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Innovative Complaint Management

Innovative Complaint Management is changing an organizations understanding of complaints from looking at complaints as errors and faults to look at complaints as a potential for new solution to change the service of the municipality, and appreciatively receive complaints as a learning organization.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The idea of addressing complaints with dialogue instead of written response was developed in 2014 in a network of managers in the municipality, who were given the task to find an innovative project from a problem a cross the organization: The managers found inspiration from the Netherlands and their open approach to citizens and invented the method - called the ABC-model.
The ABC-model was tested on ten complaints in the prototype and the results gave energy and inspiration to develop a project concerning the whole organization and were approved by the mayor and the city manager, as well as the finance committee in the municipality. The project addressed a turnaround in the organization moving the culture from understanding complaints as errors and mistrust of the service provided towards looking at complaints as potential resource to learning and a chance to get the citizens feedback and view on the service from a costumer angle in order to develop the service and also make organizational learning.
In using the ABC-model the employees solve the complaint in direct dialogue with the citizens and save time on administration, since there are less written answers to the complaints. Through 2015 and 2016, a central placed project team worked with the different departments in the municipality in order to spread and use the ABC-model at all levels when citizens complain or are frustrated in their approach to the municipality. In spreading the ABC-model the team used a complaint journey (with inspiration from "user journey") in different workshops with managers and employees. The complaint journey created an overview of the citizens meeting with the service and gave inspiration to new solutions on the service. The new solutions as well as testing the ABC-model over a limited period of time gave new knowledge to the organization as well as hands-on experience in using the ABC-model. The two methods together gave new perspective on the service and were used as implementation-tools. During 2015 and 2016, the ABC-model was spread throughout the organization and in 2017 we continue to implement and support the use of the ABC-model. Our baseline of registered complaint show that we have moved from solving 22 % of the complaints with the ABC-model to about 52 %.
At the beginning of 2018, we made a new score of the ABC-model and we still hold about 52 % of the complaints has been solved through dialogue instead of written answers. The organization now find it natural to use the ABC-model and use it both on complaints as well as inquiry. That means new knowledge to the organization and time saved on administration, which gives more time to provide the services. In evaluating the project both employees and citizens expressed relief and meaningfulness.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

Innovative complaint management is different in addressing a concrete problem in many organizations with a simple and easy to use method, which gives meaning to both the employees as well as the citizens. The ABC-model is easy to use and show respect for the citizen’s right to complain and open the organization in taking complaints seriously and seeing their potential as learning tools. The complaint journey gives new perspective to the service and how the citizens meet and experience the service. By using a simple method and a dedicated team to spread the innovation in the organization and having the top management engaged the innovation has shown results and helped change the culture and approach to complaints.

What is the current status of your innovation?

Innovative complaint management has been implemented in the municipality through 2017 and maintaining in 2018. In January 2017 the finance committee was presented the evaluation of the project and the board support the continual use of the ABC-method. Since the beginning of the project, the project manager has been in contact with different municipalities in Denmark as well as Sweden in order to share the project and also give knowledge in how to use the ABC-method.
During 2017 and currently we are still training new employees in using the ABC-model as a natural part of the service. In 2018 we are starting a new project concerning written communication in order to be more eye-to-eye with the citizens in letters, e-mails, website and brochures.
The project manager has participated in COI's spreading innovation guide and has been in contact with municipalities and other public sector organizations in spreading the innovation complaint management.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The project team contained of consultants from the different departments in the municipality, which gave the team cross border knowledge and collaboration across different administrations. Al though every department saw themselves as unique, the project team saw patterns in behaviour and approach to complaints, that made the innovation bring value to the organization. The board also gave space and opportunity to try different methods and trusted the team to fulfill the mission.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The citizens were involved during the project, since we invited them to see their complaint journey in order to give us feedback on the process and also an opportunity to test our method and how it affected the citizens involved in complaints.
In order to deal with the public sector employee resistance, we contacted an academic lecturer in rhetoric and researcher in public excuses, who taught and inspired us to handle the resistance by using the knowledge to have a qualified dialogue.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

The innovative complaint management had four goals:

1. A decrease in the number of complaints,

2. A change in approach to complaints,

3. An increase of using the ABC-model and less time used on administration and

4. Survey of citizen’s satisfaction in complaint management.

In evaluation of the project the following results were submitted.

1. The number of complaints is almost the same in an overall look at the organization, but there has been a decrease in 10% in complaints concerning the job centre-department of the municipality.

2. The organization has changed its approach towards complaints and learns from the feedback from the citizens.

3. More complaints are being handled with the ABC-model and that means less time used on administration.

4. The citizens have been asked in a telephone survey and express their satisfaction with the openness from the municipality and the appreciative approach and dialogue.

Challenges and Failures

Roskilde Municipality contains about 7000 employees, and we have meet challenges in changing the approach towards complaints. During the project we saw a need to work with our written letters to the citizens. They need to be changed into a more direct and easy to understand language, so we don't hide behind texts from laws and sentences impossible to understand for everyday people. With the project we have worked with open and appreciatively dialogue, and it has worked well. But there are still challenges to face in the written communication.

Conditions for Success

• First of all dedication from the managers.
• Access to design tools in order to make the method more visual.
• Time and support when meeting resistance.
• Trust and belief in the vision.


The ABC-model is easy to use and could be used in other types of organizations both in and outside the public sector. Most citizens find the public sector difficult to figure out or understand. Opening a dialogue with the citizens and meeting them with an appreciative approach gives meaning for both parties.

Lessons Learned

The most important experience is that you need to have the top management in front as well as the managers, when working with changing an entire organization and its culture. Also you need a concrete and easy tool, methods that give meaning to the employees, in order to create new learning in the organization and time to try and reflect on the learning, time to work and support, support and support. A good advice is to create a living example to tell the story and build capacity.

Anything Else?

We have developed 2 small films on the two methods used in the project. The films explain the methods: ABC-model and Complaint Journey; and are available on our intranet and also on YouTube.
A good advice: Some organizations find it hard to begin a cultural change. But try to start with a small scale and then build the project and capacity to change with simple tools, reflection and learning by doing.

Year: 2015
Level of Government: Regional/State government


  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
Call for Innovations Call for Innovations
This case was submitted as part of the Call for Innovations, an annual partnership initiative between OPSI and the UAE Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation (MBRCGI)

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

29 October 2015

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