Dealing with complaints

OT  speaks to the Optical Consumer Complaints Services head, Jennie Jones, about dealing with complaints following the release of the organisation’s 2022–2023 annual report

As an independent and free mediation service, the role of the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) includes providing assistance to consumers when raising complaints, while also providing optical practices with guidance on how to respond to complaints.

Funded by the General Optical Council, the service has been delivered through Nockolds since 2014.

Following the publication of its 2022–2023 annual report earlier this year, OT sat down with head of the OCCS, Jennie Jones, to discuss the role of the service and dealing with complaints.

Reporting on the year from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023, the OCCS received 1709 complaints, which is a 2% decrease year-on-year. Furthermore, it closed 1603 complaints during the same period.

In terms of the nature of the complaints that the OCCS received during this period, while clinical complaints were down, Jones shared, the service saw an increase in the number of complaints about products and services.

Talking to OT, Jones said: “When you look at our basic data, the number of complaints specifically relating to charges and fees has increased. It’s still not up there in our top five, but looking at it, there has been a 20% increase.”

Jones highlighted that consumers appear to be moving towards a refund as the resolution rather than working with the practice to resolve the problem.

“Like all of us, particularly if money is tighter, unless we are absolutely satisfied, people are more inclined to probably come back and have that conversation now,” she said.

Jones added that, equally, the OCCS is observing practices less likely to go to a refund as the first solution.

“The good will element becomes a little bit tighter when you are looking at a situation where the economic pressures come through into practice,” Jones shared, highlighting that the OCCS has seen complaints escalating over £5. She emphasised, that in these situations, practice must look at the commercial bigger picture.

Sharing advice for practitioners when it comes to managing complaints, Jones said: “We are not comfortable dealing with conflict and confrontation… creating a bit of space and time to ask open questions so that you understand where the consumer is coming from: what is it they already know, what do you need to inform them about, and what misunderstandings do they have. And in asking those questions you are showing the consumer you want to hear them. We all want to be heard when we complain.”

Jones also emphasised that the OCCS “really advocates” looking at the positive feedback alongside the complaints, “so we learn from it.”