feedback captured during the complaint process is collected, analysed, and transmitted throughout the company.

The result? First-point-of-contact complaint resolution has risen from 45% to 75%, which puts HSBC in second place across the entire banking industry in terms of complaints resolved within three days. The average resolution time has dropped from 19 days to six days.

HSBC says cause analysis has allowed management to identify and correct more than 200 issues that had led to problems.

Staff members have benefited from the initiative too. Company surveys find higher morale and staff engagement since the new process was initiated.

“The decision to centralise complaint handling and talk about complaints more openly has helped the company improve its significantly,” wrote one of the judges. “They not only surveyed customers, but also asked their people, thus showing an appreciation of the connection between a great people experience and great customer experience.”

Does your company reward its front-line staff who deal with complaints? Celebrate your complaint handling heroes with the UK Complaint handling Awards 2019. View the categories here and enter before midnight on Friday 16th November 2018.