Using Trend Analysis to Reduce Complaint levels
customer complaint trend analysis
I’d like to start off my latest blog by quoting an interesting section in SQF Guidance regarding complaints:
‘Customer complaints provide an important measure of how well the SQF System is performing. By accurately recording customer complaint types, a supplier can objectively measure changes in their management system and show improvements in a process. Customer complaints may also show trends that have not been identified during processing and normal process control checks’.
‘Customer complaints may be the first record that an auditor asks to review when beginning the facility audit. Customer complaints can provide an auditor insight into the performance of the supplier’s SQF System and any trend areas that may require greater focus’.
The GFSI recognised standards do require auditors to take a close look at complaints, complaint levels and trends in customer complaint levels. They are a key performance indicator and are a reflection of the effectiveness of the food safety and quality management system.
I have been involved in many projects to improve product quality and reduce food complaint levels. One of the best tools for indicating where action for improvement needs to be applied is by analyzing your complaint data appropriately.
Whilst you can identify faults in your factory your customers are your 100% inspection service so respect their feedback. Whilst all of your customers will not complain when they find a problem so you will not capture all of your product faults you will however identify trends.
The first step is to collate all of your complaint data. Your data should then be categorised by product type, complaint type and size. Analyzing complaints by numbers alone will not give you a real picture of your performance. What you need to know is the proportion of complaints you are getting for each product. By far the most practical way of doing this is by using the sales volumes to calculate the proportion of complaints you get for each product. Some people use weight or volume such as complaints per tonne or 1000 Litres. My preference is to use complaints per million units.
So you analyze your complaint data product type, complaint type and size per million units. From this data you can easily spot the worst performing product lines.
You should then analyze the results for the worst performing products:
Are they all the same size?
Are they produced on the same filling machine/production line?
Is it the same type of complaint?
The answers to these questions will generate your corrective action plans. If products with the highest complaint levels are all the same size it could be a particular problem with that size of packaging. If it is all the same type of complaint then why are some product lines worse than others? If product from one particular production line is generating the highest number of complaints per million units then there must be a reason for this, it needs investigating. You should compare product performance and if there are significant differences you should ask the question why?
At this point complaint trends are useful. For example when I worked with fresh pasteurised milk sour complaints were higher in larger sized containers. The reason for this was not related to the quality of the product but the fact they took longer to consume and spent more time in and out of the fridge. Such products would be targeted for improvement projects as opposed to corrective action to remedy a problem area.
A few words of caution though, your analysis needs to take into consideration the comparative value of the products and the market. People are more likely to complain about higher value products. Also some retail customers are much better at reporting complaints from customers to the extent that I used to get 10 times the complaint levels from one particular retailer compared to another for exactly the same product.
My last tip the more data you analyze the better. In the past I have analyzed 3 years worth of data. Why? It gives a year on year performance so you can see if things have been improving or deteriorating and also it shows any effects of seasonality. For example it is not reasonable to compare summer levels of “off” complaints on a fresh product with winter levels. This is why in the Northern Hemisphere I would compare August complaint performance with the complaint levels for August in the previous year.
Each of our implementation packages comes with a free complaint analyser template.
Appendix – Useful References
188.8.131.52 Trends of customer complaint data shall be investigated and analyzed by personnel knowledgeable about the incidents.
2.1.4 Management Review (M)
184.108.40.206 The senior management shall be responsible for reviewing the SQF System and documenting the review procedure. Reviews shall include:
iv. Customer complaints and their resolution and investigation.
SQF 2.1.5 Implementation Guidance
Customer complaints provide an important measure of how well the SQF System is performing. By accurately recording customer complaint types, a supplier can objectively measure changes in their management system and show improvements in a process. Customer complaints may also show trends that have not been identified during processing and normal process control checks.
SQF 2.1.5 Auditing Guidance
Customer complaints may be the first record that an auditor asks to review when beginning the facility audit. Customer complaints can provide an auditor insight into the performance of the supplier’s SQF System and any trend areas that may require greater focus.
3.10.2 Trend Analysis
Complaint data shall be analysed for significant trends and used to implement ongoing improvements to product safety, legality and quality, and to avoid recurrence.
3.10.2 Trend Analysis
Data on customer complaints shall be analysed so the trends may be identified. This is to help ensure that the root cause of problems is identified and improvements made to prevent recurrence so far as practicable.
5.8 Management of complaints from authorities and customers
5.8.3 Complaints shall be analysed with a view to implementing preventive actions which avoid the recurrence of the nonconformity.
5.8.4 The results of complaint data analysis shall be made available to the relevant responsible persons and to the senior management.
Is less specific but implies analysis in:
8.4.3 Analysis of results of verification activities
The food safety team shall analyse the results of verification activities, including the results of the internal audits (see 8.4.1) and external audits. The analysis shall be carried out in order:
c) to identify trends which indicate a higher incidence of potentially unsafe products,