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Colin Neave: a lifetime of seeking fairness

Pic: Colin Neave AM

I’ve spent 30 years listening to customer complaints. I first learned about customer service 60 years ago - at Myer in Melbourne from Baillieu Myer.


Now I’ve had the honour of a Lifetime Achievement award from The Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals (SOCAP) for my work as an ombudsman and working with remediations. It’s given me cause to reflect on what has been a long working life coming to understand customer service.


The first, and indeed primary, point that needs to be made though is that none of us in business leadership positions can achieve anything without the support of the people we work with.


So the award I received is really a recognition not just of me but the people in teams and organisations I have led. Those people have been marvellous to work with and always demonstrated a commitment to serving the public - whether or not they were involved in a public or private sector organisation.


Over the last few years, the focus ANZ’s people have on doing the right thing for our customers has been very clear to me. Our values make that really clear too.

1 - These two trophies are from SOCAP and I value them as they represent a wonderful organisation. The gold one is my Lifetime achievement award, the one in front was for Significant Achievement and I received it in 2001.


2 – This small medal is of great import for me. It recognises the opening of Toyota’s manufacturing plant in Altona in 1978. I was the external lawyer and that came about because my father had been involved with the Australian distributor of Toyota, Australian Motor Industries, before Toyota set up their local operations. It’s where I first experienced “agile” management, all the rage now….


3 – The other two trophies are for services as the Commonwealth Ombudsman and as a contributor to Brighton Grammar – where Dylan Alcott also went. Although I was there a bit before Dylan.

The second point I want to make is the importance of those professional organisations whose members have a strong interest in consumer affairs. SOCAP has a broad range of members, including ANZ officers, who have responsibility for customer complaints.


Other members include State and Federal public servants who deal with complaints from the community. A society such as this provides a forum which is mutually supportive of its membership.


You may ask why - when the focus is on the consumer - but that support is important: handling complaints can be a stressful occupation and being able to talk freely with others doing the same kind of work can be beneficial to all concerned. And indeed ultimately beneficial to our clients.


Thirdly, in my view there has never been a better time for suppliers of essential services to consumers to be focused on customer service and dealing effectively with service errors and complaints.


Those in organisations like ANZ with a customer interface and responsibility for putting things right or handling complaints and disputes have critically important jobs. And, of course opportunities.


It is not just service. Product design and development is also a good area where a keen interest is necessary. The focus needs to be on not just design features and saleability but also built-in quality so the chances of something going awry with the product is minimised.

4 – This is a painting by Clifton Pugh, Emu Dam at Cottles Bridge. I was actually the executor of Cliff’s will and while I wasn’t paid I received this wonderful painting. I met Cliff through his then wife with whom I was at law school and stayed friends.


5 - If you look closely at the bookshelf you can see a beer can. One of the most memorable experiences of my life was a trip with Cliff to Wilcannia. It was a very different world and group of people. That wasn’t the only can of beer drunk and I probably haven’t had one since…

The “speak-up” culture present in ANZ and other institutions is a vital element of the overall - what I call “culture flavour” - which good institutions have flourishing within them. That culture needs to be nurtured so the focus on customer interaction remains clear and strong enough to withstand competitive forces - and the interest of regulators in the current environment.


Personally, it’s marvellous to get an award and then be able to recognise all those who have helped you get it over a long working life! And it’s good to be able to share some thoughts on subjects which have been driving me in various jobs, especially over the last 30 years.


In all of those jobs customer engagement has been critical; institutions still need to be engaged with a customer they have turned into a complainant.


Colin Neave is Customer Fairness Advisor at ANZ

This is an edited version of Colin’s acceptance speech when he was awarded a SOCAP Lifetime Achievement Award.


Colin has had a distinguished career in the law, consumer affairs and government administration. He served as Chairman of the Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council between 1997 and 2013, and as President of the Administrative Review Council.


Colin was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2005 for service to public administration and to the banking and finance industry, particularly through dispute resolution.

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