Managing complaints in exercise & sports science

Receiving a complaint is often an unexpected part of running any business, including an exercise & sports science business.  No business is immune from receiving a complaint, regardless of how successful it is or how customer focused staff are.  There can be a tendency to see a complaint as a personal criticism rather than constructive feedback.  However, there can be positive outcomes when the situation is managed appropriately. 

Why do people complain?

There are many reasons why clients might complain about your business and the service they’ve received.  Sometimes a complaint will almost be expected following an incident; sometimes it will take you by complete surprise.  Understanding why people may complain can assist with managing a complaint if it occurs and potentially reducing the likelihood of further complaints.  The following are some of the reasons why people may feel the need to complain.

High expectations consumer expectations are increasingly high when engaging professional services.  Your clients pay for your service and will most likely see you as a highly trained and qualified professional.  This view can influence their expectations about the service and outcomes they anticipate.

Unrealistic expectations – it’s possible that clients may have unrealistic expectations about what they can reasonably expect from treatment or a session with an exercise professional.  Their high expectations may at times surprise you.  It’s therefore important to remember that most clients will not have the level of knowledge you do and what’s obvious or common sense to you may not be to them.  A professional must assist clients to be clear and fully informed about the treatment or session being provided and the outcomes they can realistically expect.  This requires ongoing discussions with clients and, where possible, written information to assist their understanding.

To inform and be heard – clients may wish to make a complaint about an incident or poor outcome simply so they are sure you and your staff are aware of what has occurred and how they feel.  They may wish to complain simply to be listened to and acknowledged, especially if they have been adversely impacted.  Not all complaints will lead to a formal demand for compensation. 

Belief that someone is responsible – when something goes wrong we often try to determine who’s responsible.  Sometimes someone is obviously responsible, sometimes it’s hard to determine who’s responsible and other times there is no one person responsible but it’s just an unfortunate set of circumstances.  However, if a client thought something had gone wrong and this led to them being harmed, it’s quite possible they may complain with the intention of holding someone responsible and possibly liable. 

The importance of managing complaints

There may sometimes be a temptation to ignore a complaint and hope it’ll just go away.  Maybe the client won’t follow up.  Maybe the incident won’t occur again.  This is a very short-sighted way to run any business as there are clear benefits to appropriately managing complaints.

Clients will generally expect to see their complaint dealt with quickly and fairly.  When this doesn’t happen it’s possible that further complaints will follow and the issue or concern could become a much greater one.  Complaints may also escalate to complaints entities in your state or territory.

Managing complaints should be seen as good ‘customer service’.  You rely on clients to keep your business afloat.  When clients are unhappy with a service they’ve received, they can talk with their feet by not returning to the business.  Keeping clients happy and satisfied is more likely to see them continue to utilise your service and recommend your business to others. 

Complaints can provide a business with an opportunity to review and improve their service.  Receiving a complaint may highlight an issue which the business had not been aware of.  When investigating and dealing with the complaint, the business may wish to consider a change in a procedure to avoid that issue arising again in the future. 

How to manage complaints

It’s advisable that all businesses have a complaints policy.  This means that the business will have an agreed-to process which allows for all complaints to be managed in a fair and consistent manner.  It also means staff know what to do which is important as managing complaints can be challenging. 

A key aspect in dealing with any complaint is listening to the person.  Where possible, make time to sit down in a quiet space and give them time to express their concerns.  Make the effort to hear what they have to say and take on board what they have told you.  You may not agree with all they are saying, however it helps if you can try to understand the situation from their perspective.  You may wish to ask them to document their concerns so you both have an accurate record of the matter.  Avoid being defensive or taking the complaint personally as this may inflame the situation. 

With low level complaints you may be able to offer a solution there and then.  However, this won’t always be the case.  With more serious complaints you should provide the person with an assurance that you’ll investigate the matter and get back to them with a response at a later date. 

Guild Insurance expects those insured with us not to admit liability or name someone else as being at fault, or to offer any compensation without contacting us first.  However, this doesn’t prevent you from apologising or showing sympathy for any pain or inconvenience the person may be experiencing. 

Contact Guild Insurance on 1800 810 213 as soon as you’ve received a complaint; don’t wait till it escalates to a claim for compensation.  We will provide advice and support to assist you to deal appropriately and professionally with what can be a challenging and possibly upsetting situation.  Utilising this support can be the difference between sorting a problem quickly and it escalating to a serious claim.  

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