A brief guide to how to complain from someone who has been on the other side of complaints. Not many times, I hasten to add, and none that have actually gone very far – but I know what ticks the boxes as far as official complaints procedures are concerned.
Firstly, local authorities actually quite like official complaints. Of course, the people complained about don’t, in general. They and their immediate managers prefer to go down the unofficial dialogue route – try and iron things out before they need to go further – but the local authorities themselves like official complaints because they have targets based around them.
It’s always worth mentioning you want to raise an official complaint because then they’ll be someone from outside the department (there is a complaints department) overseeing it and keeping on the back of the person or service complained about to make sure they are doing what they say they are doing.
Official complaints make managers nervous but it also frees their time to actually deal with the issues at hand – rather than trying to deal with it among a heap of paperwork.
Things that scare people into action:
- Threatening to go to the press. The local press works much better at this point. I was discussing with a friend of mine who wanted to make a complaint about her parking fine (when she had a disabled badge). She was writing a letter explaining how she had ‘contacts’ in the national press (her husband used to work for a national newspaper). I told her local works better. The Telegraph or Independent are far less likely to be interested in an unfair parking fine than the Sutton Telegraph or the Croydon Independent.
- MPs/Councillors. This gets management in local authorities moving like nothing else. When we get a complaint letter from an MP or Councillor it gets assigned immediately to top priority and to one of the more experienced workers. Sometimes they were over quite trivial matters in comparison to some of the work you were being taken away from and it really emphasised to me that the people who shout loudest get the best quality of service which isn’t how it should work. But it does – so if you need to, use it. I would do it myself and would advise anyone else to.
(Note: I have never seen a complaint coming from an MEP but somehow I feel they might not have the same effect!).
When an official complaint is raised (and you have to be careful and ensure that you mention those magic words – official complaint). A leaflet is sent out. This might look like prevaricating and postponing but it is a part of procedure. DO NOT GIVE UP AT THIS POINT. Lots of people do. The leaflet gives timescales which become very important. It means you know -something- will happen.
If you feel ill-equipped to deal with confrontation, the complaints managers that I’ve worked with provide a barrier between the person and service being complained about and the person making the complaint. That is one of the reasons it is worth pursuing an official complaint.
Another thing to be aware of it that for the most part, I’m happy to accept complaints and I think most of my colleagues are too – usually they aren’t too personal and it is probably better to make a complaint about a service rather than an individual. If it is an individual at fault, better to express it as the service that was offered by that individual rather than anything based on personality. Even if they were really rude, it was because of that you received a poor service. It means your complaint will be less likely to be written off as an issue of personality conflict.
I don’t bear any ill-will to people who make complaints, often I am cheering from behind the scenes. One of the complaints I received about my own work resulted in me being able to point to a time when I was having an increasing number of the most complex cases landing on my desk and I was able to work on it as a means of demonstrating what happens when increasingly unrealistic expectations are made.
Of course, I don’t want to be complained about – I would rather deliver a faultless and seamless service that can be held without any mistakes but if I do make errors, not see things, not do what I say I am going to do, I’d rather it was picked up than not.