Complaint Handling Skills – Part 1

Complaint Handling Skills – Part 1

Promoting good complaint handling is a key part of your work, especially if you receive complaints from time to time. Handling complaints well can turn aggrieved customers (or staff!) into loyal ones.

Within any industry or sector, organisations with a positive philosophy and a reputation for fair complaint-management have a competitive edge.

A management philosophy that embraces customer satisfaction as a primary goal of business, instead of defending the organisation in the face of complaints, can change the rules of the game. It shifts the emphasis from the cost of pleasing a customer to the value of doing so, and trusts front-line employees to use their judgement.

Good complaint handling is a key element of good administration, and there are some key principles to good complaint handling. These are:

  1. Getting it right (delivering to customer expectation)
  2. Being customer-focused and easier to deal with
  3. Being open and accountable at all levels
  4. Acting fairly and proportionately
  5. Putting things right quickly and without further effort by the customer
  6. Seeking continuous improvement – based on customer feedback and satisfaction levels

Experience shows that customers who complain about products or services continue to use the businesses and buy the products or services they complain about, if they believe the complaint was resolved fairly. Internal customers will retain ‘goodwill’ and be easy to work with.

Research into complaint behaviour reveals that only a fraction of dissatisfied customers complain to businesses and, thereby, give the company an opportunity to correct the problem. There is evidence that some customers do not complain because they are sceptical about businesses’ willingness or ability to resolve disputes fairly. They simply withdraw their patronage and criticise the company or the product to others.

Such findings underscore the importance to your organisation of a complaint management system that is well-publicised and easily accessible. An unregistered complaint may do as much harm as one that is mismanaged or not resolved. What is the cost of negative word-of-mouth from dissatisfied customers? Complaints and complaint trends tell organisations or departments how to do its job better by alerting management to problems that need prompt attention and correction.

Furthermore, they indicate long-range opportunities for product innovation and problem prevention. A well-planned system for screening and recording complaint data can provide staff and managers with answers to such important questions as:

  1. Are products or services ‘over sold’ or ‘over advertised’?
  2. Are advertisements or service descriptions clearly understood?
  3. Are salespeople or customer service people over zealous?
  4. Do product disclosures (such as brochures, websites, contracts, product information, warranty information and service agreements) need to be improved?
  5. Are websites, guides or manuals clear, complete and easy-to-read?
  6. Would changing warranty or terms coverage reduce complaints?
  7. Are there opportunities for service improvements or better quality control?

To get this valuable feedback, complaint-reporting must generate information swiftly and systematically to the appropriate managers or departments. Initial screening should trigger immediate action, when necessary, and statistical summaries should identify trends and long-range courses of action.