During my six years working with Polonious to help organisations comply with internal and external rules in the management of complaints the debate continues. Should the initial complaint be triaged by a human or lodged by the complainant via a web form? The short answer of course is it depends on the nature of the complaint.  If the complainant is distressed, in danger and needs immediate assistance the is no substitute for a compassionate human to assist. However, in situations such as whistleblowing, bullying, and sexual harassment often the complainant wishes, at least initially to remain anonymous. Web forms connected to a case management system such as Polonious which automates the process of lodging the complaint has the following benefits;

The complainant gets an immediate email response with the case number, a statement of the next steps and links or attachments which provide further information on potential assistance based on the type of complaint lodged. Yes, the complainant does have to set up a new email account to protect their anonymity. The advocates of the human approach claim this process adds more stress to the complainant at a time when they need support, not forms to fill out.

Continuity of service and immediacy are another challenge for managing complaints. Making humans available when the complainant is ready usually after lots of soul searching and building up of courage is expensive and problematic for organisations. Talk to LifeLine who manage their services with volunteers providing a 24 / 7 service about the challenges of manning the phones 365 days a year. And if you speak to people who have used the LifeLine service there is still a computer interface to ensure your routed to the correctly trained consultant. Webforms are there 24/7/365.

Transparency and turnaround time. At the recent inaugural Polonious World 2017 several speakers talked about the importance of transparency and speed to action the complaint. It seems improbable that Senior Staff on receiving a complaint would collude to “sweep it under the carpet”. However, many of our clients have reported this to be the case prior to deploying Polonious. With a web form and case management system people that need to know about categories of complaints are automatically notified either by email or SMS “no carpet”. There are other cases where case files have sat on the manager’s desk for (worse case heard of to date) five years. That must have been stressful for the complainant. Automation brings dashboards, alerts and escalations across the organisation’s chain of command.

Accuracy. What is better? A complaint lodged in the complainants own words, with up loaded evidentiary files, time and date stamped by the system. Or a hand-written interpretation of what the person receiving the complaint understood the complainant said? Physical file notes that can go missing, are illegible and often not consistent across the various people taking them over time in the organization.

Are we advocating eradicating the human touch in managing complaints? It may seem so. However, as with all human situations, a “blended” approach maybe be the best for your organization. Understanding the ramifications and risks to your organisation is the dilemma for senior management.