I have had a few complaints to deal with this week. I can’t say it is my favourite thing to do, but not the worst by any means.
There are five principles I try to adhere to when dealing with complaints:
1) Address: Ignoring complaints is the worst approach of all. No matter how small or trivial, ignored complaints simply fester, and inevitably come back to bite you. Address them and as soon as possible.
2) Visualise: Try and view it from the complainant’s point of view. Even if you are convinced it is not your fault or the fault of your institution, it is important not to get overly defensive. Such an approach just builds walls instead of breaking them down. Instead concentrate on point number 3.
3) Connect: Connect with the complainant. Building a relationship with the complainant is possibly the most important element of dealing with a complaint. The more personal your interaction, the better. In this respect, phoning or meeting with the complainant is far, far better than a formal email or letter. By building a relationship with the complainant, you reduce the risk of further complaints from the same source, and any that you do get are likely to be tempered by the fact that the complainant now understands both you, and your side of the story.
4) Apologise: Don’t be afraid to say sorry, we will try and improve things for next time. This creates empathy, which is really what you are aiming to achieve. Say sorry, but don’t feel sorry for yourself. Move on.
5) Analyse: Look at your systems. Never ever seek a scapegoat to blame. This achieves little and is often counterproductive. Instead look at your policies and audit trails. Look at how you can minimise the risk of a similar error happening again. But at the same time accept that you can never reduce the risk to zero, and try and make the complainant understand this also. We live in the real world, and we are all human.
And finally, accept that you are always going to receive a few complaints. Because if you don’t, you should be having a think about why this is…… (see this article on the Paradox of the Error Free Laboratory)