All public bodies who provide a service to citizens will inevitably deal with complaints and unfavourable feedback from time to time; no operation can deliver fault‑free services all the time, however hard they may try.
What works well for some will not be suitable for others; services developed in good faith will be delivered to unsuitable citizens, and even the most stringently controlled business will make the occasional mistake due to human error. Complaints can come in many shapes and sizes, depending on the nature of the organisation and the service provided.
The true test is in how organisations deal with these challenges and respond to complaints. Organisations that use complaints as an opportunity to improve practices and challenge existing behaviours find that the improvements gained are so worthwhile that they actively welcome complaints.
Here are our top five ways to turn a complaint into an organisational benefit:
See it as an opportunity
Receiving a complaint is a genuine opportunity to learn something about how your citizens view your organisation and for you to learn what’s not working as well as it should. Be suitably appreciative of the time it’s taken to raise the issue to your attention: you can be sure that, for
every person that complains, there will be a larger number who won’t bother to complain, but will just never come back. A complaint is your opportunity to keep a citizen, not lose them and increase your reputation.
Take it on board
If the complaint is caused by a genuine deficiency, error or misunderstanding, take immediate steps to rectify that situation – not just for the person who is complaining right now, but for ALL. This can be a great opportunity to improve your business processes.
Deal with it quickly
Don’t drag your heels and hope that a slow response will make the complaint go away, it won’t but it will make the complainant even more frustrated and angry – and therefore more likely to escalate their complaint, seek further redress or look to publicise their problem more widely. Speed is of the
essence with complaints. If you can’t resolve it quickly, then at least make sure you acknowledge it speedily, and then process it in a timely and efficient manner. Make sure the complainant knows you are handling it as quickly as you can.
Investigate and take action
Where the nature of the complaint requires investigation and further action, make sure you keep the citizen informed at every stage of this process with regular update communications. Give them deadlines that you will be working to, and ensure you keep to or improve on those targets. Give the complainant the opportunity to ask questions or provide feedback at key stages so that they feel they have an element of control over the outcome. Careful management of communications can turn the situation around so that, by the time the complaint reaches final resolution, they feel they have been treated with respect, listened to, and dealt with fairly.
Communicate what you’ve learnt
An honest admission that things were not quite as they should have been, and that you have now rectified the situation will be welcomed. Honesty and transparency are highly valued in today’s media-savvy era. Anyone can find negative comments about you on the internet, via social media, forums etc, so make sure you match – or outnumber – any such negative communications with positive ones, direct from your business. This is both good reputation management, and positive PR for you and can help to calm the fears of citizens who may have been about to leave you.