I recently had to lodge a complaint following very poor service from a well-known airline. A journey that should have taken about five hours door to door took 14 and, in the course, thereof, the airline got everything spectacularly wrong. The levels of incompetence and stupidity demonstrated were beyond belief.

Subsequently, I lodged my online complaint and was advised that I would get a response within a month. Imagine my surprise when after only two weeks I received a telephone call from a customer services person who offered me a heartfelt, genuine apology. Additionally, I was quite generously compensated.

I was not alone. Other passengers that I spoke to on the flight were even more inconvenienced than me and many made it abundantly clear they would be complaining and seeking compensation. One passenger mentioned that because he has no alternative, he uses the route in question regularly and experiences what I had experienced, at least once a month.

I thought that I might take the opportunity to explain to the complaints official I was dealing with that my complaint was prompted not just for compensation. I explained that I had outlined the whole sorry state of affairs in the hope that someone might take note and address the underlying issues.

At this point, the initially empathetic official simply turned off. In notable contrast to the apology that she had given before, her subsequent responses rang hollow and I was forced to conclude that as sincere as she had initially been, this was yet another example of a complaints department going through the motions. The chances are that others were being compensated as generously as me but it seemed that nobody wanted to learn from the episode. There was no real assurance from the officer that the all too obvious underlying difficulties would be addressed and remedial steps which should be quite easy to implement, would be considered.

This is not the first time I have encountered this type of scenario. Do I get compensated generously because I write a good letter or because I know how to shout louder than other people or because I have a bit more time? Are most people easier to fob off and in which case am I the one who didn’t get away? Equally, could my airline not see that instead of generously and perhaps repeatedly compensating people, the resources allocated to that process might be put to better use? Could it save money that might otherwise be passed on to its customers, the same customers that make complaints and secure compensation on a regular basis?

One of the underlying ASM PLUS principles is that the best way to defuse or avoid conflict is to stop it from occurring in the first place. When I first trained as a mediator, the phrase “lessons learned” was emphasised time and time again. Accordingly, in helping people to talk things through and reach a mutually acceptable settlement, one of the roles of an ADR specialist is to assist parties in identifying what has gone wrong in the hope and expectation that they will take the necessary action.

In many instances individuals and organisations in all sectors are so wrapped up in things they literally cannot see the wood for trees. In the case of my airline, perhaps, from the best of intentions it is so concerned to demonstrate that it resolves disputes promptly and effectively and in so doing ticks a great number of boxes, that it has lost sight of what it is doing.

One answer might be for organisations, particularly those who are beset by complaints to instruct an external consultant, someone with for example extensive aviation or sales experience who can undertake an investigation or feasibility study and make recommendations. In some situations, this may be the appropriate way ahead, particularly in scenarios where there may be significant health and safety issues or there is serious financial irregularity.

However, individuals and organisations are often resistant to change even when it is blindingly obvious that things have gone wrong. There may be an element of simple inertia or vested interest. Equally, there may be a fear that an “admission” will be seen as weakness or that legal or disciplinary action may be precipitated.

Accordingly, it may be that in some instances, the chances are that a highly skilled external expert may not be required. All too often, an objective onlooker may quite correctly see that what is required is an imaginative and often quite low-key approach. It may also be that even in instances where a highly trained external expert really is needed, the situation will still benefit from the third eye of a neutral facilitator.

Professional “outsiders” such as ASM PLUS team members who between them have considerable conflict resolution, creative thinking and related business experience and have very finely tuned third eyes can help. In the same way that discussion is facilitated in one-on-one conflict, it can also be engendered in a variety of situations, particularly in large organisations.

Because, for the most part any such input would be confidential those who find themselves involved in such a facilitative process will feel much better able to both communicate and cooperate. This in turn will help engender real, meaningful change that ultimately, will boost both morale and productivity. ASM PLUS has the insight and expertise to help organisations to move forward and in some instances to turn themselves around.

An initial no obligation discussion with our director Paul Sandford will cost nothing. Our cost-effective services could very easily help you or your organisation to ensure that lessons learned really are “lessons learned” and “moving forward” really does mean moving forward. Your organisation might end up not paying out disproportionate amounts of compensation, providing a better service, and enjoying great profitability and customer satisfaction.