While almost anyone can take a complaint, there is much more to it than just writing down a person’s name, address, the location of the incident, and summing up the allegation in a few sentences. How you initially handle a complainant directly relates to how cooperative the complainant will be in the future and how successful your investigation of their complaint will be.
Receiving the Complaint
If staffing allows, you should have a seasoned investigator receive the complaint—someone who has previously spent time on an ambulance or in your communications center. This should be someone who can be sympathetic, polite and calm the complainant down so the dialogue is fruitful for both parties. This person must be able to obtain the necessary information from the complainant without causing agitation. You’ll require certain information, and at the same time the complainant needs to feel satisfied that his or her complaint has been heard and that an investigation will occur. The investigator’s tone of voice needs to be reassuring while also conveying that he or she is in a position of authority. The key to the complaint-intake process is that the investigator needs to actually listen to what the complainant has to say.
There are obvious questions that should routinely be asked about the scenario of the complaint. It may sound elementary, but this may be the only time you are able to speak to the complainant, so you need to take investigative advantage of the situation.
Another benefit of having a seasoned investigator receive the complaint is that many times someone will be complaining about one or two things, but as the complaint scenario unfolds, the seasoned investigator will realize there are additional areas that require investigation. The investigator should note these areas but not necessarily alert the complainant that the scope of the investigation has widened. All issues should be investigated, and future dealings with the complainant should be limited to the issues that person originally raised—unless of course the newly identified issues are so serious that your complainant will be required to be a witness at a subsequent hearing regarding the complaint.
The assigned investigator should develop good rapport with the complainant. This is important for a variety of reasons. You may require the complainant’s assistance to locate a witness or testify at a subsequent hearing. You want the complainant saying to others that you were a caring, compassionate professional and took their concerns seriously.
The investigator should never editorialize to the complainant that a particular action alleged to have been taken by the ambulance crew was incorrect. If the investigator makes such a comment, the complainant will probably quote the investigator at a later date. The proper response by the investigator would be to say something like the matter will need to be investigated and more information obtained before any comment can be made.
The complainant may be complaining about one crew member but not initially provide enough information to identify the crew member in question. Work with the complainant to understand which crew member they are referring to. If the complainant doesn’t have the crew member’s name, you can have the complainant identify them either by physical description or by comparison to the second crew member, outlining any distinguishing characteristics.
If a complaint involves the recent death of a family member, I have found it is sometimes better to make the initial complaint intake call somewhat brief. In situations like this, you should conduct a second follow-up interview (by telephone or in person) a few days later. By doing this you are allowing the complainant adequate time to begin the grieving process with the reassurance that an investigation is being initiated. When you have the follow-up conversation, the complainant is usually calmer. In situations like this, the follow-up interview would be when you pursue any required details you weren’t able to initially obtain.