I was pretty gratified to hear BBC Trust Chair Lord Patten’s recent comments that the corporation’s complaints procedure needs to be “simpler, quicker and more transparent”.
I currently have two live complaints (both made on March 29th) with the BBC and my experiences have revealed a system which manages to be as cumbersome, onerous and unfriendly as possible.
In one case my initial responses took far longer than the 10 days cited on the BBC’s website and, when they did arrive, the responses to both complaints left much to be desired.
Although in one case the BBC accepted a factual error had been made in a documentary which would be corrected before any repeat, it failed to apologise for that error or set out what action it would take to ensure the same mistake wouldn’t happen again.
As for explaining how theprogramme got on air with the error unnoticed or corrected, well forget it.
I had to wait almost a month for the underwhelming and insufficient response, I’ve since waited from April 21st for a response to my rejection of it.
The second complaint is now with the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit.
A very insipid response was received on April 6th, my counter-response went unanswered until 8th May. It too was unsatisfactory so I escalated it to the ECU who acknowledged my complaint just 5 days later – the gap included a weekend – and provided a clear timetable of when the final response would be received.
This was the high level of service I expected my complaints to be dealt with at the first stage but when I’d chased both at the earlier stages I was told the stated 10 days was an aspiration and my responses would have to wait until the complaints team heard back from the production teams concerned.
There was no sense of there being any internal deadline for this to happen or that the complaints team would chase if nothing was heard within a given timeframe.
There are three options for making a complaint – phone, post or ’email’. In my experience detailed complaints are not suitable for phone and email is more friendly (normally) than post.
However the ’email’ option offered by the BBC is actually a very longwinded online form – you can’t just compose your complaint on your computer and send it via Outlook or Mac Mail. Instead you have to click through page after page on the BBC’s website.
At the end you get a confirmation screen you can print out or save but no case number and no copy of your complaint is emailed to you.
Worse, although the BBC emails its eventual responses to you, you cannot just reply to their email with any further concerns. Instead you have to go back through the same very long form you originally used to make the complaint.
Is this unwieldily system merely the result of incompetence or a deliberate tactic to dissuade people from pursuing their complaint? Either way it’s hugely frustrating and ultimately self-defeating.
To continue as a directly funded entity the BBC needs the support of the licence fee payer and to earn that support it has to be genuinely responsive and accept at an early stage when it gets things wrong.
Even where the complaint is unjustified, it’s in the BBC’s interests that the process is as simple, speedy and open as possible and doesn’t further infuriate viewers by causing them frustration or annoyance.