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Improving the complaints process

An interview with Queens Cross Housing Association

Queens Cross value tenant feedback

Queens Cross value tenant feedback

Background

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman's Complaints Standards Authority (CSA) was delighted to learn that Queens Cross Housing Association (QCHA) had taken steps to implement the model Complaints Handling Procedure (CHP).  Francesca Richards, CSA Officer spoke to Audrey Simpson, Head of Business Improvement at the Association, about their experience of implementation – the challenges and expectations for the new complaints process.

Interview with Queens Cross Housing Association

CSA Officer: You spoke recently, at housing events, about significant changes in your organisation’s complaints process and culture.  What were these changes? 

QCHA: Our aim was to create a positive attitude towards complaints from managers and staff. Some staff felt quite defensive about complaints and saw them as criticisms about the service and we wanted to turn this approach around to one where we welcome any feedback.

The first thing we did was re-launch the existing complaints procedure by advertising it more widely with tenants. We held briefing sessions with staff and started to collate complaints centrally. This enabled us to monitor our response to complaints and put together reports on the number and types of complaints received. These reports were taken to the Board and Directors and shared with staff. All of this helped to raise the profile of complaints. We also used real case studies of complaints received to illustrate how it was possible to learn from them and improve performance.

All of this work laid the foundation for launching the new Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) procedure. The new procedure has just been approved by our Board and was formally launched with tenants and staff in early June.

A major part of the implementation will be training for all staff and producing regular reports setting out our performance on complaints handling and highlighting hotspots such as recurring complaints or complaints about particular subjects.

The information we obtain from complaints will be analysed and used as the basis for learning and improving performance.


CSA Officer: When did you start this process of change?

QCHA: We had known for some time that our approach to complaints was not good enough. The re-launch of existing procedures began in June 2011 and we have spent the best part of a year raising the profile of complaints in the organisation.


CSA Officer: What was the driving force behind these changes?

QCHA: Tenants were the major driver of change. In a tenants survey conducted in 2010 it became clear that while our customers were happy with overall services, they we not satisfied with the way complaints were being dealt with. This was a clear indication that we had to address the situation and confirmed what a lot of staff had suspected; we needed to improve the way we handled complaints.

Change started with culture

Change started with culture

CSA Officer: How did you change your approach to complaints?

QCHA: The most important thing was to change the culture in the organisation and move to one where complaints are welcome. We are still working on this but have made real in-roads by holding regular briefings with staff and producing routine reports.

Using real case studies to illustrate how we can learn from complaints has been of real benefit in getting staff to see the benefits of customer feedback via the complaints process.


CSA Officer: What impact have the changes had so far?

QCHA: There have been one or two specific areas where we have improved the service as a result of information obtained from complaints. In general we have been able to identify trends in performance and hotspots where performance has to be improved.

We realise however, that there is still a lot of work to do before a complaints friendly culture is fully embedded into the organisation


CSA Officer: Change management can be difficult, particularly when it involves a culture change.  What challenges did you face?

QCHA: Our staff are rightly proud of their service and it was difficult for them not to feel defensive when complaints were being made. From a tenant’s perspective there are still a lot of people who think they are being a nuisance if they complain.


CSA Officer: How have you kept staff informed and up to date on the changes and how have they responded?

QCHA: There have been a number of briefing sessions and regular updates on the new procedure on our intranet. Staff are also made aware of complaints performance and we have held focus groups to help with the development of the new procedure. We will shortly commence formal training on the SPSO process. On the whole staff have responded well and ‘get it’.


CSA Officer: Have your customers noticed any changes?   

QCHA: We have received a lot more complaints since the relaunch of the interim procedure in June 2011 – about 250 complaints in a 9 month period! So I guess the big change is that tenants now know how to complain. Over time we will measure customer satisfaction with the way we handle complaints and I’m confident tenants will be happy with the progress made.


CSA Officer: What advice would you give other organisations who are planning to improve their complaints handling?

QCHA: Work with your staff to explain the benefits of complaints and address the feelings of defensiveness towards complaints that may exist. I also think it is important to have a way of measuring and reporting back on compliments – the good things that customers say about our organisation and staff.

Training on how the procedure works is also very important and should cover everyone in the organisation. The need to resource complaints handling should also not be underestimated.  A central point should be identified to co-ordinate and monitor complaints coming into the organisation and to prepare reports. 

Reporting on complaints is crucial and should cover the number of complaints, complaints by type and areas, response times (are you meeting the SPSO targets?) and customer satisfaction with the way complaints are handled. This data will provide the information you need to show how well you deal with complaints. It will also identify problem areas and help you learn from the process and improve performance. 


CSA Officer: I understand that you have now adopted the model CHP.  What changes were necessary in moving to this streamlined procedure?

QCHA: The main change has been cutting out the 3rd stage of the process involving Board members.  We are working hard to empower staff to deal with complaints as part of the front line resolution and much of our training will address this. 

We also want to put in place systematic processes to learn from complaints and would like to be able to identify where service improvements have resulted from this learning.


CSA Officer: What do you see as being the key benefits to adopting the SPSO’s model CHP for your organisation?

QCHA: There is a real benefit in having the same  process across the housing sector for making complaints. This will make comparing performance much easier and our customers will know what to expect whoever their provider is.


CSA Officer: What advice would you give other organisations who are improving their complaints handling and adopting the model CHP?

QCHA: Take time to plan the introduction of the procedure and make sure you have the right resources and training in place.

Improving services for tenants

Improving services for tenants

CSA Officer: Successful complaints systems effectively siphon learning.   What systems or processes do you have in place to learn from complaints? 

QCHA: This is the most difficult part of the process. We are trying to develop a process where learning from complaints is recorded and a member of staff is identified as responsible for implementing whatever change is necessary. The plan is to hold all the learning from complaints on a central spreadsheet that can be shared with staff and communicated to our tenants. This will provide evidence that we are listening to what our customers are saying.

We have already taken some learning from complaints received. We had one where a tenant complained that he had been issued with an abandonment notice only a few weeks after he was visited for a routine gas servicing appointment. Obviously the two departments involved were not talking to one another and we have put in place processes to correct this.


CSA Officer:  What’s next for Queens Cross Housing Association?

QCHA: Our main aim is to get the new CHP firmly in place and to continue training and helping our staff to provide a better service by listening to what our customers are telling us.


To tell us about your organisation’s experience of implementation, please contact the CSA Team by email at csa@spso.org.uk.

Updated: May 2, 2017