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6.3 Listening, Responding, Improving - Guidance for Frontline Staff


Operational Team Managers (or their equivalent in Learning Disability or Mental Health Services) are the key individuals with responsibility for handling and responding to complaints. General Managers (or their equivalent) are responsible for the quality assurance of those responses on behalf of the Executive Director of Adult Services and must agree the content before they are sent out. There will however be occasions when people complain directly to frontline staff or when complaints are made about them.


Complaints Procedure

Listening, Responding, Improving - Guidance for Managers Procedure


Principles of Good Complaint Handling, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, 2009

Listening, Responding, Improving, A Guide to Better Customer Care, Department of Health, 2009


This chapter was updated in April 2017.


  1. Introduction
  2. Receiving a Complaint
  3. Complaints made against staff

1. Introduction

Information relating to the complaints process and the various actions that need to be taken during the process are detailed within Adult Social Care Complaints Procedure.

Section 3 ‘Listening’ of Adult Social Care Complaints Procedure, covers the process to be followed by managers upon receipt of a complaint, and includes, defining the complaint issues (who can make a complaint, what can be complained about, what is excluded from the complaints procedure), desired outcome of the complainant, exploring capacity to consent to the complaint if it is being raised on behalf of the person, approaches to resolution, clarifying who is best placed to lead the complaint, timeframes for responses and assessing the seriousness of the complaint. As frontline staff, it is important to be aware of these procedures.

This chapter aims to provide staff with guidance about their responsibilities and good practice upon receiving a complaint. It also covers what you should expect from your manager should a complaint be made which concerns your practice.

2. Receiving a Complaint

A service user, their family, friend or carer may approach you directly to express some dissatisfaction.  Wherever possible the issue causing concern should be quickly resolved, for example by a change in the person’s arrangements or an apology. Where a quick resolution is possible without further investigation, this might be a query. If the person is happy with the outcome and there are no risks to others using services, the resolution should be carried out with the agreement of the relevant Operations Manager.

Sometimes it is not possible to resolve the matter quickly and it is possible that the complainant will wish to tell you about their concerns. You might be the most appropriate person to take the details or you may need to take down the complaint details in the absence of a manager.

2.1 Listening

When listening to and communicating with the complainant, whether by E-mail, telephone or in person, the following principles should be adhered to:

  • Listening is the first step to reaching resolution;
  • Ask the person what is it that has made them unhappy or dissatisfied? Take down the details of the complaint. What happened? When was this? Who was involved?
  • If the complaint involves you directly, then ask a colleague or manager to take down the details for you instead;
  • Take time to really listen to the complainant. This might involve giving yourself space to call the person back;
  • Feedback to the complainant to show that you have understood, using their words;
  • Ask specific questions so as to ascertain a clear picture;
  • Acknowledge their feelings – sometimes acknowledging and tapping into feelings goes a long way to resolving the complaint;
  • Empathise – helps people to feel that you have understood their perspective. Remember empathise not sympathise;
  • Uncovering the issue – sometimes people skirt around the issue because they feel their concern is unimportant or they are concerned about putting their trust into you;
  • Ask for their resolution or their desired outcome– sometimes people are clear, others are yet to think about it so need this question to be asked.

Explain that you will pass the complaint and their contact details to both your manager and the Adult Social Care Customer Feedback Manager and Officer in the Customer Feedback Team who will contact them within 3 working days to confirm what action will be taken in response to their complaint. Contact details are as follows:

Customer Feedback Team
Brighton & Hove City Council
1st Floor, Hove Town Hall
Norton Road

Tel: 01273 291229

3. Complaints made against staff

In the event that a service user raises a complaint directly about you, it is important that you are provided with support by your manager. Guidance for managers working with staff who have been complained about, can be found under Listening, Responding, Improving - Guidance for Managers Procedure.

As stated above under Section 2, if someone is directly complaining to you about you, then you should refer the person to your manager.

3.1 Management support to staff during an investigation

Whilst conducting the investigation, it is imperative that you know what you can expect from managers, who should bear in mind the following when working with staff:

  • Staff need to feel safe – Managers should ensure that complaints are discussed with you sensitively and discreetly. The complaints procedure is not concerned with investigating disciplinary matters and you need reassurance about this. Obviously where serious matters are concerned however, this may indicate a need for a disciplinary investigation which will be dealt with by procedures outside of the complaints process;
  • Things go wrong – keep things in perspective. Mistakes are integral to developing practice so you should be encouraged to feel comfortable with them, within parameters. This doesn’t mean that deliberate acts or repetition of problems are acceptable;
  • Make sure that staff know what the complaint is – you have a right to know and this information should be presented sensitively and discreetly;
  • Allow staff to tell their story – be clear on what areas need to be covered and be focussed on the specific points. The conversation should be allowed to flow and you should be able to ask clarifying questions;
  • Be clear about what support is – it should be made explicit by your manager what they can and can’t do. Support has to be underpinned by honesty and clarity;
  • Be objective – it is not always possible for your manager to support and consider the complaint at the same time. Another person might need to be identified to undertake these separate roles;
  • Be thorough – your manager should ensure that they have considered the evidence and complaint in detail. Have they tried to achieve a win/win situation for everyone?
  • Resolution – managers are looking for a resolution to a problem situation that everybody concerned can live with, not a definitive statement of who is "to blame";
  • Reputational damage – your manager should consider how your response to this complaint might impact upon the department and the organisation;
  • Closure – your manager needs to ensure that you have closure and provide explanations as to why they came to their conclusions. If your actions are justified, you should be told and praised.  If a mistake was made, discussion should take place about how this can be addressed;
  • Closure with the team – it is important that the manager sensitively  shares key learning points with the team where appropriate.

The Adult Social Care Customer Feedback Manager and Officer will help and support with any part of the complaints process. They can be contacted at the Customer Feedback Team,, marking ASC complaint in the E-mail subject line. Or on 01273 291229.