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Protecting consumers by improving professional standards.
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Professional Standards for Complaints Managers and Handlers

By Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals, Australia/Monash University (Australian Centre for Justice Innovation)

It is estimated that one in four Australians make a complaint each year. These 6,000,000 complaints are dealt with in different ways by various complaints systems and those who work in the sector.  The Australian Standard AS/NZS 10002:2014 Guidelines for complaint management in organisations provides overall guidance but does not address the core competencies required, and the professional standards are only given minimal attention.   

In 2014 the Professional Standards Councils granted funding to Monash University - the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation (ACJI) and the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals (SOCAP) to develop competency standards for complaint handlers and a toolkit for organisation to support complaints management frameworks, and hence close the gap identified in the Australian Standard guidelines. 

The outcomes of the project included the development of a Competency Framework for Complaints Professionals and a small business complaints handling toolkit that articulates the desirable requirements for an effective complaints system. 

The project was designed to improve standards of consumer complaints handling and management by articulating core competencies and ethical requirements for specialist complaints handlers and managers. The project also aimed to improve complaints handling in smaller organisations by designing simple frameworks to guide non-specialists in handling complaints. The project involved an innovative partnership between sector experts and innovation experts to ensure that professional standards from other areas and core competencies could be developed for this field.

The project had an extensive consultation process across the complaints sector which were conducted by SOCAP, the industry body that supports complaints handlers and managers, and ACJI. It started through extensive series of consultation meetings and a series of stakeholder workshops around Australia (Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney Melbourne and Perth). 

A draft of the Competency Standards and the Toolkit was presented to the SOCAP Australia Symposium in Melbourne on 19 August 2014 requesting further feedback and refinement.  Additional consultations were undertaken on the draft competency framework over a nine-month period with key stakeholders including Telstra, Commonwealth Bank, Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW, NSW Office of Finance and Services, and an Airlines Customer Advocate for industry consultation on certification qualifications. After an extensive literature review, a similar consultation process was undertaken for the development of the Toolkit. Feedback on the draft Toolkit was sought from representatives of the SOCAP Board and with key stakeholders such as Small Business Commissioners nationally, the NSW Minister for Small Business and the ACCC’s Small Business Consultative Committee. Once the draft Toolkit was developed, it was reviewed for compliance with best practice plain English to ensure the language was accessible to a broad audience. 

This project aimed to benefit the 6,000,000 Australian consumers who make formal complaints each year. It also aimed to benefit the complaints sector by supporting a more professional approach to complaints handling and by supporting excellence in practice. The longer term objectives include: 

  • a reduction in the number of complaints that become disputes and may ultimately find their way into the litigation system
  • business and economic benefits arising from complaints being tracked and monitored such that systemic changes can be made.

From an industry perspective, effective complaints handling enables business, product and service improvements, and lower operational costs. The NSW Commissioner for Fair Trading, Rod Stowe remarked, ‘Complaints should be an opportunity for small business to learn how to improve their service and in doing so boost their bottom line’. From a consumer perspective, effective complaints handling has the potential to save time, cost and improve products and services into the future. 

SOCAP have integrated the Framework to with their Complaints Professional Certification Scheme.  The Framework is relied on by the scheme application and assessment process to identify the knowledge, skills and ethical understandings and competencies required by professional complaint handlers and consumer affairs professionals.  The Framework should be read in conjunction with the Scheme Handbook.

The Competency Framework for Complaints Professionals and the small business complaints handling toolkit was launched by the Hon Victor Dominello PM, NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation on Wednesday 16 March 2016 and available on the SOCAP website.