How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Towards the end of last month, one of our readers referred in the comments section to an article by Peter Hitchens concerning the BBC’s complaints system:

“I have many times battled my way through the futile outer defences of the Corporation’s complaints system. This was long ago outsourced to an outside contractor, Capita.

I get the strong impression that Capita is there solely to soak up the anger of viewers and listeners. I can get no straight answer from the BBC about whether complaints made to it are even passed directly to the programme-makers involved.”

For those unfamiliar with the background, Capita plc is a London-based business process outsourcing and professional services company. In 2009 the BBC announced that Capita had been re-appointed as “the service partner that will deliver the Corporation’s Audience Services”.

“The BBC’s existing agreement with Capita, which began in 1999, expires in late 2009 and the contract was put out to tender in October 2008.

The company was selected by the BBC after an EU-regulated procurement process with 38 companies initially applying for the contract.

After a rigorous evaluation process, Capita scored highest balancing quality and cost and helping the BBC to fulfil its commitment to value for money and increasing audience accessibility via the web.

The new contract will commence in January 2010 and will run up to March 2019.

The contract is central to the corporation’s relationship with Licence Fee payers as Audience Services is responsible for handling all complaints, comments and enquiries that the BBC receives via phone calls, emails, SMS and letters.” [emphasis added]

According to Capita, that contract “is worth in the region of £5m annually”.

The qualifications required for Capita staff handling sometimes complex complaints from the public include “ideally 6 months consecutive call/contact centre experience” and “educated to GCSE level” as well as “strong media and current affairs knowledge”.

Capita is also the company to which the BBC outsources (for a fee of £58 million a year) collection of the TV licence fee and in February of this year, following a report in the Daily Mail, the BBC’s Director General was obliged to address allegations that vulnerable people were being targeted by Capita employees promised bonuses.

The meaning of the BBC’s Audience Services contract with Capita plc is of course that at the first two stages of the complaints system – 1a and 1b – members of the public are in fact not dealing with the BBC directly but with a commercial entity.

With the current contract set to expire in March 2019, the coming year presents an ideal opportunity for the BBC to consult its funding public on the question of whether nearly twenty years of outsourcing of complaints has – from the point of view of the people who ultimately pay for it – been satisfactory.



BBC defends its use of template replies to complaints

h/t R

Here at BBC Watch we are frequently contacted by members of the public who are frustrated by the fact that a complaint they have made to the BBC has been answered with one of the BBC Complaints department’s template replies. Readers frequently note that the points they raised in their complaint were not addressed by the generic responses often seen when the BBC receives a high volume of complaints about a particular topic.Complaint pic

One reader who objected to getting a template BBC reply to his complaint received a communication from BBC Audience Services which included the following:  

“I understand you were unhappy that you’d received the same response to your complaint as had been sent to other complainants. I regret that you took offence to this, but our approach to this matter is perfectly in line with the BBC’s complaints framework.

Every year we receive over 1 million comments, appreciations or enquiries about BBC programmes, some 3,000 a day. Over 250,000 of these can be complaints – in some cases coming from external pressure groups and lobby websites. To help us report and handle these complaints efficiently, the BBC Trust set up a complaints process, based on the feedback received after a public consultation, that aimed to balance the need to fully investigate possible breaches of standards while also using the licence fee proportionately. The complaints framework (which you can read in full via the link provided below) states that for consistency and to minimise costs, if we receive multiple complaints about the same issue we may compile a summary of the points raised, consider those points together and then send the same reply to everyone.

I realise you may not be happy with this approach, but I hope I have been able to explain why it was done. No offence was intended.”

Of course some licence fee payers will simply give up and move on after receiving a reply which does not address the substance of their complaint and that indeed is definitely one way of ‘minimising costs’. Whether or not it is in keeping with the BBC’s status as a publicly funded body is obviously a different question altogether.

It would however be interesting to compare the expense saved through the use of template responses with that incurred by the need to further respond to those complainants who, having received an unsatisfactory generic reply, take their complaint to the next stages of the complaints process. Perhaps such a comparison would show that it might actually be more efficient – and better for customer satisfaction – to simply respond to complaints from members of the public with a relevant reply which addresses the issues raised.  

Related Articles:

The strange story of a complaint to the BBC

A BBC template response to complaints

BBC template response to audience complaints about Psagot

The return of the template BBC response to complaints