It’s tempting to avoid complaints or that quiet aside that indicates dissatisfaction with our services. But it’s a false economy. Dealing well with complaints as early as you can saves time, resources and reputation, and improves quality.
A few weeks ago, I escorted my aunt to hospital. Conflicting information about a proposed thyroidectomy left her anxious and an additional outpatient appointment had been booked to resolve her concerns.
Whether formal complaints or not: be optimistic about the outcome; listen positively and check you’ve understood; generate solutions; resolve the concern; confirm the resolution
At the hospital, everyone pulled together to provide my aunt with the utmost confidence in their service. Most superb was the consultant who, seating my aunt closely at his side, picked up on her softly spoken cue “I’m a little concerned” using it as a prompt to ask “What about?”, which encouraged her to list her worries. With his full attention evident, the conversation flowed easily until he had provided a clear statement around each potential risk. His manner was gentle and unrushed, seemingly extending the time that we appeared to have with him.
The quicker you can deal with complaints or offset concerns, the more likely you are to restore the reputation of your service. But dealing with complaints is far from everyone’s forte. It’s only natural to hang back from negative, unpleasant or sometimes volatile feedback. Yet, if we appreciate how hard it is for many to complain (for every complaint, it’s said there are at least 10 others who did not bother) and if we see each complaint as a window on the quality of our services, we would recognise their value as tools for learning and improvement.
A crucial skill in dealing with complaints is listening “actively” - to yourself as well as the complainant. Watch expressions and body language, hear the tone - and repeat the complaint back to its originator until they assure you of your complete understanding of their situation and exactly what they would like to happen.
Put on the defensive, we easily revert to making excuses or deflecting blame. Instead, we need to be the figureheads of our organisation: show our concern and, where appropriate, offer an immediate apology.
Finding resolution is often the final challenge. Ask the complainant for their suggestions. If their solutions are not practical, explain why not and see if a compromise can be struck. Experience shows the majority of issues can be resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction, so do not let go of the issue until they assure you it is resolved.
To help deal with complaints more confidently and effectively, rehearse a simple process. Your trust’s complaints policy should advise on the process the organisation records - how and when to record and relay both complaints and compliments.
Whether formal complaints or not: be optimistic about the outcome; listen positively and check you’ve understood; generate solutions; resolve the concern; confirm the resolution. And, of course, you will want to add, as a final step, your own version of “Is there anything else I can help you with?”