Complaints Team investigated the following:
A letter arrived for Sarah from A.N. Other Public Body (APB).
It said: we miscalculated a payment to you and sent you more than you were entitled to; you have to pay us back; here are our bank details, or you can send a cheque to the address above. This is an only slightly abbreviated version of the letter.
Sarah wrote back: you miscalculated twice before you paid me (late) in the first place; you do not say what sort of miscalculation this is – how do I know it is not wrong again? And an apology would be nice.
A very nice person from APB’s complaints team telephoned Sarah. He apologised. He said the letter was poor and that they had made it sound as if Sarah was at fault. This was wrong. He apologised. He said they would write with a proper explanation. He apologised.
The second letter from APB arrived for Sarah. It said: this is an explanation for the miscalculation. It is now correct; you have to pay us back; here are our bank details … again, only a slight abbreviation.
When is an apology not an apology at all? When it comes from a bolted-on complaints team ‘over there’ (however pleasant they may be) and not from the people responsible for the error (who still come over as dismissive and unrepentant) the complainant stays dissatisfied and may feel that others will suffer from the same, unaddressed mistake. Services do not improve, behaviour stays the same, the cost of error adds to the cost of running a complaints service.
We have worked with many dedicated and talented complaints teams in different industries and organisations. We find complaints teams that are championed at board level and are at the heart of the organisation are strikingly more effective than bolt-on complaints teams. Some complaints teams are centralised, some devolved to local services or branches: the exact structure, policies and procedures are less important than the place and priority the organisation attaches to people who have cause for complaint. Organisations should care that a client or customer has taken the unusual step – and it is unusual – of making a complaint. They should know that sorting out the problem, explaining what happened, matters – to them both.