The customer is always right...

Or maybe not, but by talking back when they believe they have not received quality goods or services, consumers give businesses an opportunity to correct the immediate problem and restore goodwill. Experience shows that consumers who complain about products and services continue to frequent the businesses and buy the products they complain about if they believe the complaint was resolved fairly.

Some consumers do not complain because they are sceptical about a businesses willingness or ability to resolve disputes fairly simply withdrawing their custom and critisising the company or the product to others.

A good complaints management system is crucial for managing customer needs and protecting your brand.

A strong complaints management system is built on five basic elements:

1. Culture
Complaints should not be viewed negatively, but as a source of rich customer feedback and an opportunity to identify how to improve performance.

2. Principles
An effective complaint handling system must be modeled on the principles of:
• Fairness: A complainant must be treated fairly ensuring impartiality, confidentiality and transparency.
• Accessibility: Customers must be made aware of the complaint procedure and effective access options.
• Responsiveness: A complaint handling system must be responsive to the needs of all complainants. This requires training of staff, adequate resources for the complaint function, and constant review and improvement of the system.
• Efficiency: A complaint handling system should be efficient. Methods of dealing with a complaint will differ from one complaint to another. Simple complaints should usually be resolved quickly on first contact whilst more complex or sensitive matters may take longer to resolve and require specialist attention.
• Integration: Complaint handling must be integrated within the core business activities.

3. People
Complaint handling staff must be skilled and professional.

4. Processes
The following stages in complaint handling should be described and implemented through internal procedures:
• Acknowledgement: A complaint should be acknowledged promptly.
• Assessment: The complaint should be assessed and assigned priority.
• Investigation: If investigation is required, it should be planned and resolve factual issues considering options for complaint resolution.
• Response: The response to the complainant should be clear and informative. If the complainant is not satisfied with the response, internal review of the decision should be offered and information about external review options should be provided.
• Review: Any systemic issues that arise as a result of the complaint should be considered and acted upon.

5. Analysis
Effective and prompt analysis of complaints allows a business to:
• Understand customer issues and needs
• Identify and remedy the root causes of poor service delivery
• Improve service and product performance
• Influence customer loyalty and satisfaction
Ultimately boosting sales performance.

Joanne Scott
Director, Strawberry Standards