Locums and the Silent Complaint

96 Percent

When we get poor service, we complain, right?… Actually, most of us don’t. Statistics suggest that only around 4% of us raise our dissatisfactions with business providers who have not met our expectations. And the rest of us?… Apparently, a staggering 96% of us tootle off to find a new provider, without uttering a word…


So why is it that we’re so reluctant to complain? Well it’s perhaps not so much a reluctance, as a combination of impracticability, futility and what we’ve come to perceive as inevitable frustration. Here are some of the reasons why we, the public, might not tell a provider when they’re getting things wrong…

We don’t have time. Life runs at a very fast pace, and we need to prioritise. If it’s quicker to switch to a new provider than to complain to the old one, we’re probably going to take that option.

Making a complaint can be more trouble than it’s worth. Obvious obstacles would include long-winded telephone menu systems or tedious, structured form-filling. Structured forms often restrict the consumer to set answers which won’t cover all of the existing problems, let alone new ones. And apart from being off-putting by nature, complex phone menus can prove uneconomical for the consumer in terms of time and money. A busy complaints department will mean longer waiting times. So ironically, the worse the provider’s performance, the harder it’ll be to complain. Whilst these convoluted setups obviously don’t apply to every provider, they do condition us to associate complaining with frustration and disproportionate time investment. At the other end of the spectrum, small or individual providers may at times be very difficult to contact at all. Realistically, we’re not going to keep trying to communicate when we get no response. We’ll just switch to a provider who does respond.

We don’t think it will achieve anything anyway. There can often be a sense when something goes wrong that the provider will not listen or take any action.

We have a choice. With plenty of alternative providers available, we simply don’t need to spend our time trying to improve an unsatisfactory provider.

When we stop using a provider but don’t tell them why, it IS still a complaint. It’s just that the complaint is never voiced. It’s a silent complaint.


The tendency for dissatisfied parties not to voice their dissatisfaction is a critical danger for every provider of a product or service. If the unimpressed are only going to tell us they’re unimpressed for 4% of the time, we’re going to need to be pretty self-critical. We have to read the subtle signals of dissatisfaction if we’re to avoid losing a large amount of business.

Because locums are self-contained business providers, they’re all subject to the danger of silent complaints. Of course, if a locum creates significant dissatisfaction or makes a worrying error, the nature of the business means they’re going to know about it pretty instantly. But if they’re just not very competitive, locums can easily lose a high volume of business, without anyone telling them why.

So what should a locum look out for?


The most obvious sign that an agency is making a silent complaint against a locum is simply a lack of work offers. Admittedly, in some areas, the supply/demand ratio does not favour locums, and thus securing bookings is a challenge. This challenge can compound at some times of year, when demand reduces to its minimum. But the most competitive locums continue to pick up bookings, even when demand is heavily reduced.

When demand is high, providers perhaps don’t feel the need to compete so hard. But if a locum displays uncompetitive traits when demand is high, it’s likely that when demand drops, so will an agency’s interest. So, what is an uncompetitive trait? Well, one of the key areas of competitiveness among locums, is communication. Poor communication with an agency is one of the quickest ways in which a fully competent locum can see work dry up.

This doesn’t mean that all locums need to badger their agency for work. It’s much more about keeping the agency in the loop. Responding when the agency asks for information. Making sure the agency knows when its resources are available. If the agency doesn’t know a locum’s availability status, then in times when demand is lower, it probably won’t contact that locum.

Locum agencies have an enormous amount of administration work to get through, particularly with regard to legal compliance and locum availability. It just isn’t economically viable for an agency to keep turning to locums who make that process overly time-consuming.


A couple of important steps locums can take to enormously increase their chances of year-round activity include…

  • Keeping their availability schedule updated, extending as far into the future as is feasible. Team Locum provides an online facility for this purpose, allowing locums to update whenever it’s most convenient for them. Locums who don’t use this facility will automatically put themselves at a disadvantage alongside competitors who give the agency plenty of information to plan ahead. Indeed, locums who do project their availability for a couple of months in advance are much more likely to pick up the nice, predictable, advance bookings. Those who only project two or three days ahead will almost inevitably be left with the last minute emergencies and all the unpredictability that entails.
  • Making sure the documentation they’re required to provide does not expire, and responding to requests for updates when expiry is imminent. Again, Team Locum’s system accommodates easy online updates for documentation or accreditations. Even if a locum is not immediately available for work, it’s wise for them to keep their documentation up to date.

The reason for this is that expired documentation will force the agency to take a locum out of the resource pool. That means implementation of the dreaded “Inactive” status, which completely hides the locum from the Bookings Team. It’s then only a matter of time until the locum’s account is removed from the database altogether. After that, if the locum wanted more work, they’d need to re-apply from scratch, go through the referencing process, etc.

At Team Locum, in the vast majority of cases where locums are taken out of the active resource pool, the reason will be a communication issue from one or both of the above categories. An agency can only secure bookings for a locum if it knows when the locum is available and has the necessary documentation to legally fill those bookings.

There are lots of other signs that a locum is in danger of encountering the cold shoulder, but common sense will normally identify them. Any suggestion of unreliability would be a red flag, of course, and if there are dissatisfactions expressed within the establishment itself, word is very likely to get back to the agency. Naturally, a good agency will use discretion, will recognise that there are two sides to every story, and will give the locum an opportunity to respond. But not all agencies have the knowledge to make the right decisions when disagreements arise. Silent complaints remain a major danger for everyone in business. But professional locums who stick with a reputable, knowledgeable agency, and who bear all of the above in mind, can sidestep a large part of that danger.

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