Complaints are like gold dust," says the Charity Commission's ebullient head of customer service, Jeanna Pearce. And she admits that the seven members of her team, based in Taunton and Liverpool, rub their hands when a new one comes in.
"They are a very strong form of feedback, which help us identify trends and learning points," she says. "A lot of people see them as negative, but we need to be professionally mature about them."
Pearce sees the identification and dissemination of such learning points around the commission as a key part of the job. "We keep a watching brief on good practice in the organisation," she says. "When we identify common themes, we often do workshops and seminars for all staff, such as a recent one we did on tone and empathy."
Pearce's team members handle complaints about the regulator's standards of service, including problems such as delays or lack of courtesy. Last year they also began to conduct 'outcome reviews' - re-examinations of commission decisions that did not involve the exercise of any of its statutory powers.
Such complaints, which often concern the regulator's refusal to act on a complaint about a charity, accounted for 15 out of 31 in 2008/09. Pearce's team might suggest to the original caseworkers that they should reconsider or explain their decisions better. "We also promote a more consensual approach to complaints in the first place," Pearce adds.
If people are still unhappy, they can appeal to the Independent Complaints Reviewer, Jodi Berg. "I would like to do her out of a job," Pearce confesses. "We want such a high quality of service that we spot where we have got things wrong. But we are still learning from her. It is a robust relationship, and we have learned a lot." In 2008/09, 13 cases were referred to Berg, compared with 12 and 15 in the previous two years.
Pearce applied for her current job in 2006 because it offered "the opportunity to put things right and make a difference". At the time, she was regional director of a social housing provider.
She says she would also like to do herself out of a job, but recognises that the complaints will never disappear entirely. Nor does she regard any of them as trivial. "The people who come to us feel passionately," she says. "They have to be treated with respect."
She admits her job is not easy when she has to give difficult advice to the commission's other divisions. "But you can't flinch from that," she says, and declares herself untroubled by the fact that her team found in favour of complainants in 39 per cent of the issues that were raised last year, compared with 25 per cent the year before.
"We think about what is the right and fair thing to do," she says. "The commission is putting into place transformational change. We are building a customer-centric service that gets the outcome right the first time."