Sorry is the hardest word, as consumers crave honesty from companies

by Communications Team | Apr 09, 2014

  • Nearly half of customers (44 per cent) would be happy with an apology in the event of bad service or shoddy products
  • Britain far from compensation culture as only 27 per cent of people think companies should pay money to consumers after wrongdoing

When it comes to resolving complaints it seems words speak louder than actions, as most disgruntled customers are seeking a simple apology rather than financial compensation.

The figures are the latest to come from Ombudsman Services’ Consumer Action Monitor, a study into consumer complaints in the UK, and they show that 44 per cent of people feel an apology would satisfy them in the event of a dispute with a company (1), with only 27 per cent wanting financial compensation (2).

While the research already revealed last month that there were 38 million complaints last year, the latest figures prove that the UK is far from a compensation culture as a result; most people just want to hear the company say sorry, while three quarters of people just want companies to “make the problem right”.

In fact, the research suggests a well handled complaint can go a long way to improving consumer relations, with exactly half (50 per cent) of people thinking highly of companies they feel handle customer services effectively (3).

However this doesn’t always apply as some consumers feel they have no choice but to escalate their complaint to a third party such as an ombudsman after they have reached a deadlock with a company. Indeed Ombudsman Services reports that energy complaints alone have trebled in the last year (4).

The report comes at a time when brand reputation continues to be a hot topic in an era of post-recession consumer cynicism with more than a third (36 per cent) of people believing that big businesses are only interested in money and don’t care if something goes wrong with a product or service (5).

Indeed, big businesses attract the most complaints, with energy (17 per cent), retail (17 per cent), internet telecoms (14 per cent) and transport (5 per cent) topping the list of most frustrating for consumers (6).

Commenting on the findings, Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said:

“The research shows that consumers just want to be treated fairly and this includes admitting fault where necessary. Sometimes a simple apology is all it takes.”

“At a time when the cost of living is soaring, consumers are feeling the pinch and are no longer happy to put up with poor service. Given that consumer trust in companies is evidently low, the time is right for businesses to embrace third parties as a means of resolving disputes.”

- ENDS -

For a full copy of the CAM report and further information contact

01925 431 029


For the 2014 Consumer Action Monitor, Ombudsman Services commissioned ICM research to carry out a nationally representative survey of adults aged 18+. A total of 2,023 people were questioned throughout Great Britain (exc. Northern Ireland), with representative quotas for gender age, region, social grade, work status and tenure all accounted for. The research was conducted between 3rd and 5th January 2014.


1 According to a nationally representative survey carried out by ICM Research. The survey of 2,023 people was carried out between 3and 5 January 2014. Of the 2,023 people questioned, 889 people said they saw an apology as the minimum reparation if they have received poor service or a defective product = 44 per cent.

2 From 2,023 people, 548 people considered financial compensation as the minimum reparation if they have received poor service or a defective product = 27 per cent.

3 From 2,023 people, 1,020 said they thought more highly of businesses/brands that handle complaints well = 50 per cent.

4 Data from Ombudsman Services: Energy: 1,031 total complaints were received by OS for supply/network energy issues in Feb 2013, vs. 3,626 in Feb 2014.

5 From of 2,023 people, 722 people said that they agreed with the statement “Big businesses are only interested in taking your money - if something goes wrong with a product or service, they don't care about you” = 36 per cent.

6 From 722 people out of 2,023 who complained to a supplier and/or a third party, 118 complained about energy, 117 about retail, 95 about internet telecoms, 37 about transport, and 43 about holidays.

About Ombudsman Services

  • Ombudsman Services is a not for profit, private company limited by guarantee. 
  • Ombudsman Services runs national, private sector ombudsman schemes which provides independent dispute resolution for the communications, energy, property, copyright licensing sectors, the Green Deal, the ABFA, and Which? Trusted Traders scheme.
  • The Chief Ombudsman’s speech about the future of Ombudsman Services in a changing consumer redress landscape can be accessed here
  • Ombudsman Services provides an expert dispute resolution service. The service focuses on encouraging early agreed resolution wherever possible and does not charge a fee so it’s able to offer access to redress for consumers to resolve their complaints without proceeding to the civil courts.
  • Ombudsman Services is a full member of the Ombudsman Association (OA) and adheres to its principles.
  • Further information about Ombudsman Services can be found at