May 01, 2017

Complaints Matter: For People & for Economic Value Alike

In an ideal world, the aged care industry would offer flawless care. But here in the real world, the care delivered despite best intentions isn’t necessarily ‘perfect’ and complaints will inevitably be made. Intent, responsibility, process and commitment to improvement are all important to ultimately supporting a high level of quality of care.

Rae Lamb, the Aged Care Complaints commissioner, had recently made a call for greater transparency from the aged care sector in terms of issues and complains that are lodged.

Instead, she hopes to have providers “say a lot more about the complaints they get and how they handled them”. But realistically speaking, how many organisations would agree to divulge previous complaints made about them? The assumption by providers is that this damages or, at least, doesn’t help their reputation.

Ms Lamb is suggesting that aged care providers should be required to provide information about disputes and complaints. And that they should detail the number and types of complaints they receive, as well as how they were resolved. This last step in this suggestion is the important one and is based on evidence to support action by the providers in supporting such an approach.

As providers, health care professionals, residents and their families alike digest this apparently bold request, consideration should be given not just to the sectors conservative history in publicly dealing with concerns and complaints which are often complex and sensitive, but also we should look to analogous examples across other sectors of how operators, such as airlines can be seen in recent news, to handle complaints when they arise.

This is not to compare the services of the two industries but simply to compare the importance of SERVICE in both sectors and the lessons potentially available from United Airlines recent public relations disaster, where a passenger was violently dragged off a flight after he refused to give up his paid seat, that consequently destroyed USD 1.4bn of value of the company on the share market. As more and more Australian aged care providers publicly list the ownership of their shares, it is only a matter of time before a poorly handled complaint or a communications misstep risks materially impacting the value of Australia’s ASX listed company aged care providers.

Whilst two very different industries the United and Delta are USA based airline services and we are a focused here together on aged care and retirement sectors. But the principles of good service and an accountable complaints processing system for our listed and unlisted aged care operators alike is not only good for residents (and the culture of the providers) but good for business and shareholders too.

What does this mean to me our readers may ask? For providers it means, that preparation, process and proper engagement through good communication policies, an open culture and accountable and available complaints department is not so much a potential risk, but an investment in protecting value for shareholders and not just to benefit residents and their families. Something that many companies already seek to accommodate and provide for in their operations already.

Finally, as many of our readers are already aware, there is much digital evidence to support the claims that underpin Rae Lamb’s suggestion of better transparency on both complaints and how operators respond to them (when handled well). Trip Advisor and other review sites together with industry research has demonstrated repeatedly that there is a 40% better chance of engagement from consumers who see negative feedback responded to and handled diligently and fairly by a service provider online in building trust with the consumer than if it is ignored or mediocre ratings are given from the marketplace.

Whilst the idea or promoting a more transparent system is of-course a positive initiative, at the same time isn’t a business allowed an element of keeping some things private?

Wrong, it seems!

What are your thoughts – is asking an organisation to publicise their complaints going too far? Or is it in the best interest of the customer to know all the information before committing to a service?

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