How complaints can stimulate innovation in public services
The latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) scores show that the public sector scores lower than the overall UK average, but also that there is considerable variation across different parts of the public sector. While the national index score is 78.2 (out of 100), national and local public service score 72.8 and 74.3 respectively. Within each sector, scores range from your "local ambulance service" (86) to "your local council" (61.9), or "your NHS hospital” (78.4).
Public sector organisations face a number of particular challenges. Many provide essential services for customers who may not have a choice of provider. Many serve a large and diverse population including disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Added to this, the pressure of cost constraints is forcing tough decisions about priorities and resource allocation.
But the choice is not between improving service or cutting costs; focusing on the customer experience presents opportunities to increase efficiency and make optimum use of scarce resources.
Arguably the area of innovation which can produce the greatest benefit is to transform the focus on employee engagement. The public sector generates a high proportion of problems for its customers - 17 per cent of national public sector customers and 16 per cent in local services have experienced a problem recently (further information can be found in the Institute research publication, Handle with Care: an analysis and toolkit to improve complaint handling. Many problems relate to people issues; in local public services staff attitude was cited as an issue in 44 per cent of complaints, compared to 31 per cent for the UK economy as a whole.
One of the biggest single factors influencing customer satisfaction with complaint handling has been found to be the response customers encounter when they first raise their problem or complaint. Our research shows that 35 per cent of complaints in the UK (across all sectors) are met with a response of "seemed uninterested". But where complaints are met with a positive and helpful attitude, customer satisfaction with the handling of the complaint is significantly higher.
Perhaps the biggest thing organisations in public services can do to support both their employees and customers is focus on developing employees' emotional intelligence skills - to help them anticipate and deal with problems that occur, and ensure customers feel they are being treated as individuals. Trained, motivated and engaged employees deliver better customer experiences, generating fewer problems and complaints, increasing customer satisfaction, saving time and reducing inefficiency. In an environment of change and uncertainly, the focus on motivation and engagement is especially critical, helping organisations navigate challenging times and improve the service they give customers.
For further information from the current UK Customer Satisfaction Index, to download a copy of national or local public sector reports or to download a copy of Handle with Care: an analysis and toolkit to improve complaint handling visit the Institute of Customer Service.