Higher Education Complaint Management: 5 signs it’s time to swap the spreadsheet for software

It’s surprising how few universities use complaint tracking software.  Most use spreadsheets to track complaints from facilities problems to sexual harassment claims.  While this may at first seem simple and efficient, it’s actually very time-consuming and far from fail-safe when there are multiple problems to manage.

Here’s why. A spreadsheet offers tremendous benefits for anyone who wants to gather information in single place, manipulate figures according to formulas, or analyze data in a few simple steps.  This is fine for static or historic data, but is not a good fit for evolving situations with multiple steps, interested parties and compliance obligations. (We’ll cover the topic of compliance in greater detail in our next post.) It takes a great deal of time-consuming manual effort to track dynamic issues using spreadsheets and, inevitably, leads to failures.

Email is a little more effective for complaint tracking - up to a point.  It’s flexible and simple, and you can easily reference different conversations, requests and responses from your own inbox.  What it can’t offer is perhaps more important:  the ability to collaborate, assign tasks, feed into a centralized management dashboard, and generate automated reminders and notifications.

While it’s possible to struggle along with a compromise complaint management system using spreadsheets, there are a few signs that can indicate to Universities and higher education establishments that the system is beginning to implode.

  1. You're not sure you have the latest information

When more than one individual is working on complaint management, it’s far from easy to know the current status of complaint.  In issues with legal ramifications or where compliance is involved, this is a dangerous situation.  A complaint tracking system creates a centralized repository for information for all interested parties to reference.  Instead of remembering to CC someone on an email string or mass-mail a spreadsheet, the ticket shows everything relevant to that particular complaint, while access is restricted by password and other protections.

This is particularly useful if a complaint can’t be immediately resolved.  You can open an issue and see all the relevant information in one spot, without having to dig for other documents.  A complaint tracking application also provides the best way of documenting key information for future reference. If a staff member leaves during a complex complaint process, how do you know that important information won’t slip between the cracks?  With a spreadsheet, you can’t be sure which issues are still outstanding.  With a centralized complaint tracking system, you can reassign tasks and check the status of any issue even if a key team member leaves.

  1. Progress monitoring is problematic

Complaint tracking applications help you to report and monitor how well problems are being resolved. You can also analyze the types of complaint being entered into the system, which enables you to pinpoint consistent problem areas or individuals.

  1. Prioritization is a challenge

Complaint tracking software makes it easier to prioritize workflow.  It may seem obvious, but knowing how to allocate resources can be challenging when you are dealing with multiple requests.  Seeing all the open issues in a single, centralized dashboard enables universities to categorize problems according to agreed criteria, and set expectations about time to resolution.

  1. Resources are a challenge

A complaint tracking application will help universities understand how to deploy their resources and whether further investment is needed - and justify the allocation based on hard facts. Universities will also achieve a significant improvement in accountability for their complaints process, allowing them to benchmark departmental and team member performance.

  1. Collaboration is clunky

As a one-person department, it’s easy to create a smooth-running system that works for you. When you add a second or third team member, collaboration becomes a nightmare without a central system. Few people are willing to open their email inbox to share with others, and tracking spreadsheet versions requires constant vigilance - but everyone who needs to can view and edit ongoing issues in a complaint tracking system.


Every university or higher education establishment has complaints, processes and problems that need to be tracked, monitored, reported, resolved or escalated.  Although the spreadsheet has traditionally been the first port of call, it’s an uncertain and unreliable method. With so much riding on the proper handling of complaints, isn’t it time for a change?

Next week, we’ll take an in-depth look at the role of complaint tracking software in supporting regulatory compliance.