Don’t Make a Drama out of a Complaint: Improving lives through professional complaint handling
TRAINING CASE STUDY: South Gloucestershire Council (SGC)
South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) is the largest Unitary Authority in the South West. The Community Care & Housing Department aims to ‘promote and maintain independence for older and disabled people; to develop seamless, integrated services with partner organisations and support those in the community who care for others.’ With a greater move towards using services from partner organisations, there were a number of issues arising in the area of complaint handling. The SGC directorate identified the need for a new training programme that would deliver uniformity in the process and effectiveness of complaint handling across the organization, and its partners. Traditional training methods had produced limited results, and it was time to try something new.
Nelson Training’s ethos is to deliver memorable and effective training that can create lasting change. They rely on interactive comedy and drama, employing professional actors, to bring the training alive and make it relevant to participants daily working life, rather than relying on ‘chalk and talk’ or ‘death by powerpoint’ approaches that inform without engaging. This award-winning consultancy uses a partnership approach to developing training, drawing on the specialist knowledge and experience of the client organisation and combining it with their own expertise in devising and delivering powerful and relevant training interventions.
In this case, it was clear that cultural shift was required in order to create a more customer-centred complaints handling approach, with complaints being perceived as an integral part of their customer service and as part of continuous improvement in shaping future services.
The planned outcomes of the training therefore were:
- Early and swift resolution of complaints
- Most complaints being resolved at a local level without the need for escalation
- Raising the standard and consistency of complaint responses
The training was initially presented to internal Team Leaders and Mangers and also to targeted Managers in the independent sector who the authority had been working closely with. The positive feedback from those initial participants has helped SGC to build its relationships with other partners. Now, the programme is open to all SGC partners to foster good working relationships and improve services for our shared customers. The number of partners has risen over the years due to increased partnership working.
The learning approaches chosen were designed to appeal to all learning styles and keep the sessions participative, entertaining and relevant. They included:
- Group discussions/exercise
- Interactive sketches relevant to their work and teams
- Brief lecturing input
- Live case study
- Toolkit for handling complaints
In addition, careful thought went into the structure and presentation of the programme, to incorporate the following elements:
- Opportunity and encouragement to network
- Wow factor- very relevant but highly entertaining sketches, replicating real situations
- Sharing ideas
- Emphasis on practicality
- Overcoming fear of training through reassurance and confidence building.
- Active participation throughout the day
The results of the training programme have been outstanding and include:
- A year on year increase in the number of complaints being handled at a local level, moving from 10% requiring escalation in the first year (before training) to just 2% three years later. The average cost of handling an escalated complaint is £3400, so this improvement represents a significant cost benefit, far in excess of the cost of the training.
- The proportion of complaints responded to within agreed timescales has increased from 78% before the training to 88% afterwards.
- A change in the quality and timeliness of responses, with a real willingness to get straight to the heart of a problem and creatively resolve it.
Additional benefits have been identified by the authority and include:
- More compliments than complaints.
- Better information on what customers say about the services it provides both directly and commissioned.
- improved internal and external communications across services for customers and excellent relationships with its partners.
- A better equipped and more confident ‘extended’ workforce who focus on improving services for customers.
As a final endorsement of quality, SGC has achieved two high standard internal audit reports for its complaints handling and is now accredited to BSI 10002:2004 complaints management standard. As far as we are aware it is the only local authority in the South West region to have met this standard. The Department of Health asked SGC to publicise its work with the independent sector as they saw it as a model of good practice, and it has regularly been asked to provide information to authorities in the SW about its training programme.