The workload of the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) has increased by 45% in the past year. OT talks with Jennie Jones about the activity seen at the OCCS and common themes in its caseload.
Why do you think the OCCS has seen a large increase in its caseload?
I don’t see it as an issue of a growing number of customer service or consumer issues within optics. It is about the complaints coming to the right place and being resolved. The increase has come from greater awareness of the service in the consciousness of both consumers and practices.
Most practices are doing a great job of looking after their patients. For a variety of reasons, complaints will arise, and while these situations are generally resolved within the practice, sometimes the relationship becomes difficult. Having an independent mediation service that understands the industry and the unique nature of optics, means practices can feel reassured. They know that it is going to get resolved, nine times out of 10. It is best to go to us than for them to put their head in the sand and allow it to escalate.
How does the OCCS work?
We receive enquiries from both consumers and practices and can help with any consumer relationship issue. We don't deal with allegations of negligence or misconduct, and as mediators we do not judge or order either party to do something they are unwilling to do. Our team of resolution managers have over 80 years of optical experience between them. They focus on getting to the heart of what has gone on and then they will look to get both parties communicating to try to find a resolution.
Over 50% are resolved at an early stage, but when needed a complaint is then mediated. We get the records from the practice and listen to both sides of the story. Using mediation, we will try to help the parties to find a resolution. Sometimes this can include helping one party accept what has happened. The focus is very much on providing an independent and fair approach as well as producing a swift resolution.
We focus on the question of ‘What will this take to get this complaint resolved so that everyone can move forward?’ This is in everyone’s best interests as the consumer maintains trust in the profession and practices can move on and focus on new patients and running their business as effectively as possible.
"Try to put yourself in the shoes of the patient. It is difficult when a complaint comes in, but it is important not to take it personally and take the time to think about how you would like this to be resolved"
What is the relationship between the OCCS and the GOC?
Around 14% of the enquiries we receive come through because a person has contacted the GOC, who refer the complaint to the OCCS and allow us to mediate. In rare situations where we become aware of a serious concern or safeguarding issue, we would refer the circumstances to the GOC, but this happens in less than 2% of the direct enquiries we receive.
What are the outcomes of mediation?
We don't make any adjudication on whether a practice has been right or wrong and we don't impose any sanctions. It is always an agreed solution.
I think that is why we have high resolution and satisfaction rates because the parties are involved. There is no need to force practices to carry out the agreed resolution because they have accepted that is what they are going to do. It helps in terms of encouraging practices to participate because it is not about judgement. Most of the situations we see happen day in, day out across practices around the country, but something has happened within the interaction that causes it to become a complaint. We resolve 98% of the issues that come through the OCCS.
What have you learned about customer service from your role?
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the patient. It is difficult when a complaint comes in but it is important not to take it personally and take the time to think about how you would like this to be resolved. It is very much about breaking down the barriers and thinking about what they can do to turn this situation around and get the patient's trust back on board.
Image credit: OCCS