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Courting complaints

Nockolds Solicitors’ Jennie Jones speaks to OT  about how the Optical Consumer Complaints Service has developed over the last five years

21 Mar 2019 by Emily McCormick

01 The purpose of the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) is to provide effective mediation between a practice and a patient when a complaint is made.

It is not our purpose to impose a way of resolving complaints, but instead to work with the practice and the patient to ensure they understand where each party is coming from and to support communication so they can find a way forward. From a patient’s point of view, ideally, this would mean maintaining trust in a practice or in optics to continue to consume eye care, and for a practice it would mean learning to deal with the complaint as effectively and as constructively as possible so that the impact on the business and the team is minimised. 

We can provide input that is both independent and impartial – most of our team are from an optics background and can bring insight into what it’s really like in practice, while also offering perspective, applying common sense and a new approach to a situation.

02 When we took over the OCCS five years ago, we were clear that we saw mediation as our day job and were keen to share our learnings from the sector with professional bodies, stakeholders, optical businesses and professionals to allow them to learn from these experiences.

We do this through a series of CET lectures, for which feedback has been 100% positive. During these sessions we share case studies based on the trends that we see in the complaints that we receive, such as communication, prescription issues and varifocal dispensing. Practitioners are encouraged to discuss how they would deal with the scenarios and often when they share their thoughts and experiences with each other on how they would deal with a scenario, they can learn from each other.

“Of the 23 million sight tests performed in the UK each year, we receive around 1500 complaints a year”

03 Of the 23 million sight tests performed in the UK each year, we receive around 1500 complaints a year. While this is up from 622 in 2014–2015, it is still an incredibly small proportion when compared to the number of sight tests performed annually.

An increase in complaints is not necessarily a negative thing. Over the last five years we have worked hard to raise awareness of the OCCS and its role with both patients and practices.

We have done a lot to ensure that the OCCS is accessible for all, and, as a result, we accept complaints in all formats, including by post. Most of our complaints are received by telephone and email. With practices also more aware of the service that we offer as a result of the insight sharing that we do, we have increasingly found that if they receive a complaint that they are struggling to resolve, they will proactively encourage a patient to come to us.

While the number of complaints we receive has risen, our resolution rates have been maintained at around 97%, which is fabulous. I’m very proud of this – it comes down to hard work, determination and a lot of common sense.

04 Good patient relations and complaint handling procedures are part of being a professional in 2019 and that is reflected in the General Optical Council’s Standards of Practice.

We are seeing improvements in this area, with customer service-related complaints falling year-on-year from 32% to 26% in 2017–2018. We also saw varifocal complaints fall. These are both areas that we have been actively sharing insight with practitioners on.

We have noticed that complaints are taking slightly longer to resolve, which we believe is due to the growing complexity of the complaints that we are receiving. When we took over the OCCS, many complaints were based on situations such as ‘the arm has fallen off my spectacles and I think I should be entitled to a refund,’ but now they are more likely to be based on referrals, more complex optical needs or possible laser eye surgery outcomes, for example. 

I think that as trust has built in the service, practices feel that when it comes to more complex issues, it is appropriate to give mediation a go. As a result, they are happy to refer issues like this to the OCCS for support, rather than for them to escalate in a more serious manner.

“We have noticed that complaints are taking slightly longer to resolve, which we believe is due to the growing complexity of the complaints that we are receiving”

05 We are currently pulling together what the next phase for the OCCS looks like.

It will certainly focus on how we can help optical professionals be prepared to future-proof their practice as we look at the emerging and evolving models of optical care, such as Minor Eye Conditions Services. For students coming through into the profession, our focus is on how they can be best prepared for practice with the communication skills and the resilience that are required. What practitioners are judged on by patients in practice are the softer client care skills that go with being a clinician and we want to ensure that students are prepared for this. 

Image credit: Getty

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