143. Critical to a good complaints handling system and improving service delivery is an underpinning culture that values complaints and commits to learning from them. While we found commitment from staff in RIU and the Enquiry Point to improving the complaints handling process there was less evidence of 'buy in' from the wider organisation about the need to learn from complaints illustrated, for example, by the low number of complaints reviewed where the response indicated that there would be a change to COPFS policies or practices.
144. Creating and embedding a culture that values and learns from complaints needs strong leadership. The Scottish Government's introduction to the 2015 'On Board - A guide for Board Members of Public Bodies in Scotland' states:
"Governance is not just about what we do but how we do it, creating a positive environment that supports improvement and delivery."
145. The Scottish Public Service Ombudsman, commenting on the Francis report into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, identified 'culture, governance and management' as the critical seats of organisational failure and states:
"The challenge of Francis is to truly value complaints as a learning tool and to ensure that we have the right culture, management and governance processes in place to ensure we are doing so."
We visited an organisation held out as a leader in dealing with complaints. Their written policy followed the SPSO model and, similar to COPFS, they provide a single complaint handling point. The organisation credited a commitment to improve services, including the use of complaints as source of information to inform this process, from the top of the organisation down as being key to changing attitudes throughout the organisation.
Complaint handling performance is seen as a key indicator of customer satisfaction. The ethos emphasised throughout the organisation is that a complaint should be resolved at the earliest possibility and there is an expectation that a practical solution should be identified for all complaints. This is underpinned with clear staff guidance on effective complaints handling highlighting the following key considerations:
- Identify the exact issue or issues the customer is complaining about;
- What does the customer want to happen as a result of their complaint;
- Can I achieve what they want or explain to them why not;
- If I can't resolve it, then who should the complaint be assigned to for resolution?
Their success is demonstrated by a decrease in the overall number of complaints in 2014/15 compared to the previous year and the overwhelming number of complaints resolved through early resolution at the front line, with only 4.3% of complaints escalated to stage 2 procedure. In contrast, only 6% of complaints in COPFS are resolved by quick resolution at the front line.
146. There are a number of key learning points that can be drawn from the case study:
- the role of senior management in supporting improvement and delivery of service to customers and promoting organisational learning from complaints is pivotal;
- complaints handling is seen as a key indicator of customer satisfaction;
- complaints handling Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are embedded as part of the management structure; and
- front line staff are provided with the tools to deal with complaints effectively and at the earliest possibility.
147. Embedding a similar ethos in COPFS requires clear direction from senior management on the extent and limits of discretion and responsibilities of all staff in resolving complaints, including taking effective remedial action and apologising where appropriate and promoting a "can do", "solution focused" culture, placing the service user at the heart of the process.
148. The value of personal interactions, either by telephone or face-to-face, should be emphasised and promoted as an essential part of the process.
149. It is, therefore, significant that COPFS has recently appointed a senior prosecutor to 'champion' customer service. The remit is currently under consideration but we understand that it will include improving the user experience and addressing organisational culture.
150. The appointment provides an opportunity to promote a culture focussed on people rather than process, where complaints are:
- handled by people at the point of service delivery;
- recognised as a key indicator of customer satisfaction; and
- valued as a source of feedback to identify recurrent themes and systematic issues.
151. Potentially, the 'Champion' could fulfil the oversight role that is undertaken by the IACs in the other UK jurisdictions, in relation to identifying trends, promoting best practice and learning from complaints.
The COPFS Customer Service 'Champion' should embed complaints handling as a key indicator of customer satisfaction and promote organisational learning from complaints.
152. As part of the drive to improve customer service, COPFS has also become a member of the Institute of Customer Service, an independent organisation committed to improving the quality of customer service.
153. The appointment of a customer service "champion" and membership of the Institute of Customer Service are welcome developments demonstrating COPFS commitment to improving service delivery but excellent customer service also requires staff armed with the appropriate skills and confidence to resolve complaints at first contact.
Training and Development
154. To deal with complaints effectively and at an early stage, staff require to be supported by training and clear and practical guidance.
155. At present all COPFS staff complete the Valuing and Managing Difference (Equalities) course. In addition, staff at the Enquiry Point undergo an intensive four-week training course that contains elements of customer service and complaints handling training and staff in RIU staff receive communication training from the Samaritans. There is, however, no specific training provided for front line staff on dealing with complaints and customer service.
156. There are a number of potential options available to COPFS to address training needs. There is a SVQ Customer Service Award that staff can access and the Civil Service Learning, which is available to all staff, includes the following courses:
- 'Delivering Excellent Customer Service' - an e-learning course
- 'Delivering Excellent Customer Service Part 2' - a face-to-face course, building on the previous course
- 'Good Complaint Handling' - an e-learning course designed to assist with identifying a complaint, the importance of communicating and concepts such as resolution and redress.
157. The Complaints Standards Authority also offers courses on dealing with Complaints Handling including:
- Good Complaints Handling (aimed at staff who have direct contact with members of the public who received complaints as part of their day to day work);
- Complaint Investigation Skills (aimed at managers, team leaders, complaints officers and any other staff involved in the investigation of complaints).
Recommendations 10 and 11
COPFS should issue guidance on complaint handling to all staff.
COPFS should ensure that all staff, who have direct contact with members of the public, complete the Delivering Customer Service courses. The e-learning Delivering Customer Service module should be included as part of the COPFS induction process.