Managing Unreasonable Complaints in your Retirement Village

Being accessible and responsive to all complainants who approach you or the village office with a complaint is important but at the same time the success of a village depends on your ability to do your work and perform your functions in an effective and efficient way. This includes allocating your resources fairly across all your activities as well as the complaints you receive.

When complainants behave unreasonably in their dealings with you and your team, their conduct can significantly affect your ability to provide service to other residents.
Unreasonable complainants also have an enormous impact on staff morale and the atmosphere in which staff and residents live and your team works. They can make staff dread turning up to work, opening their email or answering the phone.

Unreasonable conduct also known as ‘consumer misbehaviour’ includes verbal and physical abuse of your staff and other residents but also of your, villages resources including your time[1]. It can involve aggressive tone and language, badgering, yelling, threats related to legal action, social media.

The Contagious Effect of Consumer Misbehaviour
Unfortunately, resident and customer misbehaviour has a contagious effect and can impact other consumer’s behaviour. This widely studied phenonium is called the ‘contagious effect’[2]. This is:

  • Misbehaviour harms the organisation when staff satisfaction, morale, and performance are impacted
  • Misbehaviour by one customer can reduce the satisfaction level of other consumers
  • Consumers who misbehave can implicitly encourage others to exhibit the same behaviour because of the impact it has on perceptions of the social norms among the consumer group.

What does the Act say?

  • Under the Retirement Villages Act of NSW (1999) residents are required to respect the rights of our stakeholders including other residents people in the village including your right and the rights of all employees to work in an environment free from harassment and intimidation.
  • The Act also requires operators to ensure staff are trained in complaint handling and know how to deal with unreasonable conduct by people making complaints or raising internal disputes.

The Research and Recommendations
In studies [3][4] of complainants behaviour researchers highlight the need for businesses to revaluate staff training and create systems where customer complaints are monitored and tracked to support the identification and challenging of re‐offending complainers.
In the Australian context the Ombudsman encourages all businesses to have a policy in place to protect your business and staff, from the time and emotional impacts such complainants can create.
It is equally important to recognise the variance in complaint resilience amongst your team and where the manager may feel adept at managing a complainant the same complaint may be causing other staff stress and anxiety.

Creating a system to manage Unreasonable Complainant Conduct
Your first step should be to implement an Unreasonable Complainant Conduct (UCC) Policy. In such a policy you may elect to implement restrictions on contact and appoint a sole contact person to ensure UCC behaviour is dealt with consistently. This can also assist in minimising the chances for misunderstandings, contradictions and manipulation.

An UCC Policy will help you move towards where you should be: where the substance of a complaint dictates the level of resources dedicated to it, not a complainant’s demands or behaviour.

What should a UCC policy include?

  • It should aim to assist all staff members to better manage UCC.
  • Ensure all staff, contractors:
    • Feel confident and supported in taking action to manage UCC.
    • Act fairly, consistently, honestly and appropriately when responding to UCC.
    • Understand the types of circumstances when it may be appropriate to manage UCC through applying restrictions on their access to your services or staff.
    • Have a clear understanding of the criteria that will be considered to change or restrict a complainant’s access to your services or staff.
    • Are aware of the processes for consulting and notifying complainants about actions you might take.

What else can you do?

  • Attend CSS free webinar on managing unreasonable complainants (see information in the section below and link to register below).
  • Investigate UCC training in your state.
  • Implement strategies to support yourself and staff to be better able to manage challenging interactions.

The Ombudsman provides an excellent handbook for understanding more about he management of UCC.

Additional reference: 
Van Jaarsveld, D. D., Restubog, S. L. D., Walker, D. D., & Amarnani, R. K. (2015). Misbehaving customers: Understanding and managing customer injustice in service organizations. Organizational Dynamics.

[1] Schaefers, T., Wittkowski, K., Benoit, S., & Ferraro, R. (2016). Contagious effects of customer misbehavior in access-based services. Journal of Service Research19(1), 3-21.[2] Schaefers, T., Wittkowski, K., Benoit, S., & Ferraro, R. (2016). Contagious effects of customer misbehavior in access-based services. Journal of Service Research19(1), 3-21.[3] Baron, S., Harris, K., Elliott, D., Reynolds, K. L., & Harris, L. C. (2005). When service failure is not service failure: an exploration of the forms and motives of “illegitimate” customer complaining. Journal of services marketing.[4] Harris, L. C., & Daunt, K. (2013). Managing customer misbehavior: challenges and strategies. Journal of Services Marketing.

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