By Sue Denim

So, what’s a complaint? This is the question I found I continually asked myself. The complaints manager was clear that it was any expression of dissatisfaction, but if you tell that to the contact centre they’ll flip a load of calls into a complaint which end up on your desk for the next month. I’m not saying my manager was wrong it’s just that a small team of complaint handlers cannot take on every customer who says they’re not happy with our service.

I’m a strong believer that the best people to deal with an ‘expression of dissatisfaction’ is the department causing the issue. They should have the most knowledge about the customer’s journey so far and they can fix things. If this happened, far fewer residents would need to escalate their problem – a win-win.

As a complaints handler, you write to the customer who has made the complaint and tell them who’ll be contacting them and when. In my eyes, if you have a complaint logged to you about your department and the customer has a date in their diary to hear back from you, this should be (one of) your highest priorities. So, why isn’t it?  No one has enough hands to count the amount of times a department/manager has not responded within the timeframe agreed. What does this tell the customer? They’ve complained in the first place about no one getting back to them only for no one to get back to them. They have no hope!

When a complaints handler receives a complaint, we first look at the notes on the system to find out what previous contact anyone has had with the customer. This should be easy, but it isn’t because a lot of the time the notes aren’t very detailed and it’s hard to have a full understanding of what’s happened.  Come on, people, why don’t you use the system – that’s what it’s there for. But this is a problem for another day.

Next, we give the customer a call to touch base and clear up any questions we may have about their complaint.  And once we feel we have all the information needed, it’s time to contact the department’s manager to see why it couldn’t have been resolved before it became a complaint and to discuss options to solve it.

I always found it much more efficient talking in person with the managers as I think emails can sometimes be misinterpreted. But this isn’t always possible with multiple offices and quite a large workload, so, unfortunately, a lot of the time you must rely on emailing. What happens then? Nothing, because they don’t get back to you. So, you don’t need to try to fit into the customer’s shoes because your colleagues actively put you in them.

What are the benefits of joining the complaints team, you ask? After all, the most difficult customers are left in your hands. Well, it’s not because you’re empowered and have the freedom you need to get the job done. Complaints teams are highly monitored, second only to the contact centre. It’s not a lovely feeling knowing you’re the second most ‘trusted’ department. This could get irritating because to ensure a customer was happy, after a long road of poor service, you may have to go above and beyond your role. If this were the case another team would be breathing down your neck asking why you hadn’t followed the process to a tee. Luckily, the manager would have our backs in this regard, as he would push us to do more for the customer if possible.

One positive about being in the complaints team is the wide range of colleagues you’d get to meet. I for one was always quite excited, as I knew I may have to deal with a complaint sent down by the CEO giving you your moment to show how bright you shine. But my experience is that no one cares about the good stuff you do, even if you expertly deal with a customer and make them happy after months and months of them calling daily. Lots of opportunities to celebrate successes are missed.

It truly is the most unforgiving role in any business, and why? Repairs, repairs, repairs. I’m sure this is a similar picture everywhere, but really! Easily 80% of complaints are about repairs and whenever I’d get one to manage my initial thought was “sweet, this should be easy. Let’s just get the contractors out to complete the works they previously missed, job done.”

Well, it’s not as easy as it seems. There’s no way on the system to let the contractor know that this repair relates to a complaint, and so I’d always call them to make sure they knew. I can’t tell you how many times I’d get the call. Yes, the call from the customer saying ‘no one has turned up’.  It got to the point where I knew they wouldn’t, so I’d booked in a second job behind the scenes just in case. What a waste of time and effort.

My view on how to fix this is to spend more money on the repairs contract. Going for the cheapest quote is never going to end well – you’re not getting a once in a lifetime deal, you’re getting the service you pay for, CHEAP.

Another problem I found is that some departments don’t take too kindly to complaints being logged against them. I think it may mess with some of the stats they have to showcase to the business at the end of the year. You’d think they would deal with the complaint quickly, and learn from it to make sure it didn’t happen again. But no. They would rather tell the complaints team why it wasn’t a complaint. More time wasted!

Let’s talk about lessons learned, or more likely not learned.  We started to hold weekly meetings with all departments, and I felt hopeful that the service may change and we might stop making the same mistakes over and over again. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened and the meetings themselves just became another waste of time.

If we gathered up all the wasted time and effort and everyone focussed on the customer, maybe we wouldn’t need a complaints team at all!