Complaintshandling Final

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  • 1. complaints handling J
  • 2. EFFICIENCY UNIT i VISION AND MISSION Vision statement To be the preferred consulting partner for all government bureaux and departments and to advance the delivery of world-class public services to the people of Hong Kong. mission statement To provide strategic and implementable solutions to all our clients as they seek to deliver people-based government services. We do this by combining our extensive understanding of policies, our specialised knowledge and our broad contacts and linkages throughout the Government and the private sector. In doing this, we join our clients in contributing to the advancement of the community while also providing a fulfilling career for all members of our team. This brief was researched and authored by the Research Division, Institute of Public Administration, Ireland (www.ipa.ie/research). The Research Division provides applied research services for policy makers in a wide range of public service organisations, drawing on an extensive network of contacts and experience gained over more than thirty years. other efficiency Unit DocUments The Efficiency Unit has produced a number of guides on good practice on a wide range of areas, including outsourcing and contract management. These may be found on the Efficiency Unit website at www.eu.gov.hk. Complaints Handling
  • 3. Foreword The Hong Kong Government comprises dozens of departments and tens of thousands of ii civil servants, enforcing hundreds of ordinances and delivering a wide range of services in accordance with countless policies and long-standing practices to a population of seven million. It is inevitable that there will be complaints. We should not be overly concerned that the public finds fault with us. We should, however, be concerned if they fault us for how we handle those complaints. The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) Guidelines for Complaints Handling in Organisations addresses the following aspects of complaints handling: y Enhancing customer satisfaction y Recognising and addressing the needs and expectations of complainants y Providing an open, effective and easy-to-use complaints process y Analysing and evaluating complaints to improve service quality y Auditing the complaints handling process y Reviewing the effectiveness and efficiency of the complaints handling process. Whatever the size and nature of the department, and the profile of its customers, a complaints handling mechanism that has addressed the key points covered by the ISO will not go far wrong. This public sector reform report highlights some of the guidelines and up-to-date best practices in complaints handling being followed around the world. The best complaints regimes combine speedy, effective action, sincerity and empathy. As Nelson Mandela once said, ‘A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.’ As public servants we must expect dissatisfied customers. We have choices about how the public can express that dissatisfaction. We can develop efficient and effective complaints systems that the public trust and use. Alternatively, we can wait until the public complain direct to the media, politicians or oversight agencies. As a Yugoslavian proverb puts it, ‘Complain to the one who can help you.’ One emerging trend that we should be aware of involves new media and technologies. Most dissatisfied customers do not make formal complaints. In the past they would merely inform a few friends and relatives. Today, they are just as likely to inform thousands of people through blogs, chatrooms and the like. Failure to listen and react to complaints in the future is likely to be ever more costly to our reputation. Head, Efficiency Unit January 2009 Complaints Handling
  • 4. contents 1 execUtiVe sUmmary 2 1. introDUction 6 2. access to anD confiDence in the complaints hanDling system 10 3. managing the complaints hanDling system within organisations 14 4. oVerseeing complaints hanDling – a system-wiDe perspectiVe 34 5. conclUsion 37 references 39
  • 5. Executive Summary introDUction management practices must be in place 2 within organisations, and there must be A broad working definition of a complaint is procedures in place to enable a system- ‘any expression of dissatisfaction that needs a wide overview of complaints handling. response’ (Cabinet Office, 1998). The primary Good complaints handling does not always focus of this report is on best international result in the complainant being happy with practice in complaints handling, with a the outcome, but it does ensure that the particular emphasis on internal complaints complaint is taken seriously and addressed handling systems within public service thoroughly. Central to complaints handling is organisations. the principle of empathy with the complainant and recognition of the person’s concerns. A good internal complaints handling system This involves actions such as dealing with provides benefits to the organisation: serving the complaint as speedily as possible, as a quick and efficient means of resolving careful listening, and apologising when difficulties that may arise; promoting good the organisation commits fault. relations and communications with the public; indicating where problems and shortcomings access to anD confiDence exist in the provision of services and areas in the complaints hanDling that might need improvement; and helping system the organisation to avoid unfavourable publicity. A vital step in determining access to the organisation to enable complaints to be made Similarly, a good complaints handling is deciding in which ways people can lodge system provides benefits to the public: complaints. A variety of means are possible, providing a quick, easy and cost-effective including telephone, face-to-face meeting, means of resolving difficulties with public feedback form (online and/or hard copy) bodies; obtaining redress where necessary; and so on. However, people often do not promoting a sense of empowerment in the know how to access the complaints system. individual by enabling him/her to have a role More innovative organisations pro-actively in contributing to improvements in the public encourage complaints access, through service; and giving people the assurance that such means as information provision and their complaints are being taken seriously distribution strategies aimed at specific and that they are being treated properly, target groups. fairly and impartially. A particular fear of some people considering For an effective complaints handling system lodging a complaint is that they will be to operate, people need to be able to access subject to discrimination or harassment if the system and have confidence in it, good they proceed with their complaint. This may Complaints Handling
  • 6. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY be a particular concern among vulnerable then assesses the likelihood of recurrence individuals and groups. Good practice guides of the incidents or events giving rise to the 3 indicate that, in an attempt to remove the complaint, and finally assigns a risk level to fear of retribution, organisations should the complaint on the basis of the findings clearly inform clients that they will not be from the first two stages. discriminated against as a result of any complaint. Another good practice is to Particular challenges for complaints handling establish internal follow-up procedures to are present where multiple agencies are address the risk of discrimination against involved in delivering separate services in clients who lodge a complaint. Such a a single location, or in jointly delivering a follow-up procedure might involve contacting single service, or where private organisations a sample of customers who had complained to may also be involved, either alongside or as check that the complaint had been addressed partners in the project to deliver a service. and resolved and that the customer had not In these circumstances, it is particularly encountered any difficulties or harassment important that the respective roles and as a result of lodging the complaint. responsibilities in administering legislation, making policy, and handling complaints, are Staff may also have concerns that need to clearly spelt out and visible to the public. In be addressed. Staff may fear being criticised the absence of clarity and visibility, members for being the subject of complaints, leading of the public can have difficulty in knowing to a situation where they fear complaints. To how and where to complain. Apart from avoid this, good practice guidance suggests: issues that cut across different sectors and creating an environment in which complaints organisations, making complaints by the are seen as opportunities to improve services public can also be difficult because of the or systems, and making sure that staff feel sheer complexity of the public service. confident that procedures support them. Simplifying this complexity for the public is a challenging but vital part of complaints managing the complaints handling. Some organisations and indeed hanDling system within sectors are now moving towards a single organisations point of contact for complaints. Risk assessment can be an important part Another challenge faced by many public of a good complaints handling system. Risk servants dealing with complaints is how to management is increasingly featured in good handle complainants who are 'difficult' in practice guidance. Some organisations use some way, either in their tone and approach, in risk assessment tools. One risk assessment their ability to articulate their case, or because tool adopts a three-step process which firstly they are making vexatious complaints with categorises the consequences of a complaint, little substance. To be able to deal with such Complaints Handling
  • 7. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY complaints tactfully yet forcefully requires A supportive culture within the organisation 4 that good procedures and standards are is vital to the success of complaints handling. in place, and that staff have the skills and In particular, to be effective, complaints competencies needed to manage such systems should be supported by senior difficult situations. Good practice suggests management. It is notable that in many good developing guidance that includes details practice organisations the chief executive is of how to handle difficult customers, in an active proponent of complaints handling, person or on the phone, and how to deal and the complaints handling manager or unit with their letters; instructions about a cut-off reports directly to the chief executive and/ point, which should be reached only after a or the senior management team. In terms of management decision; and instructions for supporting front-line staff, who most often dealing with any further problems. have to deal directly with complaints, these pressures should be recognised and as much Many leading public service organisations are support as possible provided to enable them now providing electronic means for citizens to do their jobs well. to lodge complaints. Common initiatives are: providing an email link on web sites for oVerseeing complaints citizens to electronically submit comments hanDling – a system-wiDe or complaints; providing on-line access to perspectiVe structured complaints forms for specific programmes; allowing citizens to complete Above the level of the organisation, it is and forward the form on-line, and having important that a systemic view of complaints forms that can be downloaded, printed, handling is taken. A ‘whole of government’ and mailed to the organisation. Information perspective is needed, within which the technology is also used to enable better complaints handling procedures of individual storage, communication and tracking of organisations fit. Important aspects of this complaints. system-wide perspective are the categorisation of complaints and ensuring that lesson Organisations need to periodically assess learning is spread system-wide. the quality of their complaints handling system. Best practice organisations tend to In terms of categorising complaints, several do this by taking and reviewing a sample of countries and sectors encourage the use of complaints and determining how well they a complaints ‘ladder’ whereby complaints were dealt with, the degree to which there are moved up the hierarchy as necessary, was resolution, and the degree and quality often using a three-tier process. The first tier of communication with the complainant. is front-line staff, authorised to resolve minor complaints at first point of contact. The second tier, if the complainant is still dissatisfied, is Complaints Handling
  • 8. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY internal review or investigation by more senior staff or a designated complaints 5 officer. The third tier, if complaints are not resolved internally, is to refer unresolved complaints for external review. This may be an external agency such as an Ombudsman or an alternative dispute resolution procedure. conclUsion Good complaints handling means: y Being citizen focused y Ensuring that people with complaints can easily access the system y Dealing with people promptly and sensitively, bearing in mind their individual circumstances y Being open and accountable and acting fairly and proportionately y Putting things right when things have gone wrong and apologising for the mistakes made when an apology is merited. Good complaints handling is also about seeking continuous improvement, using feedback and lessons learned to improve service design and delivery. An effective complaints system which offers a range of timely and appropriate remedies saves organisations time and money in the long run. This enhances the quality of service to its clients, has a positive effect on staff morale and improves the organisation’s relations with the citizen. It also provides useful feedback to the organisation and enables it to review procedures and systems that may be giving rise to complaints. Complaints Handling
  • 9. 1. Introduction Complaints handling is an important part information to further enhance and deliver 6 of any organisation’s work, but one that can quality services to the citizen. The increasing easily be misunderstood or under-appreciated. emphasis on ‘personalisation’ of services and The challenge for most organisations is to responsiveness to the needs of users are implement a complaints handling system important developments that also increase that effectively meets the needs of citizens the need for a positive approach to be taken and the organisation. In this regard, a number towards complaints. of studies examined in this report set out international good practice in complaints However, it is important to remember that handling in the public service. The primary the state is not just a service provider, as it focus is on the development of internal defines both entitlements and obligations complaints handling within organisations. and it also interacts with the users of its In the UK an important general guiding services in a variety of ways. In this context, point regarding complaints handling is Brewer (2007) for example warns: ‘Public stressed in the House of Commons Public sector managers and professionals need an Administration Select Committee (2008) awareness of how public reform strategies report When Citizens Complain (http://www. oriented exclusively towards a strengthened parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ consumer role do risk undermining important cm200708/cmselect/cmpubadm/409/409. aspects of the complaints handling and pdf ), which suggests that public services redress strategies embedded in the “rule of need to adopt the perspective of citizens law” and “due process” features of citizen- who use them: ‘They should seek to discover oriented public administration.’ In other what complainants hope to achieve from words, in a public service context it is not making their views known; they should enough to simply respond speedily to an have a systematic and active strategy for individual complainant. Attention must be monitoring and learning from complaints given to treating all citizens fairly. This goes to inform service delivery.’ beyond seeing complainants as customers, to seeing them more as citizens with rights why is gooD complaints and responsibilities. hanDling important? A good internal complaints handling system In recent decades, public sector organisations provides benefits to the organisation: serving in many of the most reforming countries have as a quick and efficient means of resolving developed their complaints handling systems difficulties that may arise; promoting good as part of quality customer service initiatives. relations and communications with the public; Under the public service modernisation indicating where problems and shortcomings programme, public service organisations exist in the provision of services and areas have been conscious of using complaints that might need improvement; and helping Complaints Handling
  • 10. INTRODUCTION the organisation to avoid unfavourable Having a good complaints handling system publicity such as complaints lodged to in place in an organisation can also save time 7 the media, Ombudsman, etc. Similarly, a and cost down the line. Many complaints in good complaints handling system provides Ombudsman’s offices result from a breakdown benefits to the public: providing a quick, in communications between public bodies easy and cost-effective means of resolving and their clients. Studies have shown that difficulties with public bodies; obtaining most such complaints could and should be redress where necessary; fostering a greater easily and swiftly settled at a very early stage sense of inclusiveness or partnership with by public bodies themselves. the public service; promoting a sense of empowerment in the individual by enabling John McMillan, Australian Commonwealth him/her to have a role in contributing to Ombudsman, identifies ten lessons learned improvements in the public service; and from thirty years of complaints handling giving complainants the assurance that their that summarise very well the benefits to complaints are being taken seriously and be found in handling complaints well (see that they are being treated properly, fairly case study). and impartially. Case stUDy – ten lessons from tHirty years of Complaints HanDling 1. Complaints are a fact of life Problems occur in every programme and in every system, no matter how well designed or how efficient. The inevitability of problems means that it is essential to establish a system for handling complaints and for client relations, even before problems are first reported. 2. Complaints provide a window on systemic problems As often complaints are not unique and point to a recurring difficulty in an agency. If staff misunderstood a legislative or policy rule in one case, it is likely the rule was misapplied in other similar cases. The implication is that agencies should view complaints as a valuable source of intelligence on how effectively the agency is performing. 3. Complaints can stimulate organisational improvement While the prime focus in complaints handling must be to provide a remedy to a complainant, that is not the only task. A skilled complaints handling unit will examine whether a complaint has significance beyond its own facts. There is a systemic lesson to be found in most complaints. Complaints Handling
  • 11. INTRODUCTION 4. complaints must be taken seriously by the leaders of an organisation 8 An organisation will not be responsive to complaints unless the leadership group in the organisation sends the right message to staff. A defensive or dismissive attitude to complaints by agency leaders will soon develop into an impregnable barrier to the agency learning from its mistakes. Similarly, if a complaints unit is parked at the side of an organisation and treated as peripheral to core business, its messages will be sidelined. 5. complaints handling is suitable for all areas of business and government External oversight and complaints handling is as relevant, for example, to policing and defence, as it is to social services and taxation. Experience has illustrated that disciplined forces that have a strong internal culture can benefit a great deal by exposure to a generalist or civilian complaints agency. It is a reminder that all agencies in government are expected to be accountable, transparent and prepared to explain and defend their actions. 6. complaints handling is a specialist task It is easy to handle a complaint badly and cause a complainant to shift his/her focus from the topic of the complaint to the performance of the complaints agency. Complaints and investigation staff must be specially selected and properly trained, and complaints handling must be subject to constant supervision and quality assurance. 7. good complaints handling can defuse a crisis The way a complaint is handled will be as important as the outcome of any investigation. Indeed, it can almost be stated as a truth that the time taken to resolve a complaint will be inversely proportional to the chance of a satisfactory resolution. 8. complaints work transforms and improves government Government agencies are now more responsive to queries and complaints, they have service charters and internal complaints and review procedures, there are performance standards for measuring effectiveness and integrity within agencies, and there is greater transparency in decision making. 9. the price of failure is high The mistakes of an organisation are remembered for many years. All the hard work and positive achievements of an organisation can be overshadowed by one or two mistakes that gain public notoriety. Complaints cannot, of course, prevent mistakes. But they are an important part of the system for preventing or minimising damaging mistakes. 10. we can all do better There are challenges ahead and there are areas for improvement. Source: McMillan (2007), http://www.comb.gov.au/commonwealth/publish.nsf/ AttachmentsByTitle/seminar_notes_John_McMillan/$FILE/seminar_notes_John_McMillan.pdf Complaints Handling
  • 12. INTRODUCTION what is a complaint? 9 In the UK, the Cabinet Office (1998) publication How To Deal With Complaints outlined a broad working definition of a complaint as ‘any expression of dissatisfaction that needs a response.’ When Citizens Complain (House of Commons, 2008) endorses this broad definition and recommends its use by all government organisations, however communicated; it also recommends that all such expressions of dissatisfaction be treated as complaints (p.9). The Office of the Ombudsman in Ireland gives a broader context for this definition and suggests that the success of any complaints handling system depends on those involved in its operation being clear as to what it is intended to achieve. The Office suggests that the term complaint may cover a wide range of items, not all of which may be appropriate to the complaints handling system, e.g. matters for which there is a statutory right of appeal such as a planning appeal. In this context, a working definition used by the Office of the Ombudsman in Ireland is that a complaint exists where ‘a decision or action is taken which relates to the provision of a service or the performance of a function which, it is claimed, is not in accordance with the rules, practice or policy of the organisation or the generally accepted principles of equity and good administrative practice and which adversely affects the person concerned.’ (Office of the Ombudsman, Ireland, http:// ombudsman.gov.ie/en/Publications/ Guidelines/InternalComplaints/) Complaints Handling
  • 13. 2. Access to and confidence in the complaints handling system People need to have confidence that ways in which people can 10 their complaint will be handled fairly and loDge a complaint courteously. Citizens need to know that it is easy to find out where to complain and A vital first step in determining access to how to complain. They want to know that the organisation to enable complaints to complaints are not only invited but are treated be made is deciding in which ways people seriously, that they will be listened to with can lodge complaints. The Centrelink case empathy, apologised to if necessary and that study from Australia shows that a variety of actions will be taken to redress the situation means of making a complaint can be used. as needed. A vital first step in this process is Obtaining customer complaints may seem ensuring access to the complaints handling straightforward, but decisions need to be system for all who may wish to avail of it. made as to how complaints are to be made and fed into the system to be processed. case stUDy – loDging a complaint with centrelink, aUstralia Centrelink is the main delivery agency for the Australian government’s social policy agenda. In 2003–2004 Centrelink delivered services to 6.5 million people including retired people, families, sole parents, people looking for work, people with disabilities and indigenous Australians. There are six main ways a customer can make a complaint directly with Centrelink: y By telephone, through the Customer Relations Line, and on Freecall numbers, which accepts telephone typewriter (TTY) y By telephone to a Customer Service Centre (CSC) or a Call Centre (CC) y By speaking to a Centrelink Customer Service Officer (CSO) directly at a CSC y By completing a customer comment card and lodging it either at a CSC or mail by reply paid post y By email, using a Service Feedback form that can be completed and forwarded via Centrelink’s website y By mail or facsimile Source: Australian National Audit Office (2005), http://www.anao.gov.au/uploads/ documents/2004-05_Audit_Report_34.pdf. p.35 Complaints Handling
  • 14. ACCESS TO AND CONFIDENCE IN THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM Do people know how to loDge cent for participants identified as being a complaint? indigenous Australians (Australian National 11 Audit Office, 2005). Staying with the Centrelink example, the 2002 Centrelink National Customer Satisfaction Study This highlights the need for work on the part asked those customers surveyed to identify of organisations in terms of advertising their ways in which they could make a complaint complaints system and ensuring, as far as to Centrelink about its service. Some 26 per practicable, that all clients and customers cent of customers were unable to identify are aware that a complaints system exists at least one way in which they could make and how to access it (see case study). such a complaint. This figure rose to 39 per case stUDy – ensUring clients know how to access the complaints system The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat recommends that the following questions be asked with regard to access: y Does the organisation provide information about how to complain and to whom complaints should be made, including a contact, a phone number, and an address? How is this information disseminated? y Has the organisation published its standards of service and made them available so that people know what standards of service they may expect? y Can clients make complaints in a variety of ways – in person, in writing, by fax, and by telephone? y Does the organisation provide information about formal independent review bodies, such as relevant judicial bodies? y When necessary, has the organisation informed clients about ways that a relative or friend might help with a complaint if clients have difficulty expressing themselves? y Has the organisation designated staff to help people formulate and pursue their complaints? y Are there suitable arrangements to allow people with disabilities to complain? y Do employees know what to do when they receive a complaint? Source: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/Pubs_pol/opepubs/TB_O/11qg1-eng.asp Complaints Handling
  • 15. ACCESS TO AND CONFIDENCE IN THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM A key point here is that a variety of means of y User tests before distribution (e.g. 12 letting people know that they can complain online scorecard) and how they can complain is needed. These y Flexible distribution strategies: email, may include: face-to-face, mail-outs, libraries, government and community y Developing specific information agencies and resources: fact-sheets, posters, translated information, kids colouring y Promotional ‘goodies’: stress balls, in sheets, and brochures fridge magnets, pens, bags y Regular publications: newsletters, y Maintaining a database of key contacts. email alerts y Websites as a recognised source of Source: Petre (2007) information and useful links case stUDy – actiVely encoUraging complaints One top performing acute hospital trust in the UK used all the standard methods to publicise its complaints handling system but wanted to do more to encourage people to come forward. To achieve this, they worked on an active community out-reach programme. The programme linked in with existing patient support groups, disability groups and hard-to-reach special interest groups, as well as social services. The staff worked closely with these groups by attending meetings, distributing leaflets, sharing information and talking about what they do. The trust also established a community involvement forum. Service users and patients sit on this group and work with the trust to advise on the design of its patient information leaflets. The trust keeps this programme active by continually searching through local newspapers to learn about new groups or meetings that may also be worth targeting. Source: Healthcare Commission (2007), http://www.healthcarecommission.org.uk/_db/_ documents/Complaints_handling_in_the_NHS.pdf, pp.17-18 Complaints Handling
  • 16. ACCESS TO AND CONFIDENCE IN THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM Dealing with client anD staff complaint had been addressed and resolved fears anD concerns aboUt and that the customer had not encountered 13 loDging a complaint any difficulties or harassment as a result of lodging the complaint. In the UK, a National Audit Office (2008) study found that only 5 per cent of people Staff may also have concerns that need to be who had been dissatisfied with the services addressed. The Cabinet Office (1998) report of the National Health Service made a formal How To Deal With Complaints suggests that ‘a complaint. Sixteen per cent made an informal “blame culture” where members of staff are complaint to which they did not expect a criticised for being the subject of complaints written response, but 79 per cent did not only leads to a situation where staff fear complain at all. Most commonly, people did complaints. They then try to brush them under not complain because they lacked confidence the carpet, and deal with them negatively in the system. Thirty-two per cent who did not or even with hostility’. To avoid this, complain formally stated that they thought the guidance suggests creating an nothing would be done as a result of their environment in which complaints are seen complaint, while 6 per cent did not feel their as opportunities to improve services or complaint would be looked at with sufficient systems, and making sure that staff feel independence or fairness. confident that procedures support them. Some people considering lodging a complaint fear that they will be subject to discrimination or harassment if they proceed with their complaint. This may be a particular concern among vulnerable individuals and groups. Good practice guidelines tend to state that, in order to remove the fear of retribution, organisations should inform clients that they will not be discriminated against as a result of making a complaint. Another good practice is to establish internal follow-up procedures to address the risk of discrimination against clients who lodge a complaint. Such a follow-up procedure might involve contacting a sample of customers who had complained to check that the Complaints Handling
  • 17. 3. Managing the complaints handling system within organisations Once a complaints handling system is in place iDentifying gooD practice 14 that the public can access, it is important principles in complaints that the system is operated efficiently hanDling and effectively and that the needs of the complainant are addressed thoroughly, The Office of the Ombudsman, Ireland, courteously and promptly. There are general sets out the essential principles of a good principles and practices to help ensure that internal complaints handling system (see complaints handling is well managed in case study). public service organisations. case stUDy – principles of a gooD internal complaints hanDling system accessible Simple instructions about how to make a complaint should be available to the public. These should clearly identify the designated complaints handlers and explain how they will operate. The various ways in which a complaint may be made should be stated. Suitable accommodation should be provided for receiving and interviewing complainants who wish to make a complaint in person. At all times it should be emphasised that complaints are welcomed by the public body as a means of improving the quality of service provided. simple The various stages in the complaints handling process should be kept to a minimum, with each stage in the process clearly identified. It is essential that internal disputes about the handling of the complaint do not develop. When the receipt of a complaint is being acknowledged, an outline of the various stages the complaint will go through should be sent to the complainant. speedy Targets should be set for acknowledging receipt of complaints and the completion of their examination. Where it is not possible to meet the target for completion, interim letters, updating the complainant on progress, should be issued. Complaints Handling
  • 18. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS fair and independent Complaints that have not been resolved by the original decision-maker should be 15 examined objectively by persons not involved with the original decisions or actions. The examination should have regard not only to the rules governing the scheme but also to considerations of equity and good administrative practice. confidential and impartial All complaints should be treated in confidence (except where the complainant wishes otherwise). The public should be assured that making a complaint will not adversely affect their future dealings and contacts with the body concerned. Correspondence about the complaint should be filed separately from other information held on the complainant as a client of the body. effective The complaints system should have the authority to address all the issues giving rise to the complaint. Where the examination finds that the fault lies with the public body, the system must have the power to provide appropriate redress. A complainant who remains dissatisfied should be advised of his/her right to refer the case to the Ombudsman where appropriate. flexible While rules are necessary to ensure consistency, too much rigidity should be avoided and there should be a degree of discretion given to those involved in the system to adjust to the changing needs and demands of complainants and to adapt to new situations. Source: Office of the Ombudsman, Ireland, http://ombudsman.gov.ie/en/Publications/ Guidelines/InternalComplaints/ On a similar note, the Treasury Board of (see case study). Also, in Western Australia, Canada Secretariat, in guidance on good five good practice principles guided the practice in complaints handling, includes redesign of the complaints handling system a checklist of questions to ask in order to in the Department of Education and Training ensure that an organisation is operating a (see case study). system that is responsive to client needs Complaints Handling
  • 19. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS case stUDy – ensUring a responsiVe complaints hanDling 16 system Questions to ask about responsiveness: y Do procedures allow employees to resolve complaints on the spot if possible, and to provide immediate redress, where appropriate? y If employees cannot deal with an appropriate complaint on the spot, do the procedures set out further stages, including steps for conducting a full investigation and for providing a full final reply? y Are there time limits for dealing with various types of complaints, and for each step in the procedure, such as acknowledgment, interim reply, and final reply? y Does the organisation monitor time limits and review them regularly? y Do employees keep complainants informed of the progress of their complaint? y Are staff trained to handle complaints? y Are staff trained in interpersonal skills, including skills for dealing with abusive and threatening behaviour? y Does the system allow employees to retrieve information about a complaint quickly? Source: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/Pubs_pol/opepubs/TB_O/11qg1-eng.asp case stUDy – improVing internal complaints hanDling in the Department of eDUcation anD training, western aUstralia Five areas were identified where action was needed to improve complaints handling procedures: y A centralised complaints management system to provide a rigorous, consistent approach and efficiency and effectiveness in the handling of complaints. This will facilitate transparency and clear decision-making in complaints management processes y Improved complaints assessment to determine the nature of the complaint, how it should be dealt with, who should be involved and whether investigation is needed. This will facilitate greater clarity in responding to matters relating to professional standards, grievances, employee relations and the provision of goods and services Complaints Handling
  • 20. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS y A risk management framework and a culture open to receiving complaints supported 17 by: an educative and advisory role; clear guidelines with an explicit mechanism for dealing with issues according to the various degrees of seriousness and for determining the necessary and appropriate level of response; training and support at the local level; and an effective communications strategy to ensure complainants and all other stakeholders (including external agencies) are kept informed about the progress of a complaint y Coordination and collation of systemic data and clear guidelines on record keeping. This will benefit the Department by: providing information that can lead to improvements in service delivery; providing a basis for ongoing review; and enhancing the ability of the organisation to identify and respond to trends y An independent and escalated review process for investigating serious complaints, together with redress options. Source: Ombudsman Western Australia (2006), http://www.ombudsman.wa.gov.au/ documents/reports/DETReport.pdf conDUcting a risk categorising a complaint. The risk assessment assessment of complaints tool adopts a three-step process which firstly categorises the consequences of a As indicated in the Department of Education complaint, then assesses the likelihood of and Training Western Australia case study, recurrence of the incidents or events giving risk assessment can be an important part rise to the complaint, and finally assigns a of a good complaints handling system. Risk risk level to the complaint. Risk assessing a management is increasingly featured in complaint can ensure that the subsequent good practice guidance. For example, the UK management process and any associated Healthcare Commission recommends the use investigation are proportionate to the severity of a risk assessment tool to aid decisions on of the complaint and the related risks. Complaints Handling
  • 21. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS case stUDy – DeVeloping a risk assessment tool for 18 complaints 1. the consequence categorisation table assists in determining how to categorise the consequences of a complaint, or the subject matter of a complaint: category Description serious Issues regarding serious adverse events, long-term damage, grossly substandard care, professional misconduct or death that require investigation. Serious patient safety issues. Probability of litigation high major Significant issues of standards, quality of care, or denial of rights. Complaints with clear quality assurance or risk management implications, or issues causing lasting detriment that require investigation. Possibility of litigation moderate Potential to impact on service provision/delivery. Legitimate consumer concern but not causing lasting detriment. Slight potential for litigation minor Minimal impact and relative minimal risk to the provision of healthcare or the organisation. No real risk of litigation minimum No impact or risk to provision of healthcare Complaints Handling
  • 22. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS 2. the likelihood categorisation table assists in determining the likelihood of recurrence of the incident or circumstances giving rise to the complaint: 19 likelihooD Description frequent Recurring – found or experienced often probable Will probably occur several times a year occasional Happening from time to time – not constant; irregular Uncommon Rare – unusual but may have happened before remote Isolated or one-off – slight/vague connection to healthcare service provision 3. having assessed the consequence and likelihood categories using the tables above, the risk assessment matrix below is used to determine the level of risk assigned to the complaint: conseqUences likelihooD of recUrrence frequent probable occasional Uncommon remote serious high major moderate meDiUm minor minimum low Source: Healthcare Commission (2008a), Appendix 6.5, http://www.healthcarecommission.org.uk/_db/_documents/Complaints_Toolkit.pdf Complaints Handling
  • 23. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS Dealing with cross-cUtting partners in the project to deliver a service. 20 anD complex complaints In these circumstances, it is particularly important that the respective roles and Particular challenges for complaints handling responsibilities in administering legislation, are present where multiple agencies are making policy, and handling complaints, are involved in delivering separate services in clearly spelt out and visible to the public. In a single location, or in jointly delivering a the absence of clarity and visibility, members single service, or where private organisations of the public can have difficulty in knowing may also be involved, either alongside or as how and where to complain. case stUDy – complaints hanDling in aUstralian airports In Australia, an investigation undertaken by the Commonwealth Ombudsman examined the visibility and accessibility of complaints handling systems in airports, inter-agency collaboration in complaints handling, and how well agencies resolved systemic issues identified through complaints. A number of organisations were involved in dealing with complaints at airports: Australian Customs Service; Australian Federal Police; Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service; Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources; Department of Immigration and Citizenship; and Department of Transport and Regional Services. Overall the study found that agencies could raise greater awareness for travellers of their right to complain and how to exercise that right. The report also found that agencies could work more cooperatively in managing complaints. Based on the findings, the Commonwealth Ombudsman Office made 14 recommendations, including that agencies should: review their complaints handling systems to ensure they comply with Australian Standard AS ISO 10002–2006; make complaints handling systems more visible to passengers; develop a joint complaints handling mechanism at major airports; improve their websites to make complaints information easier to locate and available in a range of formats so that no traveller is disadvantaged (see for example http://www.immi.gov.au/contacts/forms/services/index.htm for links from the immigration and citizenship website to the complaints section of the websites of other agencies) and review complaints handling information to ensure that it is available in the languages Complaints Handling
  • 24. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS most frequently spoken by passengers travelling to Australia. The majority of the recommendations were accepted by all the agencies, and they all recognised the importance 21 of dealing with complaints consistently and effectively. Source: Commonwealth Ombudsman Annual Report 2006–2007, http://www.ombudsman. gov.au/publications_information/annual_reports/ar2006-07/chapter_5/chapter_5b. html case stUDy – complaints hanDling anD the welfare to work initiatiVe Under a Welfare to Work initiative in Australia, a complaint could involve Centrelink for the payment matters, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) for the policy, and the Department of Human Services (DHS) for the job capacity assessment component. In the case of a job seeker with a disability, the complaint may also involve the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA). The involvement of multiple agencies can make it difficult for persons to resolve any issues of concern. They may be unclear as to which agency is best placed to address their concerns and the role of different agencies in dealing with their particular circumstances. Questions arise about which agency is responsible for poor administration relating to flawed policies and guidelines. For example, if the Ombudsman’s office forms the view that a Centrelink decision was based on flawed policy, the question arises as to which agency is responsible: DEWR as the policyholder or Centrelink as the service delivery agency, or both. This also makes it difficult to identify which agency is best placed to achieve the appropriate remedy because in some instances three or more agencies may all have some degree of shared responsibility. The Commonwealth Ombudsman Annual Report 2006–2007 suggests that it is important that there are clear lines of responsibility and inter-agency collaboration in dealing with complaints. It is also imperative that appropriate processes to address these issues are set up at the start of the implementation of such major initiatives. Source: Commonwealth Ombudsman, Annual Report 2006–2007, http://www.ombudsman. gov.au/publications_information/annual_reports/ar2006-07/chapter_5/chapter_5b. html Complaints Handling
  • 25. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS Apart from issues that cut across different Simplifying this complexity for the public is 22 sectors and organisations, making complaints a challenging but vital part of complaints by the public can also be difficult because of handling (see Crerar Review and Revenue the sheer complexity of the public service. Canada case studies). case stUDy – the crerar reView in scotlanD The Crerar Review report considers how Scotland’s systems of regulation, audit, and inspection (referred to as ‘external scrutiny’) and complaints handling for public services could be improved. A practical example cited in the report to outline the complexity and the difficulty posed to service users wishing to make complaints was provided in evidence from the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO) who notes that an individual wishing to make a complaint about the provision of care for her elderly mother could have been investigated through five separate complaints processes: NHS, Care Commission, the individual care home, professional bodies, or the Procurator Fiscal. The report suggests that service users and the public would benefit from a less complex, faster and more easily accessed system. Service providers would also benefit from a simplified system and from a more consistent way of using complaints outcomes to provide assurance and drive improvement. To this end the report recommends that: y A standardised complaints handling system should be introduced for scrutiny organisations and service providers in all public services y The SPSO should oversee all public service complaints handling processes, but with the specific role of investigating front-line service failure being devolved to service providers and scrutiny bodies, to simplify the present arrangements. The report’s proposals are intended to result in a reduction in the number of bodies dealing with complaints. The response of an action group established by the government to implement the main recommendations of the report broadly agreed with the approach outlined. The response can be accessed at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/ Doc/923/0063564.doc. Source: Scottish Government (2007), http://openscotland.gov.uk/ Publications/2007/09/25120506/14 Complaints Handling
  • 26. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS case stUDy – Dealing with complexity in the reVenUe sector 23 Revenue Canada set up a Problem Resolution Programme to deal with high-profile problems. Problem-resolution staff in tax services offices and tax centres resolve problems that cannot be handled through regular complaints resolution channels. They locate the sources of administrative problems, solve the problems, and ensure that steps are taken to prevent their recurrence. The programme allows the department to monitor and analyse the nature and frequency of complaints, which helps the department anticipate and respond to taxpayers’ ever-changing needs and demands. Source: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/Pubs_pol/opepubs/TB_O/11qg1-eng.asp Dealing with DifficUlt complainants Another challenge faced by many public servants dealing with complaints is how to handle complainants who are ‘difficult’ in some way, e.g. in their tone and approach, in their ability to articulate their case, or because they are making vexatious complaints with little substance. To be able to deal with such complaints tactfully yet forcefully requires that good procedures and standards are in place, and that staff have the skills and competencies needed to manage such difficult situations. Complaints Handling
  • 27. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS case stUDy – Dealing with a DifficUlt complainant in the Uk 24 national health serVice A complainant had presented a very detailed complaint to a health care trust regarding the care he received from the ear, nose and throat and cardiology departments at a major hospital in London. His complaint concerned the trust’s procedures; delays in appointments; being removed from the trust’s premises under the management of violent incidents policy; and the length of time that he had waited for a hearing aid. The complainant’s letters were often difficult to follow, but the trust worked extremely hard to address all of his concerns. There was good evidence that the departments at the trust worked together effectively to produce a coordinated response. Statements were taken from the appropriate staff and incorporated into the response. The trust’s investigation letter was very clear, with all medical terms explained in lay language. The complainant was unhappy with the trust’s first response letter, but the trust did not immediately refer him to the Healthcare Commission (the independent regulator for healthcare in England). Instead they drafted a very detailed second letter to address his outstanding concerns. The trust showed great patience and empathy in dealing with a sometimes difficult complainant. It provided clear explanations of the complainant’s treatment and was prepared to provide detailed accounts of his care and treatment over a long period of time. The complainant approached the Healthcare Commission about his complaint. Having taken clinical advice, the Healthcare Commission decided that no further action was necessary. Source: Healthcare Commission (2007), http://www.healthcarecommission.org.uk/_db/_ documents/HC_Complaints_Handling_tagged.pdf Complaints Handling
  • 28. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS case stUDy – poor practice in Dealing with a DifficUlt complainant 25 A London general practitioner practice removed Mr O from its patient list, having referred him to the local trust’s violent patient scheme. The reason given by the practice was that Mr O had been abusive to a member of staff when he was told that he would have to re-book an appointment after arriving late; this was apparently the third time that this had happened. Mr O complained to the practice and the trust about his removal from the list and the referral to the violent patient scheme. He felt that he had been discriminated against on the grounds of his race. Dissatisfied with the response to his complaint, Mr O requested an independent review from the Healthcare Commission. When the Commission’s case manager reviewed the case, she could find no evidence of an investigation into these events or a record of the two previous incidents referred to. The only reference to the incident was a brief note in Mr O’s medical records saying that he had been 10 minutes late for his appointment and was abusive when asked to make another appointment. Although the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners and General Medical Services contract (2004) all have guidelines for removing patients, there was nothing to indicate that the practice had used any of these. The Commission’s decision was to recommend that the primary care trust appoint an independent expert to investigate the circumstances of Mr O’s removal. This investigation found that there was no evidence to support the GP practice’s decisions, and that Mr O’s removal and referral to the violent patient scheme was unjustified. Source: Healthcare Commission (2008a), http://www.healthcarecommission.org.uk/_db/_ documents/Complaints_Toolkit.pdf With regard to people who are habitual reached only after a management decision; complainants, the Cabinet Office (1998) report and instructions for dealing with any further How To Deal With Complaints recommends problems: further letters from the customer that 'your complaints procedure should should be checked to make sure that they do set out guidance on handling people who not contain new issues that need a reply’. complain continually. This guidance should include: details of how to handle difficult The New South Wales Ombudsman’s Office customers, in person or on the phone, and is coordinating a cross-agency project to how to deal with their letters; instructions develop and trial management strategies for about a cut-off point, which should be complainants who behave unreasonably. ‘The Complaints Handling
  • 29. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS project recognises categories of unreasonable Using information anD 26 conduct that place an inequitable burden commUnications technology on the organisation’s resources and often cause distress for staff.’The New South Wales The extent to which information and Ombudsman’s Office is ‘now trialling various communications technologies (ICTs) can management strategies for responding to be underused is illustrated by a UK National unreasonable conduct. Staff attended one-day Audit Office (2005) report Citizen Redress, training sessions and were given material which found that most departments excluded outlining a range of recommended responses complaints received by email or telephone. to difficult behaviour. Staff have been asked The House of Commons Public Administration to test these strategies when a complainant Select Committee (2008) notes that in terms exhibits particular behaviour. The data from of accessibility of citizens to a complaints this trial will inform the project’s conclusions system, ‘insisting on complaints in writing can and final paper.’ (Source: Commonwealth potentially defer valid complaints and prevent Ombudsman Annual Report 2006–2007) problems being identified. People should not be disadvantaged if they have difficulty in making a formal written complaint’ (p.9). case stUDy – Using websites to complain A study of the websites of fifty public and private organisations in Australia examined the visibility of complaints procedures on the websites of the organisations amongst other things. Visibility was measured by reference to four questions: y Is the complaints process noted on the home page? y Is there a ‘contact us’ button on the home page? y Is there a dedicated complaints button or section at the ‘contact us’ page? y How many clicks does it take to reach a page that publishes information on how to complain? Only one company mentioned its complaints process on the home page. Forty-one sites had a ‘contact us’ button or equivalent on the home page. Only seven of these organisations dedicated a page to, or form for, complaints-capture at the ‘contact us’ page. Most of the others offered a hyperlink to an email form. Good website design favours a minimum number of clicks to navigate anywhere. The number of clicks it took to get to a page where feedback to the organisation was possible varied from one to four. On twenty-seven sites it took just a single click to get to the feedback page; fourteen sites required two clicks; two sites required three clicks and one site required four clicks. Source: Buttle and Thomas (2003), http://smib.vuw.ac.nz:8081/WWW/ANZMAC2003/ papers/MO15_buttlef.pdf Complaints Handling
  • 30. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS case stUDy – poor Use of website for complaints hanDling 27 The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) (2005) reviewed the Centrelink website, and found that it was difficult for customers and business and community stakeholders to locate information on Centrelink’s complaints handling system from its website. The ANAO found that a search for the term ‘complaints’ on the Centrelink website did not provide customers or stakeholders with information as to all the avenues available to lodge a complaint (such as directly with a Centrelink staff member). The website did not contain information on the way in which Centrelink addresses the complaints that it receives. The ANAO recommended that Centrelink redesign its Internet website to: y Ensure that a search on the term ‘complaint’ provides pertinent information to customers and stakeholders on its complaints handling system y Provide customers and stakeholders with more explicit information as to the various avenues by which to lodge a complaint y Ensure that information on Centrelink’s complaints handling system is easily identifiable by customers and stakeholders y Ensure that customers and stakeholders can lodge a complaint without being required to navigate through numerous web pages. Centrelink acted on these recommendations, http://www.centrelink.gov.au/internet/ internet.nsf/about_us/complaints.htm While it is useful to acknowledge the not computer literate: ‘A complaints handling advantages of ICT in terms of easily accessible, system must be conspicuous, easily accessible convenient complaints handling systems for and simple to operate. It should take account complainants and a means of developing a of the needs of different social groups and, good complaints tracking and management even in an era of rapidly increasing computer system for organisations (see US postal literacy, recognise that there are many people service case study), it is also worth noting the without access to the Internet and/or the important point that Brewer (2007) makes skills required to use it. An over-reliance on in terms of over-reliance on information information technology can be a powerful technology and the impact on those who are form of indirect discrimination (p.552).’ Complaints Handling
  • 31. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS case stUDy – Us postal serVice tracking systems 28 The US Postal Service has established a Consumer Affairs Tracking System that records and reports every customer contact. It uses state-of-the-art imaging and database management technology coupled with highly sophisticated correspondence generation software. This system is comparable to best-in-business models. The US Postal Service also established a Call Management Initiative to create a single 1-800 number available 24 hours a day. It provides a centrally-managed consistent interface to all customers seeking information or problem resolution. Source: http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/npr/library/papers/benchmrk/bstprac.html In looking towards future developments, we qUality assUring complaints are likely to see the use of blogs and Web hanDling systems 2.0 applications as an additional means of encouraging and monitoring complaints There is a need for organisations to periodically about public service organisations. As Wyld assess the quality of their complaints handling (2007) notes: ‘We will also see research on systems. A Performance Audit of Customer how blogs and other Web 2.0 tools are being Complaint Management, undertaken by increasingly integrated into organisational Centrelink internal audit in October 2003, homepages, as the line between what is a highlighted the need to include quality control blog and what is a homepage quickly begins measures in the handling of complaints. The to blur. As the penetration of text, audio and audit showed that Centrelink’s procedures for video blogging elements increases, we may the handling of complaints did not ensure that well see the distinction between blog and timely and satisfactory resolution (from the homepage disappear, resulting in one site.’ perspective of the customer) was achieved – see case study. Complaints Handling
  • 32. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS case stUDy – qUality assUring centrelink’s complaints hanDling 29 In Australia, a Centrelink internal audit took a random sample of 53 records from the 2,763 complaints recorded as having been received in April 2003, finding that: in six cases, the Customer Relations Unit (CRU) had referred the complaint to a Customer Service Centre or Call Centre, but there was no evidence of further action to resolve the complaint (nor any evidence of further contact with the customer about the complaint); in three other cases, the action taken was not sufficient to consider the complaint to have been resolved. In two of these cases, there was no evidence that the customer had been advised of the ‘outcome’ of the complaint; in two other cases, adequate action to contact the customer about the resolution of the complaint had not been taken; and in two other cases, action to resolve the complaint was not taken in a timely manner and there was no evidence of contact with the customer to advise of progress of the complaint. An Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report (2005) reviewing the internal audit findings recognised that the Centrelink internal audit only examined a small sample, but pointed out that the data show that approximately 25 per cent of the complaints examined that were recorded as resolved in reality were not resolved; were inadequately resolved; or there was insufficient information to establish that adequate resolution had occurred and/or the customer was contacted regarding the outcome of his/her complaint. The Centrelink internal audit also found that the records examined reflected a lack of clarity as to what constitutes ‘resolution’ (particularly from the perspective of the customer), a lack of focus on ensuring the achievement of resolution, and significant non-compliance with prescribed procedures. The ANAO report pointed out that the lack of an effective quality assurance mechanism meant that Centrelink was unable to ensure that all customers who lodge a complaint were contacted regarding the outcome, or any intended action. Furthermore, the report stated that Centrelink had no procedure in place to contact a sample of customers, who lodge a complaint, to determine whether they had a positive experience with the delivery of service by a CRU. Centrelink informed the ANAO that complaints were only recorded as resolved when Centrelink had contacted the customer to explain the outcome of the complaint. However, the samples of finalised complaints examined during the Centrelink internal audit indicate that this is not always the case. It was noted by the ANAO that failure to contact all customers regarding the outcome of their complaint may result in Complaints Handling
  • 33. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS further complaints and affects Centrelink’s capacity to ensure that it has adequately 30 addressed all the complaint issues appropriately. The ANAO was informed by Centrelink in 2004 that revised national protocols now contain a definition of the term ‘resolution’ that applies to all tiers of the complaints handling system. They also now periodically check a sample of complaints. Source: Australian National Audit Office (2005), http://www.anao.gov.au/uploads/ documents/2004-05_Audit_Report_34.pdf case stUDy – monitoring cUstomer feeDback to enhance a qUality response The best-in-business design their complaints process with input from both customers and employees. A review of best practice in complaints handling in selected American public service organisations found that in one of the organisations reviewed the customer relations personnel monitor customer feedback. They select as target issues a small number of items the customers complained about most often. Once these issues are identified, individual customer satisfaction committees are formed that link those issues with mission objectives. The complaints process is monitored to correct root causes of dissatisfaction and the results for these target customer satisfaction issues are reported to the Executive Committee. Source: http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/npr/library/papers/benchmrk/bstprac.html creating a sUpportiVe sure that complaints handling is built into cUltUre for managing the organisation’s corporate and strategic complaints plans, and covered in annual reports.’ The report also suggests that ‘management can In the UK, the Cabinet Office (1998) report start to demonstrate their support for good How To Deal With Complaints suggests that, complaints handling by sending a notice to to be effective, complaints systems should be all members of staff stressing the importance supported by senior management. The report of complaints and the benefits of handling notes that ‘management should regularly them well.’ The report recommends that review complaints information; and make ‘Chief Executives or equivalents in all public Complaints Handling
  • 34. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS services should be held personally responsible y Involve staff in developing complaints for effective complaints handling. And this procedures 31 should be reflected in job descriptions and y Give staff the power to deal with performance appraisals, including decisions complaints, so that they feel they on performance-related pay.’ The report ‘own’ them notes that in terms of supporting y Provide suitable resources (including front-line staff, who most often have to training) so that staff can handle deal with complaints, these pressures should complaints properly be recognised and as much support as y Make sure that complaints handling possible provided to enable them to do has status within the organisation and their jobs well. The report recommends that is considered a career opportunity management should: y Recognise and reward staff who handle complaints well y Make sure that complaints are seen as y Allow staff who handle complaints part of overall customer care regular breaks to do other work y Create a team spirit so that individuals y Display thank-you letters and action do not feel isolated and members of taken to improve services as a result the team can support one another of complaints. y Recognise complaints handling as an important part of everyone’s job case stUDy – integrating complaints hanDling with hUman resoUrce management practices To develop customer relations, Swale Borough Council (UK) has made customer care, including handling complaints, part of performance appraisal for all staff. Source: Cabinet Office (1998), http://archive.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/servicefirst/1998/ complaint/index.htm Complaints Handling
  • 35. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS Case stUDy – Using training to DeVelop Complaints HanDling 32 skills In the UK, HM Customs and Excise included a self-assessment exercise at the end of their Handling Complaints training booklet. The introduction to the exercise explains: ‘The questions are designed to focus your attention on to some of the critical elements within the system and, at the same time, to test your understanding of the departmental complaints handling system as a whole. Try to answer them as quickly and honestly as you can (this way, you will see, at a glance, which – if any – aspects of the system you are less up to speed with). On the page following the self-assessment exercise, each question is cross-referred to the relevant section of the main text containing the answer’. This allows readers to assess their learning quickly by comparing their replies with what it says in the booklet. Source: Cabinet Office (1998), http://archive.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/servicefirst/1998/ complaint/index.htm The UK National Audit Office (NAO) (2008) directly to senior management, with three stresses the importance of the example of quarters providing them with complaints top management in a review of complaints information on a quarterly, or more frequent, handling in health care trusts. They found that basis. Seventy-one per cent of adult social ‘the culture in terms of complaints handling service departments had complaints on is dependent on the leadership provided by the agenda of senior management team the chief executive, who sets the tone within meetings at least quarterly, though in 8 per the trust. The relationship between the chief cent of authorities complaints were only executive and the complaints manager and on the agenda annually. (Source: National the level of interest the chief executive takes Audit Office (2008), http://www.nao.org.uk/ in complaints adds to the clout a complaints publications/0708/learning_from_complaints. manager has when dealing with trust staff. aspx) Chief executives also demonstrated their commitment to complaints by locating Training and development supports can their complaints manager close to their also play a significant role in helping create own office.’ The NAO report found that a culture that encourages the acceptance of ‘two thirds of complaints managers report complaints handling in organisations. Complaints Handling
  • 36. MANAGING THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING SYSTEM WITHIN ORGANISATIONS case stUDy – DeVeloping a complaints toolkit for staff 33 The UK Healthcare Commission published a toolkit to inform and improve complaints handling in the National Health Service. The toolkit is intended ‘as a helpful guide to NHS bodies and primary care providers on how to handle complaints in an efficient and effective manner. The toolkit further aims to foster a culture of learning from complaints within the NHS in order to drive service improvement.’ Source: Healthcare Commission (2008), http://www.healthcarecommission.org.uk/_db/_ documents/Complaints_Toolkit.pdf Complaints Handling
  • 37. 4. Overseeing complaints handling – a system-wide perspective Above the level of the organisation, it is categorising complaints – 34 important that a systemic view of complaints the complaints ‘laDDer’ handling is taken. A ‘whole of government’ perspective is needed, within which the In terms of categorising complaints, several complaints handling procedures of individual countries and sectors encourage the use of organisations fit. Important aspects of this a complaints ‘ladder’ whereby complaints system-wide perspective are the categorisation are moved up the hierarchy as necessary, of complaints and ensuring that lesson often using a three-tier process. Best practice learning is spread system-wide. complaints management is illustrated by a three-stage process. case stUDy – a three-tier complaints hanDling process recommenDeD by the treasUry boarD of canaDa secretariat While there should be as few stages as possible, a good system provides at least three levels of review: First stage: The intake officer screens the complaint and registers it if it is appropriate. Then front-line staff attempt to resolve it. Second stage: When clients are still dissatisfied, a more senior official or a complaints officer investigates their complaints and reports the results to them. Third stage: When the organisation cannot resolve the complaint internally, you should consider using mutually acceptable, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. These include mediation, which helps the parties move toward a mutually agreeable solution while remaining in control of the process. If this is not possible, a third party could mediate or arbitrate the matter. Source: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/Pubs_pol/opepubs/TB_O/11qg1-eng.asp Complaints Handling
  • 38. OVERSEEING COMPLAINTS HANDLING – A SYSTEM-WIDE PERSPECTIVE ensUring lesson learning 35 External agencies can have an important support role to play in developing system- wide good practice, based on evidence from their position overseeing complaints handling practice (see case study on guiding departments in strengthening their complaints management processes). This is an example of promoting system-wide lesson learning in good practice in complaints handling. Such reports aim to disseminate good practice and promote more effective complaints handling within and across public service organisations. There is a variety of players and avenues that can be used to promote lesson learning. For example, in the UK, the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (2008) suggests that while individual organisations need to take responsibility for the complaints services they provide, ‘we identify a need for a centrally co-ordinated official effort to champion good practice in complaints handling and to monitor how organisations across government handle and learn from complaints in practice. The Cabinet Office is best placed to take on this role.’ The Public Administration Select Committee emphasises that it is important to put things right for the citizen but the dominant culture across the public service must invite and value complaints. Ombudsman offices and audit offices also have a role to play in spreading good practice lessons across the system. Complaints Handling
  • 39. OVERSEEING COMPLAINTS HANDLING – A SYSTEM-WIDE PERSPECTIVE case stUDy – a gooD practice example to gUiDe Departments 36 in strengthening their complaints management processes In guidance it issued to all departments, the New South Wales Ombudsman Office promoted the Department of Education and Training (DEET) as an example of best practice complaints handling system. In 2001 DEET rationalised and brought together in a single document the procedures for managing different types of complaints and grievances: Responding to Suggestions, Complaints and Allegations. There are three possible procedures, with performance standards including time frames for response and quality of response: Remedy and systems improvement procedure is used for a suggestion or complaint that is about policies and procedures, or a departmental policy position. Negotiation procedure is used for a complaint about a person, i.e. not about an alleged serious breach of legislation, policy, procedure or contract. Investigation procedure is used for a complaint or allegation about a serious breach of legislation, policy, procedure or contract. This framework enables staff to assess suggestions, complaints and allegations to determine which procedure applies and who the delegate is that can initiate the procedure. The framework includes information on: advice about anonymous suggestions, complaints and allegations; confidentiality and privacy – rights and obligations; procedural fairness; protection against victimisation; false and malicious complaints and allegations; appeal processes; disciplinary action; possible outcomes for each procedure; record keeping; statistics; and external reporting. Source: Ombudsman Western Australia (2006), http://www.ombudsman.wa.gov.au/ documents/reports/DETReport.pdf Complaints Handling
  • 40. 5. Conclusion Good complaints handling means: improvements in service. The use of advances in information and communication technology 37 y Being citizen focused (ICT) systems can also provide benefits y Ensuring that people with complaints in terms of communicating to customers can easily access the system more effectively the complaints procedures, y Dealing with people promptly and providing information on the complaints sensitively, bearing in mind their individual process and providing the organisation with circumstances an efficient tracking mechanism of how y Being open and accountable and acting the complaints are being handled. Studies fairly and proportionately show that an effective complaints handling y Putting things right when things have system provides ‘free’ market research and gone wrong this should be welcomed, rather than viewing complaints as a negative element y Apologising for the mistakes made when where staff who are complained against an apology is merited. are blamed. Good complaints handling is also about The most efficient complaints handling seeking continuous improvement, using systems provide transparent, accessible feedback and lessons learned to improve information on the processes or systems service design and delivery. An effective involved in complaints handling in order complaints system that offers a range of to enable ease of access for citizens when timely and appropriate remedies saves they are unhappy or have not received organisations time and money in the long satisfactory service or treatment. Effective run. It enhances the quality of service to its complaints handling systems not only outline clients, has a positive effect on staff morale the organisation’s internal complaints handling and improves the organisation’s relations with systems but also provide information on the citizen. It also provides useful feedback external bodies who can deal with the issue to the organisation and enables it to review if redress has not been achieved satisfactorily procedures and systems that may be giving for the complainant at a local level. rise to complaints. Some organisations are now using risk To the greatest possible extent, complaints assessment tools to aid decisions on should be handled at a local level, with a focus categorising a complaint. Furthermore, on communication between the organisation a number of studies examined in this and complainant at this initial stage. Greater report recommend that a central point of communication, training of staff in complaints co-ordination and contact needs to be in handling and accessible and informative place for complaints handling involving a complaints handling systems and procedures number of agencies. need to be in place for effective and efficient Complaints Handling
  • 41. CONCLUSION ‘But handling complaints effectively is not 38 just about value for money. Crucially, it is about establishing a responsive relationship between the apparatus of the state and the people who use this apparatus’ (House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, 2008, p.7). The structure of any complaints handling system must incorporate the needs of the citizen as paramount and integral to the effective administration and delivery of complaints handling systems to ensure that treatment is fair and equitable to all complainants in a transparent and easily accessible system. For the organisation, the structure of any complaints handling system must avoid the blame game. Instead it should provide a supportive environment in which staff can learn from mistakes, improve service or treatment, and realise the learning potential of complaints to deliver quality, citizen-centred public services. Complaints Handling
  • 42. References Australian National Audit Office (2005), The Auditor General Audit Report No.34, 2004–2005 Performance Audit, 39 Centrelink’s Complaints Handling System, Commonwealth of Australia, http://www.anao.gov.au/uploads/documents/2004-05_Audit_Report_34.pdf Brewer, B. (2007), ‘Citizen or customer? Complaints handling in the public sector’, International Review of Administrative Sciences, An international Journal of Comparative Public Administration, Vol.73, No. 4, pp.549-556, Belgium: International Institute of Administrative Sciences (IIAS) Buttle, F. and Thomas, L. (2003), Complaints handling in Australia: evidence from organisational websites, http://smib.vuw.ac.nz:8081/WWW/ANZMAC2003/papers/MO15_buttlef.pdf British and Irish Ombudsman Association (2007) Guide to principles of good complaint handling, http://www.bioa.org.uk/docs/BIOAGoodComplaintHandling.pdf Cabinet Office (1998), Service First, How to deal with complaints, http://archive.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/servicefirst/1998/complaint/index.htm Commission for Local Administration in England (2007), Special Report: Local partnership and citizen redress, Advice and Guidance from the Local Government Ombudsman, http://www.lgo.org.uk/pdf/partnerships-sr.pdf Commonwealth Ombudsman Annual Report (2006-2007) Chapter 5, Challenges in complaint handling, http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/publications_information/annual_reports/ar2006-07/ chapter_5/chapter_5c.html Healthcare Commission (2008a), Complaints Toolkit, Handling complaints within the NHS, http://www.healthcarecommission.org.uk/_db/_documents/Complaints_Toolkit.pdf Complaints Handling
  • 43. REFERENCES Healthcare Commission (2008b), 40 Spotlight on complaints: a report on second stage complaints about the NHS in England, http://www.healthcarecommission.org.uk/_db/_documents/Spotlight_on_ Complaints_08.pdf Healthcare Commission (2007), Is anyone listening? A report on complaints handling in the NHS, http://www.healthcarecommission.org.uk/_db/_documents/Complaints_handling_in_ the_NHS.pdf House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (2008), When Citizens Complain, http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/ cmpubadm/409/409.pdf House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee Fourth Report of Session 2004-2005, Choice, Voice and Public Services HC 49-1, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmpubadm/49/49i.pdf McMillan, J. (2007), Thirty Years of Complaint Handling – What have we learnt?, Commonwealth Ombudsman 30th Anniversary Seminar 9 August, http://www.comb.gov.au/commonwealth/publish.nsf/AttachmentsByTitle/seminar_ notes_John_McMillan/$FILE/seminar_notes_John_McMillan.pdf National Audit Office (NAO) (2005), Citizen Redress: What citizens can do if things go wrong with public services, London: The Stationery Office, http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/0405/citizen_redress.aspx National Audit Office (NAO) (2008), Feeding back? Learning from complaints handling in health and social care, http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/0708/learning_from_complaints.aspx Office of the Ombudsman, Ireland, The Ombudsman’s Guide to Internal Complaints Systems, http://ombudsman.gov.ie/en/Publications/Guidelines/InternalComplaints/ Complaints Handling
  • 44. REFERENCES Ombudsman Western Australia (2006), Report by the Ombudsman on complaints management processes in the Department of 41 Education and Training, http://www.ombudsman.wa.gov.au/documents/reports/DETReport.pdf Petre, C. (2007), Reaching our target audience: making the ombudsman more accessible, Commonwealth Ombudsman 30th Anniversary Seminar 9 August, http://www.comb.gov.au/commonwealth/publish.nsf/AttachmentsByTitle/seminar_ notes_Clare_Petre/$FILE/seminar_notes_Clare_Petre.pdf Queensland Ombudsman (2006), Guide to developing effective complaints management policies and procedures, http://www.ombudsman.qld.gov.au/Portals/0/docs/Publications/CM_Resources/ Developing%20effective%20complaints%20management%20policy%20and%20 procedures%202006.pdf Scottish Government (2007), The Crerar Review: The Report of the Independent Review of Regulation, Audit, Inspection and Complaints Handling of Public Services in Scotland, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2007/09/25120506/0 US Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Federal OSHA Complaint Handling Process, http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/worker/handling.html US General Accounting Office (GAO) (2000), Letter from Linda D. Koontz, Associate Director, Governmentwide and Defense Information Systems to The Honourable Ernest Hollings, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in relation to the subject of Internet: Federal Web-based Complaint Handling, July 7 2000, http://www.gao.gov/archive/2000/ai00238r.pdf Wyld, D.C. (2007), The Blogging Revolution: Government in the Age of Web 2.0, Washington DC: IBM Center for the Business of Government, http://www.businessofgovernment.org/pdfs/WyldReportBlog.pdf Complaints Handling
  • 45. EffiCiEnCy unit 13/f., West Wing Central Government Offices 11 ice House Street Central Hong Kong Email: euwm@eu.gov.hk tel: 2165 7255 fax: 2524 7267 Website: www.eu.gov.hk