Most medium to large businesses have a policy for handling complaints, but perhaps need to review it from time to time. Businesses that take a mainly ad hoc line would benefit from developing a consistent approach. Whatever policy is in place, it should be:
- Easy to understand
- Simple to implement
- Effectively communicated to all staff
What to Include
Some of the key features of a good policy include:
- Mechanisms for people to complain
- A system for logging and analyzing complaints
- Identification of those who will be responsible
- Procedures for handling different levels of complaint
- Ways of keeping customers informed
- A structure of compensations
- Follow-up action plan
Information from Customers:
There is no point having a policy to handle unhappy customers if they are not encouraged to come forward in the first place. Such an invitation to comment or complain can take the form of something impersonal written on the packaging:
“Customers who are not entirely satisfied with this product should … (action)”
Or something very personal, following the example of the Chairman of a major food chain, who prints his own phone number on the packaging of products!
Questionnaires, comment cards, suggestion boxes, exit surveys, market research are all positive ways of encouraging customer feedback.
Informal verbal feedback from talking to customers is often the most valuable of all. However, in the industries within which I have most experience – i.e. I.T, Telecommunications and Finance – I have always insisted on regular formal account reviews.
Logging & Analyzing Complaints
It is essential to have a system in place that collates and considers the nature of a complaint if corrective action is to be taken, to prevent a re-occurrence.
To do this, it is important to define what your company means by a complaint.
- Is it solely when someone gets angry?
- Is it when they mildly point out an error?
- Is it when they are deliberately trying to be awkward?
- Not everything that goes wrong warrants a complaint – e.g. a certain number of faults with machinery are to be expected.
Consider what kind of information you need:
- Names, address, contact numbers
- Date, nature of complaint
- Action – solution suggested
- Customer response to suggestion
- Time-frame to put matters right
- Person responsible for action
- Corrective action to be taken to prevent problem from recurring
A computerized database is the most obvious way of recording and storing information, but paper back-up systems can prove to be a godsend.
Analyzing will throw up recurring problems and weak areas, and identify particular periods or departments involved. All information needs to be presented in a simple, non-critical fashion and passed to the relevant managers. They, in turn, will need to consult staff and formulate corrective action.
Switched-on managers and directors will want periodic information about customer complaints. Some companies attach bonuses and other rewards to the fall in numbers of complaints received.
Who Deals With The Complaint?
Customer Service Desks:
Identifying key people in the organisation to deal specifically with customer complaints, comments and even compliments, has become a preferred approach for major retailers and transport companies. Staff need to be highly trained to handle all kinds of difficult people and situations and need full support from the rest of the team and the management.
- Customer service desks become central points easily identified and accessible by consumers
- Smaller businesses may identify individuals in each department to do a similar job
- Some management prefer all staff to be able to deal effectively with complaints, whether or not it is anything to do with them
Whatever the approach adopted, the system must be clearly identified and communicated to everyone.
The bottom line is that the customer doesn’t care who deals with the problem, as long as someone does!
Finally – Establishing Procedures
Complaints will fit (not always neatly) into different categories and levels, all requiring specific handling. However, some basic ground rules need to be established:
- Acknowledge the customer’s grievance
- Never appear overly defensive
- Listen carefully, make notes, and give feedback
- Empathize with their feelings
- Don’t patronize when you apologize
- Discuss solutions and corrective action
- Agree action depending on your level of empowerment
Finally, follow-up: “Did you sort it out?”