Last week the CFPB announced the release of the first annual CFPB Ombudsman’s report. The report details the CFPB Ombudsman’s progress throughout the year and what the office hopes to achieve in 2013. Its nice to see some good news for consumers, these days its few and far in between when I see a change in the marketplace that is positive for consumers. The CFPB has been a frequent catalyst for strengthening consumer protection regulations so I was interested to see what the report would have to say.
So what does the ombudsman’s office do exactly? Initially, the main job of the Ombudsman’s office was publicity. The ombudsman’s office was responsible for explaining the CFPB complaint review process and for directing consumers to the right office. As the CFPB became organized, the Ombudsperson became the receiver of consumer complaints about the functioning of the CFPB. The CFPB is focused on not only protecting consumers in the marketplace, but also taking a dose of its own medicine.
The office also tracks trends in consumers’ complaints about the CFPB’s process and makes recommendations to the CFPB on policy changes to better serve consumers. Between July 2011, when the CFPB was established, and September of 2012, the CFPB received more than 79,000 consumer complaints, according to the report. 775 of these consumers reported issues they encountered with the complaint review process with the Ombudsman’s office. Issues are placed into categories and tracked by the Ombudsman’s office. Over 40% of the complaints asked for greater transparency in the complaint review process. In other words, the Ombudsman’s office is the customer service office of the CFPB – and its doing a great job of using complaint information to improve its services. What a nice change from a typical customer service interaction where it seems the last thing a company wants to do is to fix the problem no matter how many people complain.
For example, the Ombudsman’s office discovered an important issue affecting consumers without computer access. Many consumers submitted complaints via phone and received their case progress updates though US Mail. Unfortunately, US mail updates are not exactly instantaneous. In many cases, consumers did not receive the letters at all and were unable to dispute responses from the company about which they had filed a complaint because they missed the deadline.
The Ombudsman’s office recommended to the CFPB that consumers who opt to receive updates via US Mail be given a longer time period to dispute their claims. These suggestions were well-received and the CFPB started working hard to develop a system that serves consumers without computers just as well as tech-savvy consumers.
This is just one example of why it is important for organizations to have an office where consumers can raise complaints about the organization itself. This kind of internal organizational evaluation allows organizations to address problems with their everyday functioning and serve consumers in the best way possible. The CFPB is not just talking the talk: it is attempting to change the marketplace to put consumers at the center through regulation while also providing a great example of how to do that. The CFPB seems to understand what I sincerely wish corporate America would come to realize – consumer complaints are not just a bunch of whiny crybabies. Complaint data is valuable source of information that, if used correctly, can help companies improve their products and services (not to mention avoid lawsuits by allowing a company to address a product failure before a lawsuit is filed).
I am excited to see the CFPB paying so much attention to the problems faced by consumers, and look forward to seeing what the organization can accomplish in 2012.
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