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Valuing Complaints at Glasgow Housing Association

Background

Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) is one of the largest social landlords in theUK, with more than 45,000 tenants and 26,500 factored homeowners across Glasgow.  It is focused on improving conditions for residents across Glasgow with initiatives such as regeneration projects and a new-build programme which is currently underway. 

GHA values tenant involvement and participation and has in place a wide range of engagement methods. Tenants are part of its area committees and there is a network of Local Housing Organisation Committees and Registered Tenant Organisations who are regularly involved and influence decision making processes.

For more information go to GHA’s website: www.gha.org.uk.

Interview

Complaints Standards Authority (CSA) Officer: You spoke at a recent Housing Quality Network event about significant changes to the complaints handling process and culture at Glasgow Housing Association (GHA).  Can you tell me a bit about these changes?

GHA: We are positive about complaints and our complaints policy, launched on the 1st August 2011, is resolution-focused and based on the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman’s (SPSO's) Statement of Complaints Handling Principles. We have set out a clear, simple process for complaints handling to make it easier for customers to complain. The policy emphasises that complaints should be resolved at the frontline, and that all employees have a responsibility for handling and resolving our customers’ complaints. We have a clear criteria for escalation of complaints through to formal investigation, appeal and ultimately external review by the SPSO.

Our quality standards for how we handle complaints reflect the SPSO principles.  We commit to:

  • five working days to resolve a complaint;
  • a clear escalation process for complaints not resolved within five working days ;
  • within the first two working days, acknowledge the complaint providing details of a named officer responsible for resolving the complaint and how to contact them;
  • keep the customer informed and clearly communicate how the complaint will be resolved;
  • measure customer satisfaction and how we handle complaints.

In early 2011, the corporate complaints team was formally created in recognition that there was the need for a corporate overview of complaints within GHA. The corporate complaints team maintain an overview of all complaints, providing support and guidance on complaints handling, performance monitoring and reporting to drive learning and improve the quality of complaints handling. The team is also responsible for, and trained to manage, complex and escalated complaints that cannot be dealt with at the frontline.  Our complaints policy has been reviewed again taking account of the SPSO requirement to remove the final stage which involves board members participation in appeal panels.     


CSA: What was the driving force behind the changes?

GHA: As part of our empowerment and engagement mechanisms we have established customer review teams made up of tenants and homeowners.  With training and admin support, they volunteer to review the customer experience and standard of our of service delivery. A customer review team was asked to participate in a review of GHA’s complaints process in order for us to gain an understanding of the customers’ experience by interviewing a sample of customers who had complained about an aspect of service delivery. This was included in the customer review team’s programme for 2010-2011, the findings identified:

  • The needed for greater understanding of the complaints policy for GHA amongst staff and customers.
  • The need for greater accountability when managing complaints.
  • A requirement for employees to take ownership of complaints at the outset.
  • The need for clear and consistent communication to customers at all stages of the process.
  • The importance of customers having a named contact – customers don’t like to have to repeat the details of their complaints. It was important that all staff dealing with complaints are aware of their responsibilities in terms of recording and accessing information
  • The value of regular and frequent customer updates on the progress of their complaints.
  • A requirement for staff training on complaints to emphasise the importance of good customer service as part of the complaints process.  We want our customers to feel that their complaint is important to us and that it is being taken seriously.

CSA: What were the key steps in changing the way you approach complaints?

GHA: Having identified the need for change through the finding of our customer review team activities, we identified four key steps in changing the way we approach complaints:

1. Revised complaints policy

By combining the findings from our customer review team review of our complaints process with consideration of the statement of principles from the SPSO, we updated and improved our complaints policy, procedures and supporting documentation.  This was launched on the 1st August 2011.

We are positive about complaints and our complaints policy is resolution focused. We have set out a clear, simple process for complaint handling designed to make it easier for customers to complain. The policy emphasises that complaints should be resolved at the frontline within five working days where possible and that all employees are responsible for handling complaints and the resolution of issues highlighted by customers. There are clear criteria for escalation through to formal investigation, appeal and ultimately external review by the SPSO.

2. Culture and behaviours

In early 2011, the corporate complaints team was formally created in recognition that there was the need for a corporate overview of complaints within GHA. The corporate complaints team maintain an overview of all complaints, providing support and guidance on complaints handling, performance monitoring and reporting to drive learning and improve the quality of complaints handling. The team is also responsible and trained to manage complex and escalated complaints that cannot be dealt with at the frontline.      

In relation to complaints handling, we recognise that consistently demonstrating excellent complaint handling behaviours in line with our policy is critical to improving the overall satisfaction of our tenants and customers with the services we provide. Our chief executive and leadership team have created an environment where complaints are seen as positive; we recognise that mistakes happen and when we receive a complaint it is an opportunity to reset our customers’ opinion of the organisation.

Alongside the new policy, we knew that a change of organisational culture would be fundamental to success. The launch of our current complaints handling policy in August 2011 followed a carefully planned organisation-wide communications campaign, featuring presentations at our leadership and managers forums, articles in our managers bulletin, corporate emails and staff briefings via Team Talk, a document that summarises what’s been happening at the leaders forum, so information can be shared across all teams. 

3. Process management and systems

We have produced clear guidance for staff on how to manage complaints effectively to ensure a consistent approach to complaint handling across the organisation. The guidance sets out the customer complaint path and is available on the corporate complaints team page of our intranet. In addition to the improved guidance notes for employees, a training course on complaints handling and our customer relationship management (CRM) system is available for employees to attend and is delivered through our learning and development facility ‘The Academy’.

Our CRM system generates a series of email reminders to automatically alert staff responsible for handling and managing individual complaints when any action is required

4. Measuring and tracking performance and customer experience

Our complaints handling performance is considered to be a key indicator of overall customer satisfaction and is featured at all levels of our performance reporting structure. 

Our key performance indicators are:

  • average days to resolve a complaint; and
  • percentage of complaints resolved within 5 days.

In 2012, we established a baseline for satisfaction with our handling of complaints and our customers’ satisfaction with the outcome of complaints through our city-wide survey. These key strategic indicators of satisfaction will be reported at all levels of our performance reporting structure; quarterly performance report to our governing body and executive team and monthly reports to key areas responsible for service delivery.      


CSA: What impact has this change in approach had on your organisation?  

GHA: Since the introduction of our revised complaints policy and procedures in August 2011, the impact on our organisation can be demonstrated through our key performance indicators. On average, 96% of complaints received are resolved within the target timescale, with the average number of days to resolve a complaint less than three days. In addition, we have been recognised through external assessment against the Customer Service Excellence (CSE) standard as demonstrating practice that exceeds the requirements in two elements of the standard related to complaint handling, and are viewed as exceptional or exemplar organisation.


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

GHA: The change in culture required for complaint handling was linked to a wider change management programme for GHA. Our chief executive and leadership team champion the organisation’s values: Passion, Ambition, Inspiration. One of the strengths highlighted in our Investors in People feedback report (May 2010) was that our chief executive, Martin Armstrong is seen as being inspirational, open and honest.  It also highlighted that a trusting management style is being embedded. In addition, the findings from our employee satisfaction surveys highlight that the vast majority of staff agreed the organisation is driven by positive values. This, in combination with our Customer First, Think Yes! and My Contribution, our employee performance development process, reinforces the expected attitudes and behaviours of employees. 

We recognise that consistently demonstrating excellent complaint handling behaviours is critical to improving the overall satisfaction of our tenants and customers with our services. We see complaints as positive, we recognise that mistakes happen and when we receive a complaint it is an opportunity to reset our customers’ opinion of the organisation. There is a challenge to achieve consistency of excellent complaint handling behaviours across a large organisation due to the size and scale but we are passionate about our commitment to continuous improvement and learning from our complaints.


CSA: Have your customers noticed any changes since the new policy came into play?

GHA: We recognise, through the findings of our annual tenant survey, that satisfaction with complaint handling remains an area for improvement.  However, from April 2011 to April 2012 we have seen improvements in satisfaction with the way complaints are handled and with the quality and frequency of updates. The most significant improvement has been an increase in satisfaction with how polite and courteous our staff are on first contact with a complaint.


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

GHA: Be very clear about what you want to achieve and communicate with staff, tenants and customers. Keep it simple and focus on the message that complaints are positive and essential to delivering excellent service to tenants and customers. Use case studies and complaint performance information to establish what could have been done better, what was done well and learn from this understanding.   


CSA: I understand that you are now very close to adopting the SPSO model CHP.  What changes were necessary in moving to this streamlined procedure?

GHA: Based on an assessment of our complaint handling policy and procedures in May 2012 GHA were approximately 80% compliant with the requirements of SPSO model Complaint Handling Procedure.

Following a review of our complaint policy in early 2011 we launched the revised policy and procedure in August 2011, this was developed in accordance with the principles of the SPSO’s model CHP, therefore we met the required standard for timescales.

The key amendment to our complaints policy was the requirement to remove the final stage which involves board members participation in appeal panels. This was discussed in detail with tenant board members and reassurance provided in terms of more regular reports to the board.

Complaint performance information is currently reported to tenants and customer via our newsletter The Key, however we are looking at plans to extend this to incorporate service improvements that are implemented as a result of complaints. We also plan to publicise this information on the GHA, Your Place, and Cube websites. 

Our key complaint handling performance indicators are incorporated in our Delivery Plan 2012/13 and are currently reported on a four weekly basis via the performance management framework. Satisfaction with the outcome of complaints and with the complaint handling process will be reported to the board from the first quarter of 2012/13. In addition, detailed complaint handling performance information is currently reported to key business areas e.g. area directors as part of the new area complaint performance reports. However, the framework of complaint performance reports will be formalised and extended to clearly outline how all key business areas receive relevant complaint handling performance information to ensure that appropriate action is taken where required and that there is a corporate overview of this.   


CSA: Do you have any tips to share with other organisations that are moving to adopt the model CHP?

GHA: Mistakes are a fact of life; it is the response to the error that counts! Also perception is real even if it is not reality!


CSA:  What systems or processes do you have in place to gather learning from complaints?

GHA: We are currently refining our reporting of complaint handling performance through a suite of reports for the executive team and key business area. We hope that these reports will enable us to gather and use the learning from complaints – the reports give us complaint handling performance information including number and types of complaint, combined with case studies to highlight good practice and areas for improvement. In addition, our senior management involvement in promoting complaints will be ongoing as they continue to review a sample of cases.  

The increased awareness of the importance of complaint handling across the organisation has resulted in an increase in the number of complaints recorded and an improvement in case handling e.g. acknowledging the receipt of a complaint.

With regard to service improvements, it has been highlighted as essential to assess and understand individuals’ needs when deciding on appropriate action and improving communication between us and our contractors especially when dealing with vulnerable tenants. More specifically, improvements include guidelines for employees for gaining access to owners properties, should the need arise.   


CSA: What’s next for GHA?  Do you have future plans for further improvements?

GHA: In 2012, we will establish a baseline for satisfaction with our handling of complaints and our customers’ satisfaction with the outcome of complaints through our city wide tenant and owner satisfaction surveys. These key strategic indicators of satisfaction will be reported at all levels of or performance reporting structure of our annually from the board to the performance committee, executive team and divisional teams. The customer review team has continued to test customer experience of our complaint handling as part of our overall approach to monitoring performance and learning. In addition, we are developing a quarterly survey of complainants to establish their satisfaction with our handling of complaints and the outcome throughout the year.

Updated: May 2, 2017