Handling Customer Complaints
Customer complaints mean the customer a) inspects our product for us b) has taken the effort to formally tell you the issue instead of informally grumbling to their friends about your company. We should thank the customer by giving swift response to solve complaints. It is the final chance to redeem ourselves on the defective product. Some customers are lenient and can accept the occurrence of defects, provided if we can rectify the defects quickly. If we do not solve the complaint, then the customer will hold the payment for the project / delivery and will not give us future order. Do not ignore the complaint by thinking that the customer may forget about it. If the rectification cannot be done immediately, then contact the customer to acknowledge the complaint first. If possible, use the faster method of acknowledgement (phone or email instead of letter). Do not give reason to the complaint because it may be seen as excuses. Try put in some personality into the communication (e.g. talking what we will do with the complaint) to avoid the customers feel that they deal with a cold complaint recording machine. After rectification, we should not declare ourselves that we have solved the problem and consider the case is closed. Instead we should still liaise with the customer to verify that the complaint is truly solved. Only then the response is considered effective.

Unless our company is a monopoly, there must be a dedicated customer complaint department no matter there are few or many complaints. The company can adjust the manpower in that department accordingly but it must not be less that two persons, one person to receive complaint, another to solve it. Besides that there should be a staff who packs and posts replacement component or product to customer. That staff may also handle other outgoing postal and courier deliveries at the same time but customer complaints are the priority. The person who solves the complaint must not be from other departments in the operation because that can distract the normal operation. Also the operation people may put priority on the operation and leave the complaint unattended. When I say dedicated I mean it should not even be doing both pre-sales support and after sales support. There should be no department called customer support department because that is not specific enough. Every customer will not choose the company that does not have a strong after sales support. Even there are few complaints, the company should not think that the person in the department is a waste and start calling that person to do other things. He or she should only stand by for customer complaint. There are quite a number of customers who cannot control their temper when they have a complaint. We rather want to hire someone to face them than to face them ourselves.

There must be no missed call during work hours. All calls must be picked up. Any other employee must answer the phone if the responsible person is not at the workstation and leave a message for that person.

This person who is the entry point for all complaints
a) can be called a complaint manager.
b) must log down every customer complaint.
c) allocate the complaint to the "men in the field" in his or her department to solve.
d) should ensure info provided by the customer is enough for his or her men to solve the problem.
e) should generate reports from the list. In fact every manager must know how to write report.

If a complaint is not logged officially, the person who will solve the complaint has the right to decline to proceed with solving.

The speed that the company responses to the customer and solves the customer's complaint should be measured. Then the speed should be improved to be as short as possible. Anyway while the company boasts to the customer on the complaint solving speed, be careful not to accidentally show to the customer the number of complaints received.

To measure the speed, the person solving the complaint should be honest in reporting the figure or else the company needs customer';s help with the figure. There are two figures to obtain. The first one is the speed in which after the complaint is emailed or faxed by the customer, how long the company takes to confirm the receipt. The second one is the speed in which after the company confirms the receipt, how long it takes to solve the complaint. After solving the complaint, the company can write down these two figures and ask the customer by email or face-to-face to confirm it. Do not ask the customer to write the figures. The company should write them and let the customer review them. The customers can alter the figures if they do not agree. The customer will be willing to help the company on this because it shows the company's focus on customers.

Every complaint should be made accountable to the departments that may cause the complaint. Or else they will have no feeling towards the complaint and do not strive to eliminate the root cause of the complaint.. The accountability can be made for example in a meeting that is chaired by the big boss.

The defect for each complaint should be categorized on the spot. When there are enough complaints collected, a Pareto diagram (occurrences versus defect type) can be created. Some actions should be planned and done for the defect type with the tallest bar.

By the way, there is an ISO standard for handling customer complaints: ISO 10002.
Posted: 2008-03-13; updated: 2009-11-02 by Ong Seng Aun.
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