We’ve all had the client or family member who wants to ‘just bring you up to date’ or ‘keep you in the loop’ with what is happening on your watch. Effectively they are giving you feedback or letting you know they are dissatisfied with the service.
Some customer complaints are more up front, they complain directly about the care or support they are receiving and they don’t mince their words. Some customer bypasses you altogether and go to an external complaints authority leaving you no chance to try to resolve the problem.
No matter how the feedback or complaint is made it is a powerful insight into your business that you would do well to explore.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”
New insights from customer complaints
It doesn’t matter whether they are raising the issue for the first time or are a frequent advocate (read complainer). Either way these customers are presenting you with a great insight into your business.
Lets face it you’re biased, your on the side of your business and can’t see how you do anything wrong. There is nothing wrong with this, its human nature to barrack for your team.
A customer complaints gives you the opportunity to stop a second and consider the other persons viewpoint and what it might be exposing. Taking a fresh look from their perspective might suggest new ways of doing things for your and you staff.
NESTA has identified the following ways in which complaints can help an organisation/business
They can help to
- “identify and prioritise need.
- highlight opportunities to change.
- challenge established wisdom.
- co-create and co-produce solutions.
- uncover systems failures.”
A local example of the potential that can come from complaints and feedback is the reform of aged care and the creation of the ‘My Aged Care’ gateway.
The gateway was developed by Government in response to consumer feedback and complaints about the complexity of the entry and information system. While this is an extreme example we can all see that what started as a minor niggles has resulted in major change for the better.
Firstly give thanks for the complaint
Why thank them?
Without knowing it they’ve given you a window into your world, a gift. A view that you likely can’t see without this help. It’s like those times you’ve wanted to be a fly on the wall but couldn’t.
It’s also true that a significant number of dissatisfied customers don’t complain and this cuts you out of the loop. No only do you not know about it but your also unable to take any action on the issue.
Not complaining denies you the ability to address the issue and leaves the complainant to go on and share their story with their friends and colleagues without you being able to turn around situation and redeem yourself and your service. It is said that on average a dissatisfied customer talks to 9 – 15 people. This effectively compounds their complaint by not giving you any redress.
There might be many reasons someone doesn’t complain
- your process is too difficult,
- they have no confidence in the resolution of their complaint,
- they fear of the outcome or retribution, or
- they don’t gain any benefit from complaining (they can take their business elsewhere).
Your goal should be to address the first three of these reasons in your communication with customers and their families. Iron out any impediments to making feedback imposing or difficult.
Confront the customer complaint ‘head on’
Often the first reaction is try to avoid the problem – but seriously you need to tackle it head on and with confidence. Your not in management or business because you’re a wall flower – yes, you might find these conversations hard but they have to be had. So buckle up and step into the fray.
Shep Hyken, a leader in customer service, suggests we need to be proactive in dealing with complaints – that means not waiting for them to come in, not avoiding them and finally doing more than just fixing them.
Shep argues we need to move on from the complaint resolution to build or restore confidence. He believes that we can restore confidence by how we confront, deal with, communicate on and resolve the complaint.
Take a breath and relax before dealing with the complaint
Our next reaction might be to obsess and defend, or worse still demonize the person making the complaint – this should be avoided at all costs.
The next step is, wherever possible, to taking time out to breathe and relax. This allows you to be in the frame of mind to examine the issues objectively.
If you are with the customer – perhaps now is the time to offer a cup of coffee/tea and a quiet place to talk.
‘Take the sting out of the tail’ if you can, defuse the heat in the conversation – it will make it more comfortable for both of you. This could be achieved by just openly apologising or saying sorry for the distress that this issue has caused, NB you’re not accepting blame but recognising the hurt being experienced,
Next you need to commit to fully investigating the issue and report back – and ensure you do this quickly.
Identify what is needed to resolve the complaint
Most people who complain are seeking one or all of the following outcomes,
- an apology
- an explanation
- reassurance that the problem will not recur.
Consider how you will address each of these issues while you investigate and explore their complaint because your response will go a long way to resolving the complaint.
Engage your staff in exploring and resolving the complaint
This is a tricky one as you don’t want to create negativity or blame but you do want to instil a continuous improvement culture that welcomes feedback and complaints. You want staff to be open to taking a fresh look at your practice and business.
Consider using tools like
- ‘Customer Window’ to examine the complaint and consider the clients expectations and how your practice could be modified. This makes the process impartial and focusses on a ‘generic’ customer and not the complaint itself.
Examine all the demands and requirements of your customer/complainant and place them in the relevant quadrant. Your goal is to work at ensuring that customer demands/requirements in the quadrant ‘customer wants it but doesn’t get it’ are as far as possible explored and a plan in place to delivery quality service to meet this need. If this is done then the requirement should shift the demand/requirement to the ‘customer wants it and gets it’ quadrant – which is your goal. Once it is in this quadrant these will need quality monitoring. The other quadrants don’t become important unless you are delivering to meet these demands and it is expensive (and unwarranted) or puts other service at risk. Then you need to consider ceasing or altering these services.
- Consider a ‘you said. We did’ journelling approach for staff – so that they record how they listened and responded to client feedback, review these at quality meetings to encourage continuous improvement and a culture of openness to feedback,
- Try brainstorming the issues raised by the complaint – explore how could we do this better.
- Identify if there is an opportunity to ‘co-produce’ new practice or approaches as a result of the complaint and consider involvement of the client and family making the complaint in the co-design of solutions.
Keep engaged with the client, customer or family member
Never think that the end of the process is reporting back on the outcome of your investigation and action. This really should be one of many touch points with the person who has complained and the beginning of your journey to build confidence. As Shep Hyken says we need to build or restore confidence and this doesn’t end with the resolution of the complaint. This is where a focus on co-production/design might come into play?
Finally look on the bright side
Every complaint has a silver lining – you will build camaraderie and renewed focus with your team as you together investigate and resolve the complaint, you’ll improve your service and hopefully regain a happy customer and loyal promoter.
Remember customers have a right to complain
In aged care the right to complain is enshrined in the Charter of Care Recipients’ Rights and Responsibilities and they include
the right “1) to complain and take action to resolve disputes; 2) to have access to advocated and other avenues of redress; and 3) to be free from reprisal, or well founded fear of reprisal, in any form …”
Grumbles, grips and grievances – the role of complaints in transforming public services – pdf download 72 pages