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A review and summary of evidence given by CEO Jo Causon as a
member of the expert witness panel investigating complaints with the Public
Administration Select Committee. What is the Committee about? The Public
Administration Select Committee (PASC) examines the quality and
standards of administration within the Civil Service and scrutinises the
reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). The Committee is currently conducting two inquiries into
complaints handling. The first will look at complaints systems within
government departments and agencies, including how effective these are at
addressing complaints and how well they are used to improve the performance of
services; the second will examine the performance of the PHSO and in addition
will consider the relationship between the PHSO and Parliament. The first inquiry, entitled Complaints: do they make a
difference?, will look at whether the current complaints system delivers
fairness, redress and justice for people who complain, examining how
departments and agencies use complaints as a source of information and
challenge, to improve the delivery of public services. It will also look at how
ministers and officials handle complaints made by MPs on behalf of their
constituents. Institute CEO Jo Causon was invited to be a member of the
expert witness panel during the complaints committee meeting on 4 June. Why was Jo invited to give evidence? The Institute of Customer Service’s research into handling
complaints and regular comparison of customer service performance across
sectors through the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) was identified as an
important contribution to the enquiry.In addition, Jo’s knowledge of customer service in
combination with the research available from the Institute allowed the
Committee to take a broad look at complaints handling including, the state of
complaints across different business sectors, what good practice looks like and
how complaints can be used to improve public services. Jo was joined on the witness panel by: Carol Brennan,
Director, Consumer Insight Centre, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh;
Richard Simmons, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, University of Stirling and
Richard Lloyd, Executive Director, Which?. What was discussed?During a two hour discussion the four panellists answered a
series of questions about customer service, complaints and complaints handling.
The wider subjects were broken down into key areas of discussion and
questioning, which included: Problems are decreasing / complaints are increasing: Organisations need to be receptive to complaints in culture,
not just processImportance of first contact behaviourTimeliness of responseHigh proportion of complaints cite staff attitude and
competenceHow to report / measure complaintsKey points for the Institute The Committee raised a number of key points which we have
highlighted as key to the debate. Problems are decreasing / complaints are increasing: The direct correlation between customer satisfaction and
complaints was discussed as the first issue. Although the UK Customer
Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) shows that overall satisfaction in the UK is
improving and therefore the number of customers with problems has fallen, the
propensity for people to complain if they have an issue is increasing. Jo Causon commented; ‘We are better informed and,
importantly, we have more channels through which to give feedback. We are more
likely to use social media. The fact that people are raising complaints is a
good thing in terms of the knowledge and information that it shares. The issue
is making sure that you do something with the information, and understand
specifically what the complaint is about, taking time to really analyse the
issues. When we look at the evidence and research, complaints will
differ for particular sectors. ‘The panel did highlight areas of limitation for gathering
feedback; misinterpretation of the language: what is a complaint? Is there a
correct process to follow? Do customers know how to make a complaint or give
feedback? Organisations need to be receptive to complaints in
culture, not just process. Although, clear, understandable processes are extremely
important to the complaints procedure, the Institute also highlights the need
for a culture which is accepting of complaints and feedback, ensuring it is
evident at every level of the organisation. Jo adds: ‘Alignment must be achieved at all levels, from
the very top, all the way through to middle management, and through to the
front line. Making sure that there is clear communication about why customer
service is important, and how we are actually handling that through to
customers. It is about having a work force that is well engaged, is
communicated to, understands its parameters and feels empowered to deliver.’ Importance of first contact behaviour. With the reference to Institute research into complaints Jo
highlighted that the way that complaints are dealt with often affects the level
of satisfaction experienced by a customer. For this reason this Institute advise that no matter which
platform the complaint is received through; the service experienced through different channels should be
consistent,
with customers knowing what to expect from each when they give feedback.
Representatives receiving complaints must be empowered and
be able to deliver a solution to the customer with support from the
organisation.
Delving further into Institute research, it is shown that speed is an issue
when dealing with complaints. Timeliness of response: There is an indication that the first 24 hours are really
important to how feedback is perceived in terms of whether somebody gets back
to somebody. This is not necessarily about resolving something that could be a
complex issue, but the initial contact is very important in terms of whether it
is seen as a good experience. When asked about how improvements could be made to ensure a
good experience, Jo added; ‘we really need to look at that initial contact, at
accountability and at what happens after that particular process, because if we
can help the public feel that they had a good initial contact and their
feedback is important, they are more likely to engage. Obviously, it is also important that the feedback does not
stop there as you need to be able to process that and progress to a solution,
but the first 24 hours are very important.’ High proportion of complaints cite staff attitude and
competence, Institute research shows, 75% of complaints are related to
staff competence, attitude or an organisation not keeping its promises. That is
also true for the public sector. Jo commented: ‘In terms of what an organisation should be
doing when managing feedback, in any sector, comes back to the creating the
right values, leading from the top, making sure that we recruit in the light of
the service that we are looking to deliver and creating people, with much
higher emotional intelligence skills, through training and development. With each element in mind when recruiting and training staff
the result will be a team which is able to focus on listening, engaging and
seeing an issue as something we should be doing something about because we can
improve it, all living by the same ethos: ‘The reason why we should be doing
that is that it makes us more efficient, it makes us more effective and it is a
better overall experience.’ How to report / measure complaintsIt is important that reporting should remain visible and
should be so at the most senior levels. In private sector organisations that do
well, the equivalent is the boardroom. It is discussed at the highest levels
and people refer to what is going on and what is being done.

If it is visible and it is being measured, there is a
general chance that something is more likely to happen as a result. I would
also say that sometimes we measure the wrong things, but that goes back to
really understanding what it is that people require and where improvement is
needed.

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