12 key steps to an effective complaint and feedback mechanism

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Feedback refers to positive or negative comments regarding the work of an organization and it may also contain recommendations for development. A subcategory of feedback called complaints expresses discontent with the work or behaviour of an organization (or its employees). Regardless of their size, context, or stakeholder groups, all organizations should have a basic complaints and feedback structure in place. Having a mechanism on an organization’s website is the simplest way to encourage the submission of feedback or complaints and to share information widely.

So what should you keep in mind while you design (or update) your mechanism? Here is an overview of the procedures a feedback and complaints policy for the organization should cover.

  1. The mechanism’s primary goal

It’s critical to understand the mechanism’s purpose, both for the organization and its stakeholders. Many CSOs prioritize involvement and discussion and place their important stakeholders at the centre of their advocacy, strategy, and programming. Strong feedback channels are essential for understanding stakeholder demands, discovering what has worked successfully, and pinpointing areas that may be improved. These methods also give CSOs a way to hold themselves accountable. There is more external pressure to establish adequate methods to file complaints or report inappropriate behaviour or incidents as a result of the crises that have plagued the industry in recent years.

  1. Key ideas and methods for dealing with criticism and grievances

How does your company respond to criticism? Explain how your organization plans to include goals like confidentiality, objectivity, timeliness, institutional learning, and a survivor-centred approach into the feedback and complaint handling procedure. Specify what constitutes feedback, a complaint, a sensitive complaint, and anything else that would be pertinent to the process.

  1. The mechanism’s scope

The mechanism’s scope should be made explicit, including which stakeholders (internal or external) it is designed for, whether it covers the entire organization or just certain offices, whether it takes into account the actions of partner organizations, etc. References to and links to other organizational policies, such as a code of conduct or safeguarding policy, under which the CSO can be held accountable, should be made. A clear definition of what falls outside the purview of feedback and complaint procedures should also be provided, such as objections to an organization’s advocacy efforts because they conflict with the complainant’s personal values.

  1. Procedure and schedule

A description of the procedure and timetable is crucial for making it easier for people to submit suggestions and complaints. This should contain details on how to make suggestions and grievances, the organization’s follow-up procedures, when to expect a response, and the alternatives for escalating complaints.

  1. Who handles complaints and feedback?

At all stages of the procedure, it should be made clear who inside the organization will be receiving input and looking into complaints. It should be made clear if information regarding complaints may be distributed to various individuals or teams. In the event that the person who receives feedback and complaints is the target of a complaint, there should be additional channels of contact. For instance, the organization can specify that any grievances against the Programme Manager should be directed to the Executive Director if the Programme Manager is the one in charge of overseeing the complaints email address.

  1. Specific and open submission channel (s)

There should be a dedicated email address and/or submission form on the website to guarantee that feedback and complaints are received, handled promptly, and by the proper person in the organization. Links may need to be added to other website parts to make this clear and simple to find. The best approach is to have a distinct page on the website dedicated to comments and complaints and to link to this page both from the homepage and the “contact us” page. The feedback and complaints policy should be listed next to the submission form or email, together with details on the submission and follow-up procedures.

  1. Permit anonymity while maintaining confidentiality

This is crucial when it comes to complaints because, for a variety of reasons, some complainants might not feel secure disclosing their identities. They might not want their co-workers to know about their complaint, especially if it is one of a sensitive nature, or they might fear retaliation for making it. All complaints should be handled privately in order to safeguard the complainant, with the complaint and any pertinent information only being seen by those with the proper authorization. Any identifying information about the complainant should be kept to a minimum if the material needs to be shared more widely, such as with senior management, unless the complainant has stated that they wish to be identified.

Additionally, when a complaint is made anonymously and the complainant has not given their name, organizations should be willing to accept it. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: either the complainant creates a fictitious email address while withholding their name, or the organization offers an online submission form that doesn’t ask for a name or email address. Even if it may be more challenging to investigate a complaint that is made anonymously, it is nevertheless crucial to gather and address such concerns as much as possible. Even if the specific problem cannot be verified or resolved, the information provided is still helpful in detecting potential issues inside the organization, and several complaints about the same problem or individual can signify a trend.

  1. Sort submissions into categories for easier follow-up

Responses to various types of feedback will vary depending on who is involved and how quickly a response is needed (if at all). Positive comments or suggestions, for instance, should be handled differently from complaints against the work of an organization. Gross misconduct allegations will call for a different – and more immediate – reaction than less serious complaints. If feedback is gathered centrally in larger organizations with several offices, it will also be crucial to understand whose office the feedback relates to.

Having an online submission form where users can select their complaint type and any other pertinent information from drop-down menus is the simplest approach to ensure that various types of feedback are handled effectively. The form can deliver contributions directly to the designated individual(s) inside the organization depending on the submitter’s choice.

  1. Adjust to your primary stakeholders

Key constituents of an organization should have simple access to and use its online complaint and feedback systems. Translation into languages other than English should be taken into consideration, and for organizations working with children, it is recommended practice to incorporate simpler child-friendly procedures. Policies and mechanisms should also utilize simple language and minimize jargon.

  1. Promote your mechanisms strongly

People must be aware of and at ease using feedback and complaint systems for them to be effective. The organization must frequently promote feedback channels and encourage their use both internally and externally to convey to its stakeholders that input (including complaints) is welcome. The mechanisms should be made available on the internet, but it’s also a good idea to occasionally include material in newsletters, mention the mechanisms at events and meetings with stakeholders, and make sure staff members are knowledgeable about and able to communicate the mechanisms.

  1. Respond and follow up

Positive comments and broad suggestions may not necessitate a formal reply, but it is imperative that complaints are addressed promptly. When a complaint is received, it should be recognized, and the complainant should be made aware of the next steps, including when they might anticipate a response. The complaint should be made aware of any delays in the process and given an updated schedule. Most importantly, after the problem has been investigated, the complaint should be informed of the findings and any actions the organization will be taking. These procedures are all essential for preserving the public’s confidence in the system; if their concerns are disregarded or handled improperly, they are unlikely to use the system in future.

  1. Share lessons learned and what you did as a result of the comments you received.

Last but not least, it is a good idea for organizations to communicate crucial information regarding the feedback (especially complaints) they have received as well as critical insights and solutions. More and more CSOs are disseminating information on the volume of complaints they receive, the issues/topics they pertain to, the locations of the occurrences, the number of complaints that were resolved, and the most important steps that were done to address the complaints.

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