There’s an interesting article in the Derby Telegraph today concerning the city council’s decision to review its service performance indicators and to revise them. Most organisations periodically review their key performance indicators (indeed, it would be pretty odd if they didn’t) to ensure that they remain sensitive to the needs of their customers (or citizens). However in the case of the city council it appears that, controversially, these changes may include them no longer reporting the absolute number of complaints it receives.
The quotation in the article which made me think a little more deeply about this subject is attributed to Adam Wilkinson, their chief executive. He is reported as having said:
We anticipate the number of complaints will be higher because we have been and are introducing more ways the public can contact us to complain with things.
Measuring the number of complaints has often been one way of understanding how well an organisation is performing. I think Adam Wilkinson is suggesting that electronic methods of communication make it easier to complain. If this is so (and it’s pretty certain that it is), then comparing absolute complaint volumes from year to year makes little sense.
I’m pleased they’re not falling into the trap of trying to treat all communications received that aren’t a direct request for a product or service as a complaint. This was certainly my experience with Barclaycard earlier on this year. My tweet to them saying that I was closing my account in response to their decision to close Egg on Pride Park was treated as a service-related complaint, even though it wasn’t. I wonder if my complaint about their handling of my non-complaint was treated as a complaint – it should have been …
Simply counting the volume of complaints received is therefore at best a blunt instrument and at worst useless. So I support Adam Wilkinson in his desire to find a better way of judging how well his organisation is performing. I would politely suggest that qualitative as well as quantitative measures are required.
It will be interesting to see how this develops and if this subtlety can be properly communicated. Suggesting that this is an ‘Orwellian’ tactic as one Labour councillor has done is ludicrous. Just because an organisation makes it easier to complain and sees an increase in the total number received doesn’t mean that it’s performing more poorly than it was. Rather, it’s the quality of the response to complaints received which is the real key to performance improvement.
I’d much rather that this aspect of service delivery was the subject of political debate than one centred solely on misleading numbers.