Handling service complaints from clients
Juliana Campbell explains why an effective complaint procedure can benefit your practice.
Studies have shown that as many as 91% of people do not complain when they are unhappy with the service received. These studies also show that clients who do not complain will share their view of the poor service received with at least 10-15 other people.
Studies also show that as many as 68% of clients terminate the services of a business supplier because they are unhappy with the service being provided.
Clients complain for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are genuine and others are not. Therefore it is important to deal with each complaint on its merit and in accordance with an effective procedure. The procedure should be capable of being followed irrespective of the validity of the complaint.
Sources of Information
Complaints can be an important source of management information for your firm and unless completely unreasonable, should be welcomed. Complaints are an opportunity to:
- develop your relationship with the client
- measure the effectiveness of the service you are providing
- improve the service you provide to customers by identifying problems.
Complaints = Improvements = Satisfied Clients = Improved Business.
The cost of dealing with a complaint can be considerable in terms of time and energy, which could otherwise be spent on building your practice and on chargeable hours. Therefore, complaints should be dealt with as quickly as possible as unresolved grievances can take up a lot of time.
It is good practice to have in place a procedure for the handling of complaints made by clients. This is an opportunity to resolve matters, if possible, to the satisfaction of the client and enable you to build the client relationship.
The procedure should be simple to understand and implement. The procedure should also be communicated to all members of staff. A good procedure should include:
- standard notification to clients about how to complain. There is no point in having a procedure for complaints if clients do not know about it
- a system for recording the complaints received. This will enable you to analyse the complaints that are made. This will provide you with important management information. It will also highlight any common and recurring problems, of which you may not be aware
- establish who will deal with the complaint and inform the complainant. Most complainants do not care who deals with the complaint as long as someone does and takes ‘ownership’ of it. A minority of complainants will not be happy unless the most senior person in the organisation is dealing with their complaint
- establish a time scale for reviewing and responding to complaints
- establish clear boundaries in dealing with complaints. This makes it clear that you will not accept all complaints made by clients or all methods of making complaints. This will include abusive complaints (shouting and swearing), threats of violence, and very serious allegations, such as fraud, which are unsubstantiated. It goes without saying that responses to complaints should not be dealt with in a similarly inappropriate manner.
When dealing with complaints do not:
- take the complaint personally or react in an emotive manner
- fend off the complainant by saying, “I have never had any other complaints against me”
- focus on the behaviour/characteristics of the client, unless it is directly relevant to the complaint.
When dealing with complaints do:
- focus on the facts of the complaint as opposed to the manner in which the complaint has been made
- refer the matter, if possible, to a colleague with no previous involvement
- consider your response to the complaint carefully
- clarify the complaint if it is vague
- consider whether there is any truth or validity to the client’s complaint or any part of it
- respond promptly to the complainant.
In some circumstances it may be necessary to consider bringing the relationship with the client to an end. This may be a difficult decision to make. However, some clients cost you more in terms of time and aggravation than they are worth.
Alternatively, you may not be in a position to provide the level of service the client requires. A decision to end the client relationship must always be carried out in a professional manner. In order to prevent any inconvenience to the client or to prevent an allegation that you are being malicious/acting in bad faith, you should consider completing any outstanding instructions or referring them to another firm. If you refuse to act a day before the deadline for submitting accounts to Companies House or the Inland Revenue, the client will be inconvenienced and feel aggrieved.
The implementation of an effective complaint procedure can have a positive effect on client relationships and on the profitability of your business.
Juliana Campbell - Head of Professional Conduct, ACCA