Regulatory Agencies & Online Complaints

September 07, 2021 by Lisa Sigler

Regulatory Agencies & Online Complaints

Regulatory agencies have long been interested in putting services online to cut cost and meet citizen expectations. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the transition to online services, and by and large the move has proven successful. Complaint handling, however, is one of the more challenging services to move online. Here are some common difficulties regulatory agencies encounter when it comes to online complaints, and what your agency can do to proactively address them.

Common Issues to Anticipate

Here are some of the most common issues agencies can encounter when enabling an online complaints system:

Frivolous and malicious complaints. Every agency gets frivolous or malicious complaints. The easier it is for a person to submit a complaint, the more likely the agency will have to sift through questionable input. Allowing anonymous complaints aggravates this issue even more. Frivolous and malicious complaints can clog an agency’s work queue and even skew statistics about the actual number of legitimate complaints processed in a given period.

Inaccurate data. Even when complainants have the option to enter complaints directly in your system, there can be a high degree of inaccuracy. The complainant may select the wrong licensee name or license type, despite having those options in a drop-down menu. It is important to vet such complaints carefully, as accepting complaints against the wrong individual can tarnish the reputation of an innocent license holder.

Cyberattacks. Attackers may use bot scripts to overwhelm your system with false complaints. Regulatory websites may not be a likely target, but chronic complainers or angry licensees could choose to leverage this kind of malicious technology. It is important to employ countermeasures such as reCAPTCHA to distinguish humans from bots.

Legal considerations. Some types of complaints may require a legal signature, sworn statement, notarized form, or other witness approval. Complaints involving healthcare facilities and professionals might require you to deal with protected health information (PHI). These kinds of complaints may be incompatible with an online complaints system.

Heading Off Problems

To avoid or mitigate these issues, consider taking the following steps when implementing an online complaints system:

  • Build your processes so it is easy for users to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing. Set expectations upfront. Provide clear instructions. Use drop-down lists that only include valid choices. Require confirmation for essential information, such as email address.
  • To discourage frivolous complaints, insert cautionary language at the beginning of the complaint process. Emphasize the agency takes the complaint process very seriously. It is incumbent on the complainant to describe the incident carefully, completely, and accurately because the investigation will rely on the facts as stated. Explain how the complaint will be handled and when and how the complainant will be notified of results.
  • Decide if you will accept anonymous complaints or complaints via phone. Most agencies take a conservative approach to these options, in order to avoid the issues listed above. They force complainants to at least sign the complaint form or attest online that the facts are true and correct to the best of their knowledge of the incident.
  • Decide on your procedures for triaging each complaint before committing it to the database. This means validating jurisdiction, identifying the correct respondent, and codifying the complaint according to your standard business processes and reporting requirements. Make sure somebody in your office validates or augments the complaint with required data and response information before accepting it as a valid complaint.

Embracing Online Complaints

Licensees and citizens expect the ability to lodge complaints online. With some planning ahead and devoting resources to handling online complaints, your agency can streamline this process and get a truly valuable source of insight into how you can make your services even better.

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