Margot James MP: how do you get your voice heard in company boardrooms?

business meeting

Consumer Minister, Margot James MP, joins us to explain more about the Government’s review of corporate governance, and ask you: how do you get your voice heard in company boardrooms?

Britain has a strong framework of consumer protection and millions of companies take the integrity of the products and services they supply seriously.

But some companies don’t, and even when they have the will to make good when things go wrong, there are still too many instances of inadequate redress.

So how do you – the consumer – make sure companies hear your concerns at boardroom level?

Corporate governance reform

This Government is committed to making Britain one of the best places in the world to work, invest and do business. And a big part of that is making sure companies operate in a responsible way, taking into account the interests of its shareholders, employees and you – the consumer.

At the end of last year, we launched a consultation on how to make sure all businesses are run as responsibly as the best of British companies already are, in the Corporate Governance Reform green paper.

We’ve already received responses from businesses, but it’s just as important to hear views from the public too – and that’s where you come in.

Responsible business

This Government is determined to make sure all companies operate as responsibly as the majority do already, and play their part in building an economy that works for everyone.

Having set up and run my own business, I know it makes sense to listen and act on customers’ opinions.

At the moment, all company directors are required by law to run their business responsibly. This includes taking into account the interests of their employees and the company’s relationships with suppliers and customers.

Now, I imagine you don’t want to spend your spare time leafing through companies’ accounts to check if they’re being run responsibly, which is why it’s great to see Which? working with businesses to help them better understand how they can and should be engaging with consumers.

But we want to go one step further and make sure the UK isn’t only the best place to do business, but where consumer and workers’ views are heard in the boardroom and acted upon.

Share your views

And with only a few days to go until the consultation closes, we want to make sure we hear your opinions. Your views could shape the future operation of businesses.

I’m delighted to be working with Which? to promote the Corporate Governance Reform green paper and ensure we capture your views. So thank you in advance for your contributions and comments on this conversation, which will be fed into the consultation before it closes on 17 February 2017.

This is a guest contribution by Margot James MP, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility. All views expressed here are Margot’s own and not necessarily those shared by Which?.

Which? will be compiling your comments to be fed into the consultation before it closes on 17 Feb. So, tell us, how would you like your voice heard in company boardrooms?

Comments

Good morning – (just)- everyone

I’ve got to say i’m so pleased with the engagement on this threat.

I know that the Minister’s department is also pleased and we’ll make sure we feed in the comments on corporate governance to them.

Now for the last chance roll up roll up – add in your top three points for getting the consumer voice heard in company boards.

Thanks

Simon

I will make a single suggestion. Thanks for the opportunity to make our input, Simon.

1. The most common criticisms of a company should be put on the agenda with a view to publicly acknowledging the problems, informing the public of how these will be addressed, giving an indication of the likely timescale. If the criticisms could be applied across the sector (banks and energy suppliers come to mind) this should not be used as a reason to duck the problem. Concerns that a company may not be complying with the law should also be discussed, even if these are not the main public concerns.

My single suggestion, reinforcing others, is for every company, large or small, to show on their literature and website an email address and telephone number for a “customer contact” department and a commitment to acknowledge every enquiry within 2 days and give a maximum timescale for an answer to be provided.

This should also apply to public, government and other non-commercial organisations like charities. I get fed up with automated acknowledgements that say we’ll respond within 28 days. No one should be exempt.

Several years ago I investigated the reason why we are often expected to use web forms rather than email addresses. Not surprisingly, publishing an email address results in spam, but that’s something we all have to deal with. Another reason is that using a form prompts the sender to provide all the information that would be needed to process a request. That means we all suffer because some don’t think to provide vital information to progress their request. 🙁

For anything other than a simple enquiry, use of email is essential. It allows both parties to keep a track of the correspondence and include attachments such as photos. The very worst organisations to deal with are those that respond to a web form with an email but do not include the original text.

I agree with Malcolm on the need for prompt replies but I would exclude small charities that have no paid employees and rely on volunteers.

Web form contact systems can allow attachments, and also can send an email confirming your message content. Providing all the information needed is a very valid point in support of the email form. However, I still want to be able to directly contact a person or department directly that deals with customers when I need to.

Thats going to be a job malcolm , as someone who has spent a great deal of time complaining about wrongs being done I found many companies use a call answering company who are loath to transfer you to anybody else . You need to find the DIRECT customer complaints dept. Then , if you are still not happy find a means of escalating it higher up the ladder . I am afraid the days of direct contact with the actual department are long gone . In early BT and in GPO days you could DIRECTLY contact the engineering control department –try doing that now ? This is a communications consensus agreed among all top businesses to isolate their staff from the public helped in many ways with modern digital communications ( digital isn’t all good as I have been saying many times ) .Its a good buffer zone especially for those giant international conglomerates who inhabit this country , just look at the complaints trying to access them-blood out of a stone has a better chance.

Unfortunately, many don’t confirm what was sent via a web form or allow attachments, and often the email is sent from a ‘no response’ address, making it difficult to continue a discussion. That may be the intention.

I have no problem with web forms to handle routine enquiries, but all organisations should also provide appropriate email addresses. One of my pet hates is when an organisation replies to an email but fails to include the original text.

I’m suggesting under the “reforms” it should be a legal requirement, duncan.

If a communication is important, create it in your word processor and save, then copy and paste onto the web form. I anticipate “you shouldn’t have to” from somebody, but as things are at the moment this will ensure you have a record.

I always keep a record of what I put on a web form before sending it, either saving it as a pdf or copy/paste the text into a word processor.

It’s just common sense, wavechange.

Maybe we should have taken prompt action against the first companies that failed to provide us with email addresses. Until the problem is resolved, perhaps companies should provide their CEO email address on the customer services page of their website.

Company framework and structure should start at the very top, and to extrapolate a little on the No.1 issue of my posting of the 16th Feb. re the responsibility of the corporate CEO, if more cordial and social involvement between the CEO and his/her employees was considered regular practice, there should be less need for consumer complaint. In 21st century corporate culture, CEO’s should refrain from total isolation from their employees, whose role it is to respond to customers grievances and complaints when things go wrong.

To read more on this subject, log onto: knowledge.warton.upenn.edu – How CEO’s Can Adopt a 21st Century Approach to Communication.

With regard to CEO incomes, as they are directly responsible for the success or failure of the company over which they preside, their salary is a reflection of this enormous commitment, the burning question of course being, should they receive remuneration in the event of failure?

Public servants are also rewarded for failure. We need to consider “organisations” under governance, not just commercial entities. People who ignore integrity inhabit all walks of life. How should we tackle it? What organisation has the strength and will to try? You’d need a million members with a majority of like mind to begin to do something, I would think. Where could you find that?

Malcolm, it is estimated that approximately 21% or 1 in 5 CEO’s have psychopathic tendencies. If interested, log onto: https://en.wikipedia.org – Psychopathy In The Workplace. It explains the characteristics and mindset of such individuals and emphasises the importance of corporate psychological testing and ways to avoid recruitment of another Robert Maxwell or “Fred the Shred”.

“How to get your voice heard in company boardrooms?” The last person I’d ask is a Tory minister with responsibility for businesses!!

” I’ve let the organisers of the AGM know that you didn’t feel there was enough time for you to fully raise your questions at the event, as this is certainly the forum for you to do so. It is our Council that’s responsible for setting strategy and policy, and has overall oversight of the organisation.” Lauren

” I’ve let the organisers of the AGM know that you didn’t feel there was enough time for you to fully raise your questions at the event” Did they respond?

Secondly you suggest that the AGM ” as this is certainly the forum for you to do so” . I wish you had been there Lauren to see how at the last minute a session involving Which? staff talking to each other was put into the formal AGM meeting. This DID result in all those important questions being abbreviated or not heard at all as the meeting had to end for food!!

As a point of law Directors are not required to answer questions at an AGM and this was a more subtle variation. If any Ordinary Member would like to write and ask for the recording to establish who is telling the truth I suggest you do. I doubt that you will get a copy.

It is one reason I am demanding either a video or audio recording is made available as only 100 of the 6500 members attended. The other 6400 should have the opportunity to see/hear what actually happened.