Oct. 13, 2022

Never-satisfied complainers need management, not your manager

UCalgary health-care complaint expert Amie Liddle says ID’ing chronic complainers cuts cost and anxiety; participate in Social Innovation Week Oct. 11-14
Amie Liddle
Amie Liddle Supplied

She calls them querulous for their insatiable gripes and grumbles — but companies dealing with chronic complainers might as easily label them a costly waste of resources.

Indeed, it was the discovery complaints without recourse or reason were costing the Alberta health-care system up to $200,000 each that spurred Dr. Amie Liddle, PhD, to fight back with research and a strategy to help those on the receiving end.

“Querulous complaint behaviour is disruptive to organizations, damaging to professional reputations, psychologically distressing and a misuse of human and financial resources,” says Liddle, adjunct clinical associate in UCalgary’s Faculty of Nursing.

Threats and demands a warning sign

Demands to speak to a manager, or threats to make the issue a public matter are just some of the indications you might be dealing with a querulous complainer who will never be satisfied, says Liddle.

Typical behaviour includes a refusal to resolve the matter, insisting to speak to the next higher level of authority no matter who replies, and reputation-ruining threats against individuals and the corporation — and all of it adds up to time and resources.

“One querulous complainant can initiate multiple internal and external reviews simultaneously — overarching legislated review processes, regulatory bodies — and the list goes on and on.”

Solution through process

Liddle’s solution is called the Querulous Complaint Assessment Instrument and Process (QCAIP), and it works by teaching frontline staff how to recognize a querulous complaint and then deal with it in a timely, effective fashion that limits the emotional and mental toll on workers.

“I developed the QCAIP to early-identify querulous behaviour,” explains Liddle.

“The QCAIP is an assessment tool and guide that allows providers to be informed and prepared to navigate the complainant behaviours and respond to the complaint in an expedited and fair manner.”

Social Innovation Week

QCAIP is in the spotlight as part of Social Innovation Week at UCalgary, a mashup of activities from Oct. 11 to 14, hosted by faculties, institutes, accelerators, social enterprise, and centres across UCalgary's social innovation ecosystem and community.

Academic research solutions that benefit society is a key focus of Social Innovation Week. In pilots at four urban Alberta hospitals, Liddle’s QCAIP process was shown to reduce such complaints to an average of 34 days, as opposed to 356 days, while reducing the involvement of multiple individuals or areas by 75 per cent.

Through the Social Innovation Hub, Liddle was supported in creating the CoER (Complaint Education Research Group) venture, an online learning platform that offers microlearning certificate courses. Individuals learn the fundamentals of querulous complaints, early identification QCAIP, triggers, strategies to respond as well as how to manage complaints.

Separating legitimate concerns

Liddle, who served as provincial director of patient relations at Alberta Health Services, says separating legitimate complaints from the  vortex of querulous is actually straightforward and very accurate.

According to Liddle, “querulous” describes a pattern of behaviour relating to the unreasonable persistent pursuit of minor concerns in a manner that is damaging to professionals and disruptive to organizations attempting to achieve resolution.

“When I teach complaints management I always ask, ‘Despite providing high-quality care and service, have you ever been threatened with ‘the news,’ legal action, given a contrary review, disparaged on social media or complaints to your regulatory body?’” says Liddle.

“If so, you have most likely been exploited by querulous behaviour. “

Meet the team at the Social Innovator Celebration

CoER (Complaint Education Research Group)is a current fellow in the Research to Social Innovation Incubator (R2SI) run by Innovate Calgary and will be featured at this year’s Social Innovator Celebration on Oct. 13 at 4 p.m. At this event you can connect with some of our city's most remarkable socially purposed ventures and innovators, get support and expert advice for your social enterprise and provide input on the Social Innovation Hub.

Innovate Calgary is the innovation transfer and business incubator centre for the University of Calgary. As part of the Office of the Vice-President (Research) portfolio and as a member of the UCalgary innovation ecosystem, we work closely with researchers, faculty, and students to help bridge the gap between discovery and creating economic and societal impact.

Social Innovation Week puts the spotlight on those who help mobilize academic research into solutions that benefit society. From Oct. 11 to 14 participate in a mashup of activities hosted by members of UCalgary’s vast ecosystem and community. 

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