Complaints are a rich source of information that can be used to improve your agency's programs and services, and provide insights into customer behaviour, needs and preferences.

The best systems are reflective, self-critical and innovative, with a culture that encourages all staff to look for opportunities to continuously improve programs and services.

Collect and analyse data

Your insights will only be as good as the data you collect and your commitment to regular analysis.

The data you collect should be relevant, accurate, complete, meaningful and useful. To the extent possible, you should try to collect the data described in DESIGN Principle 4.

You will need to drill down into your complaint data regularly to analyse trends and emerging systemic issues. Where possible, we recommend developing reporting capability that ensures managers and the executive have real time access to complaint performance and trend dashboard data.

Example: a major element of good complaint handling that is relatively easy to measure is timeliness.

You should also try to generate reports that suit the needs of different areas.

Example: Some teams will be interested in complaints about a particular policy, while local managers will need to understand complaints from their region.

You should complement quantitative data with qualitative analysis of complaints where appropriate.

At a minimum the executive should receive reports about complaint volumes and trends including data about complaint issues, causes and outcomes, systemic issues and relevant complainant data (for example, geographic, demographic, cohort information).

Data analysis and reporting should occur more frequently during implementation of new policies and services.

Look for systemic issues

There are a number of signposts that should trigger a closer examination of complaints data for systemic issues. Examples include:

  • high or increasing volumes of complaints about a particular issue, program or team

  • commencement of new or modified programs

  • changes in the geographical or demographic spread of complaints

  • changes in remedy and outcome trends.

Remember, while systemic issues are often reflected in higher complaints volumes, sometimes a single complaint can reveal a program weakness.

Identify the root causes of complaints, which may be varied, for example process, behavioural, system and organisational causes. Sometimes, you will need to take a qualitative look at complaints to understand the reasons behind a quantitative data trend.

Example: complaints may reveal legislation is being wrongly applied, an internal manual is confusing, record keeping needs to be improved or staff need further training.

Take care when analysing your complaints. For example:

  • low complaint volumes do not necessarily imply high customer satisfaction (for example, it may be because a system is not sufficiently accessible)

  • higher complaint volumes do not necessarily imply systemic problem (for example, it may be the positive result of increased public awareness of a complaint system).

Survey your complainants

Find out what your complainants think of your complaints handling process and what would improve the experience for them. Options include seeking feedback when complaints are finalised, periodic surveys, monitoring social media, user testing, research and focus groups.

Review your system

Regular reviews of your complaint handling system are an opportunity to ensure the system is up to date and able to meet new challenges and evolving better practice.

Look for opportunities to improve

Once you have analysed your data, look for ways to improve how your programs and complaint handling services are delivered.

Examples could include:

  • identifying training and development needs

  • strengthening supervision and quality assurance processes

  • eliminating or reducing 'pain points' for complainants

  • reducing duplication and double handling.

Case study: An agency received a number of complaints from separate people about their application for a benefit being denied. All of the complaints had a common factor, the applicants were not aware of the requirement to provide certain documents. The agency investigated and identified a need to improve information on their website about how to apply for a benefit.

Share your insights

Insights and innovative ideas for improvement resulting from complaint handling can come from frontline staff, managers, data analysts, auditors and reviewers, and the public.

These should be shared with all areas of an agency that can influence improvement and externally where appropriate, including feedback to other areas of government.

You should also share your insights into improvements you have tried, including what works and what doesn't, with other complaint handling agencies—for example through compliant handling communities of practice or interdepartmental working groups.

Report your complaints

Publically report your complaint handling data in Annual Reports and on your website. We recommend including information about total complaints, performance against benchmarks, high level trend information and your top 5 to 10 complaint issues, causes and outcomes.

You should also have policies and procedures on how to provide access to information and how to disclose de-identified complaint data.

Commit to improvement

As program weaknesses and solutions are identified, agencies need commitment to improvement at all levels, from the head of the organisation to frontline staff.

Where improvements to the complaint handling system are identified, the better practice cycle continues. All agency staff need to commit to incorporate the improvements into the design and delivery of your continuously improving complaint handling system.

Monitor improvement

Ensure you have a process for monitoring implementation of improvements, recommendations and remedies.