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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Effective Complaining

I recently took a government department through all four of its complaints levels and on to the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman - where I won! So I'm now an expert complainer? Not really but I learned some things on the way that don't appear in some guides.

  1. Complaint procedures are something most organisations have to have. This doesn't mean that many staff believe in them or see them a source of valuable feedback. There are some exceptions where a complaint receives rapid and fair attention from senior staff.
  2. It is more common for the process to be one of "attrition". The complaint will be dealt with slowly, by people who lack the time, inclination or ability to be efficient. The process is then so frustrating  for complainants that nearly all of them give up.
  3. Recognise that the real agenda of some organisations has customer satisfaction very low down. Don't expect that to be admitted. To take a topical and extreme example, the Greek banks are currently shut. That's because customer satisfaction is less important than going bust.
  4. Although a lot of complaints are triggered by "soft" factors such as rudeness this is often hard to prove although where recording exists it's a lot easier. A much easier "win" comes from procedural errors backed up by documentary evidence, EG a policy/law/guideline  plus a letter that shows something else going on.
  5. However, an early complaint about rudeness may be effective - especially if the member of staff has several existing complaints on the subject.  It puts you on the radar as someone who will complain and if you have further dealings with that organisation you may get better services.
  6. A complaint about procedural issues to an astute organisation is likely to provoke a question about what they have really done to upset you and they might address that properly. In some cases, they'll just assume you are ill!
  7. A possible outcome from a procedural complaint is that at some stage it will be decided they did get things wrong but it did you no harm. EG, in part of my case it was eventually admitted that the Jobcentre compelling me to go to a particular course was "incorrect" but because staff considered the course was beneficial there was no injustice. The real complaint (which I did make) was that the course was extremely poor - but I couldn't prove that.
  8. Get the amount of paperwork right. Some people submit huge piles of every possible document whether relevant or not. On the other hand a mistake I made was to not submit enough. I thought it was OK to give Internet links to relevant policies and that relevant documents from my file would be accessed by the Ombudsman. This was not the case, the Ombudsman relied on the DWP to provide this information which they did wrongly. It was only when I discovered this and provided the correct/missing information that things got on the correct track.
Was it worth it? Yes in some ways:
  1. One of the mistakes the Jobcentre made was over the rights of benefit claimants who are volunteering with charities. That's my world and I know how often they make this mistake. The Ombudsman has "recommended" they issue a reminder to staff. 
  2.  I am aware of many informal complaints about a particular member of staff and they will have been extensively investigated during my complaint and found to have made errors. Maybe effective action will have been taken.
  3. I am not planning to be a customer of the Jobcentre again but if it ever happens I think the balance of power will be better positioned.