Complaint Management  & complainant expectations

Complaint Management  - Dealing with complainants and their expectations. As an business owner, employer or manager you may have to deal with complaints from stakeholders including clients, customers, suppliers or employees.  Complaints could relate to a number of issues however from experience we have found common complaints include;

  • The behaviour of your staff towards stakeholders/clients/other employees
  • The way in which your organisation or facility is being run
  • Action of inaction by the organisation
  • Workplace incidents, accidents or injuries

It is important to recognise the complaints from stakeholders may require a different approach to that used when dealing with employee complaints such as bullying and harassment. Complaints from stakeholders are generally based on a dissatisfaction in the way in which the organisation or someone in the organisation has acted or reacted to an incident or a concern raised.

When a complaint has been made I recommend that the following initial steps are taken;

  1. Review and understand the complaint, what is it about, why has it been made, what are the issues.
  2. Understand who the parties are
  3. Decide how you are going to deal with the complaint, your options could be
    • Informal enquiries
    • Formal investigation
    • Dispute resolution

Once you have worked out what you are going to do, the next steps are the how;

  1. Should you handle the matter internally or outsource it to a professional investigator? When considering this ask yourself
    • Do we have someone with the experience, skill and time to investigate the complaint. (Note: time is very important as complaints must be investigated in a timely matter, delays often result in further complaints.)
  2. Review your policies and/or prevailing laws or regulations. Has the complaint breached a policy or a law or regulation that relates to your business or business sector.
  3. Plan you investigation.
    • What additional details/information/evidence may be required.
    • Who needs to be interviewed
      • Will the interviews be in person or remote phone, Skye etc
      • Are the persons required to be interviewed local.
      • Will the interviewer have to travel or get someone else to conduct the interviews
    • What other evidence needs to be gathered
  4. Prepare your interview plans based on the complaint and any other information that has come to light.
  5. It is very important that you communicate with complainants during the course of the investigation to;
    • Keep them up to date with the progress
    • In some cases provide them with re-assurance and support (if required)
    • Manage and often reality check their expectation.  In many cases complainants do not understand the process, the options and legal restrictions that organisations may have to address
    • Avoid further complaints of perceived inaction
    • If the outcome is not what the complainant desired they will often be  more readily accepting of the outcome if the process has been transparent

The investigation and interviews should be carefully planned.  When your planning is complete in most cases you will have to interview the complainant.  Complaints often contain emotive statements that may be lacking in details, the who, what, where and when and perhaps the why. You may need to dig the get at the evidence required. The rest of the process is generally standard investigation procedure.

Failure to act could result in a breach of your duty of care and a claim of negligence.

Complaint Management - Failure to manage complaints

If you fail to manage a complaint the following may result:

  • Action by any regulating authority.
  • The potential for action under the Work Health and Safety Act for any subsequent injury or illness suffered by the complainant
  • An inability to defend a legal claim by an employee due to lack of evidence
  • Being found vicariously liable for the actions of an employee (e.g. “reasonable steps” defence)
  • May give rise to potential penalties under the Fair Work Act bullying amendments – eg: the commission will be required to take into account what actions the employer took in response to original complaint
  • Being unable to show circumstances of mitigation to a court or tribunal in response to a legal claim
  • Failing to meet relevant duty of care to employees
  • Being subjected to adverse and/or damaging publicity
  • The loss of, or inability to attract, good employees – creates a poor work culture, (i.e. perception of employer incompetence)

If you are not sure what to do, AWPTI can provide you with Complaint Management Training  - enquiry here - enquiries@awpti.com.au

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