William Arthur Ward once remarked, “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The realist adjusts the sail.” Learning from complaints and improving services, systems and processes is encouraged strongly at Stockport Council.

Stockport Council has in place procedures for residents to make complaints about the services and facilities it provides. Most complaints and service requests are received by the council as a result of customers completing the complaints leaflet, phoning the Contact Centre or using the online form.

Increasingly, however, residents are also complaining via the ‘Contact us’ feedback form, the ‘Feedback’ link at the bottom of every Stockport Council web page (designed for feedback on the website rather than services), Ami chatbot and social media. We welcome all feedback, so extensions to traditional routes is positive, but so many channels adds to the complexity of dealing with them appropriately and in a timely fashion.

To further complicate matters, what the resident considers a complaint can sometimes differ to what the council views as a formal complaint. For example, a complaint about missed bins would be classified by the council as a request for a service. The resident has alerted us that, for whatever reason, their bin hasn’t been collected and addressing this service request promptly is their priority need. It would only turn into a formal complaint if there was a repeated pattern of missed bin collections.

This has resulted in a situation where we receive hundreds of “complaints” each month, from multiple routes, all needing to be triaged, with service requests separated from complaints. This process is time consuming and unfortunately sometimes results in complaints getting lost within the system, especially if the customer logs the enquiry in the wrong queue, for example, by logging a parking enquiry with the highways service.

It is frustrating for the customer if they are unable to navigate the correct route and also for the service who want to deliver a prompt response, but find the complaint has been delayed in reaching them.

With so many complaints being reported in the wrong way or to the wrong teams, the Digital by Design team, working closely with the Corporate Complaints team and officers from across the council, undertook a review of the online complaints reporting process with the aim of improving both the user journey and outcomes for the council.

What we’ve done

  • redesigned the web content:
    • the online information, advice and guidance has been rewritten to ensure it guides customers to the most efficient and relevant way of contacting the Council.
    • the web-page now clearly defines what is a “Formal complaint” and includes simple prompts to separate these from service requests and comments and signpost users to the correct reporting process for service requests
    • reviewed the Contact Us page
    • reviewed the search results when customer enters “complaint” and tidied up the search area so that when users look for a specific search, the right information will be displayed
  • changes to the way complaints are handled in Verint, the Council’s corporate case management system:
    • review of service names and categories as the service list on the complaints form was out of date
    • improvements to how officers are alerted when a new case is submitted
    • notification email to case owners 1 day before SLA due
    • created standard email reply templates that can be sent and attached to the complaints case
    • improvements to the complaints work queue
    • avoid queue bottlenecks if managers on leave
    • new reportable case closure reasons
  • ​Changes to policy and procedures:
    • review of complaints policy
    • handling complaints
    • ownership of cases
    • recording lessons learnt
    • refresher training for complaints officers
    • complaints officers group

User testing

The user experience designers mocked up designs for the new web content and online forms and took them out to test with citizens. Viewing the process through the eyes of the user and watching how they navigated the website to find certain information helped us to understand how they search for things. All the new content and forms were designed to meet user needs and improved the customer journey.

The new forms went live on November 7th and we will be monitoring the outcomes closely. We hope to see:

Benefits for customers

  • improved user journey on the complaints pages of the website
  • quicker responses for service requests
  • improved response time to complaints as a result of
    • the new forms helping filter out service requests from formal complaints
    • the changes to Verint processes
  • fewer ‘lost’ cases​

Benefits for Stockport Council

  • reduction in number of service requests coming through as complaints​
  • reduction in avoidable contact as complaints are routed correctly
  • by reducing delays in responding to customers it will also help to de-escalate certain enquiries that can turn into formal complaints
  • better reporting for services and complaints managers – now complaints are logged correctly on Verint, they will be added to the Business Intelligence managers dashboard

Anwar Majothi is Corporate Complaints Manager at Stockport Council