After nearly ten years of handling complaints about Victorian disability services, we have some good insights on how to respond effectively to a complaint. It’s all about the Four A’s: Acknowledgement, Answer, Action and Apology. You can apply these principles to how your service can respond to receiving a negative review on Clickability.
Case Study: Simon made a complaint when his service provider gave him one week’s notice that they would no longer provide a service to him and did not give him any alternatives. Simon and his family felt angry and upset.
Don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend a complaint didn’t happen! Acknowledge the complaint, as people want to know that you’ve heard and understood what’s concerning them. While there’s no one perfect way, a good place to start is the five-step ‘LEARN’ process:
- Listen: to concerns without interrupting.
- Empathise: and use your body language and tone of voice to create a safe space.
- Acknowledge: why the person is complaining and seek to gather more details
- Rectify: the problem by first asking what outcome they are seeking.
- Notify: the person of the next steps you will take to rectify their complaint, and expected timelines
Case Study: Simon’s service provider acknowledged the distress they had caused by their actions, and provided information about their processes for entry and exit of clients.
Honesty is the best policy. Sometimes, people just want to know why something has or hasn’t happened or why a certain decision was made. This helps them to understand and process the situation and move on to a resolution. Your answer should include a clear explanation of why something happened.
Case Study: Simon’s service provider answered that they could not recruit staff with the skills to support Simon. They felt that they could not support him adequately.
How can you fix the problem, or at least make sure it never happens again? You can agree to an action plan with the person which might include things like:
- What will be done?
- Who will do it and when?
- How will we communicate our progress?
- How will we check that things are on track?
Taking steps to fix a problem is an important part of a response to a complaint. It shows that you’re taking it seriously and offers reassurance that the issue is less likely to happen again.
Case Study: Simon’s service provider worked with a case manager to identify a new service that could better support Simon and helped during the transition process. They reflected on the importance of communication with their clients, and reviewed their practices on ending services.
Any apology doesn’t need to be lengthy, it just needs to be genuine. A poorly given apology can actually make things worse. A good apology is timely, sincere and specific in accepting responsibility for what happened and the impact it caused.
Case Study: Simon’s service provider apologised for the distress caused by their actions. Simon and his family felt better after the apology and the explanation, and were pleased that his complaint could help prevent the same thing happening to somebody else.
Embracing customer feedback is one of the most effective ways of improving your services, policies and processes to enhance individual outcomes. Responding to your feedback on Clickability, both positive and negative, will go a long way in showing your clients that what they have to say is important.
This article was written by the Disability Services Commissioner (DSC), an independent voice promoting rights and resolving complaints about Victorian disability services. For more information about the DSC including making a complaint or accessing resources for service providers, visit www.odsc.vic.gov.au. This case study is a composite of de-identified complaints people have brought to us. More detailed advice on responding to complaints can be found in our booklet ‘Everything you wanted to know about complaints…’
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