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Case Study: Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), is often the point of last resort for complainants. They may have already been pursuing their grievance for many months. Their cases will be complex, fraught will prior frustrations, and particularly personal. A proportion of the individuals will have communication challenges as well.

PHSO is committed to excellence in equality and diversity. They wanted to enable their Customer Service Officers (CSOs) to deliver a high quality accessible complaint handling service to all customers, including those with communication disabilities. Much of the contact is over the telephone, stripped of visual clues, making the communication challenge even greater.

Talkcoach was asked to devise a bespoke programme to train CSOs in communication disabilities so they understand the legal context and feel well informed and skilled when dealing with all complainants.

There were five overall aims:

To enable Customer Service Officers to:

1. Understand equal access for customers with communication disabilities in the context of current legislation – the Equality Act 2010.

2. Be aware of the factors that can influence effective telephone communication.

3. Identify callers with communication difficulties/disabilities.

4. Apply strategies to support the customers’ communication needs appropriately.

5. Respond to calls from individuals with communication needs with increased confidence and effectiveness.
The programme was run in two half-day sessions separated by two weeks to allow time for reflection and to use current experience as an additional learning tool. The sessions were:
• interactive with small group work
• included opportunities to share and reflect on communication challenges
• used video and audio clips to illustrate communication difficulties/disabilities
• provided materials to support and develop learning.

Feedback was very positive on the content, delivery, and value of the programme. Most significantly, delegates were asked to rate their knowledge and confidence in dealing with these issues on a scale of one to ten before and after the training. Both measures rose by over 50%.

PHSO said ”Our Customer Service Officers have a particularly challenging task dealing with complex issues that can be highly charged emotionally. Good communication is the key, and the training from Talkcoach will help us respond to every client in an effective way. It is very much in line with our equality and diversity commitment”.

"It was informative, and I found, eye-opening. I think I will take that bit extra time now to wonder if there may be a reason for the caller’s behaviour."