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The Principles of Good Complaint Management


Properly delivered, a meaningful apology can benefit the organisation as well as ... An apology is not a sign of weakness or an invitation to be sued. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Principles of Good Complaint Management

The Principles of Good Complaint Management
  • Professor Alice Brown
  • Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
  • Complaint Management Conference
  • 5 November 2007, Copenhagen

Valuing Complaints
  • An organisation that truly welcomes, values
    and uses complaints to inspire and guide
    improvement will deliver better public services
    than one that does not.

The Role of the SPSO
  • One-stop-shop (service user / customer focus)
  • Complaints about all public services
  • Alternative to Court last resort
  • Maladministration (poor administration) service
    failure clinical judgement (health cases)
  • Addressing injustice for the individual and link
    with improvement of delivery of services for all
  • Back to origins of why you have an Ombudsman in
    the first place
  • Encouraging change in culture to Jewels to be

Key areas where things go wrong
  • Poor communication
  • Poor record-keeping
  • Poor customer / service user focus
  • Lack of empowerment of front-line staff
  • Poor complaint handling
  • Defensive attitudes
  • Persistent issues in certain sectors

What do people want from public services?
  • Services that meet their needs
  • Good treatment by staff
  • Taking responsibility for mistakes
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Providing good information
  • Treating people equally

What do people want when things go wrong?
  • Explanation
  • Apology
  • Lessons learned
  • Same thing doesnt happen again
  • Financial compensation

Feeding back the learning
  • By service provider themselves part of customer
    care and good practice part of being a learning
    organisation free market research
  • Learning from the Ombudsmans investigations
    monthly Commentaries sent to 1,200 stakeholders
  • Case study Health Service (DVT)

Key Principles Valuing Complaints
Unique website
The pyramid
  • Chief Executive - leadership, governance,
  • - core responsibility
  • - standing agenda item
  • - regular reporting of complaints data
    internally and externally and demonstrable use of
    that data to drive improvement.
  • Management process design (technical elements)
  • - self assessment questionnaires, checklists
    extensive reference material.
  • Frontline Staff Attitude and Approach (cultural
  • - advice on how to empathise with
    complainants, manage unacceptable behaviour and
    maintain the integrity and transparency of the
  • - focuses on ways to make front-line staff
    feel empowered to resolve complaints at first

Process Design avoiding escalation
  • Informal Resolution
  • Trained and empowered front line staff
  • Empathy / freedom to apologise
  • Formal Internal Investigation
  • Trained and empowered investigative staff
  • An impartial and transparent process
  • Flexible / proportionate
  • Clear lines of accountability and authority
  • Appeal
  • Transparent and independent review
  • Referral to SPSO or other independent adjudicator
  • Statutory duty to inform complainant
  • Clear and published entitlement

Process Characteristics Attitude as well as
Characteristics expanded
  • Accessible Clear, free, easily understood
    and available to all Transparent Impartial,
    independent and auditable Simple As few steps as
    necessary, minimal hand-offs and properly
    documented Evidence-Based Driven by the facts
    not assumptions Respectful Values the complaint,
    respects the complainant and manages unacceptable
    behaviour Authoritative Credible, consistent
    and definitive with delegated authority Standards
    -Based Quality, timeliness and effective
    communication Proportionate Flexible in method
    and appropriate to the circumstances Demonstrable
    Reported, open to feedback and used to drive

Best Practice Proportionality Just say sorry
Barriers to apology
  • Admitting fault is difficult especially in blame
  • Lack of support?
  • Natural reluctance to admit we have made a
  • May not appreciate the value of apology?
  • Easy way out could become meaningless?
  • Reputational risks/future career?
  • Fear of litigation?

Failure to apologise meaningfully
  • Impacts negatively on trust and confidence in the
  • Can lead to escalation of a complaint
  • Sets the wrong culture and ethos
  • Opportunities to learn and avoid similar problems
    are lost
  • Can increase likelihood of litigation.

Benefits of apologising
  • Properly delivered, a meaningful apology can
    benefit the organisation as well as the
    complainant. It can take some heat out of the
    situation, dissolve anger and reduce stress for
    both the complainant and the staff dealing with
    the complainant. It can also help to repair the
    relationship between the complainant and the
  • An apology is not a sign of weakness or an
    invitation to be sued. It is a sign of strength
    and demonstrates a willingness to learn when
    something has gone wrong. It can also demonstrate
    a commitment to putting things right. To
    apologise is good practice and a vital part of
    any effective complaints management culture.

Leadership and Culture
  • Invest resources and train support staff and
    empower frontline staff
  • Monitor and analyse complaints
  • Report trends to senior management (standing
    agenda items for Board meetings)
  • Share learning with staff across departments
  • Identify common themes / issues
  • Use feedback from complaints to improve services
  • Demonstrate publicly how complaints have helped
    to improve policy, procedures and services

  • Good complaint handling is about making sure you
  • the right systems, procedures and processes in
  • a good complaints process based on best practice
  • well trained and supported staff
  • But, crucially, it is about the right attitudes,
    behaviour and culture - a leadership challenge

End quote
  • When complaints are freely heard, deeply
    considered and speedily reformed, then is the
    utmost bound of civil liberty attained that wise
    men look for
  • John Milton Areopagitica, 1644

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