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5 Reasons Why Your Customer Complaint Program May Not be Working for You

Posted by Simon, in Food Safety 12 September 2019 · 7,067 views

Customer complaints complaint
5 Reasons Why Your Customer Complaint Program May Not be Working for You

Why are customer complaint programs so essential in today’s food industry? While it is always better to catch and prevent hazards in-house than to deal with customer backlash later (or even find yourself sorting out a recall), most food professionals find that complaints are unavoidable. Whether your “customer” is the actual consumer or a client company, inevitably you will have to answer for the quality and safety of your product. From concrete issues to the ever-frustrating difficulty of consumer preference, anticipation and prevention are difficult and perfection sometimes out of reach. However, much as complaints can lead to headaches, they also provide useful insight into your processing performance, provide an opportunity to create a good rapport with your customer, and even lead to improvements and breakthroughs.


There are a few common downfalls that hinder the ability of companies to maximize the benefits of a great complaint program. These oversights can cost you both the aforementioned opportunities and existing business. According to the “2018 State of global customer service report” published by Microsoft, 61% of consumers worldwide report having stopped doing business with a brand due to poor customer service. This is up from 56% as reported in the 2017 report, and only expected to rise with constantly inflating shopper expectations. Avoid these mistakes to ensure that your company doesn’t fall behind the curve:
1. Leaving the customer in the dark
Customers want answers. Sure, many are also looking for reimbursement, and providing that in a timely manner is essential. However, in almost all cases, you must go a step further. Loyal customers, if they are to remain so, need to know that the problem isn’t going to occur again, and the reassurance of “how” and “why” is vital. This is a piece of complaint resolution often left out, or made too vague, especially when dealing with another professional who is likely savvy to a generic response of “we have retrained individuals responsible.” While you don’t need to (and shouldn’t!) disclose proprietary process details or confidential information in your response, it should be detailed enough to make the customer feel that they were heard and made a difference. For example, if a customer finds a foreign material in your product, you may want to let them know if this prompted you to add an extra sieve or increase the frequency of service for your metal detectors. If this type of response is not deemed appropriate, though, you can still thank the customer for prompting the investigation and mention that the corrective action is proprietary but expected to have “X” effect.


2. Lack of urgency
In the age of next-day shipping and ordering pizza with an emoji, customers expect lightning-fast results, especially if they’ve taken the time to call (or even tweet at) a company to report an issue which has already upset them. While having their complaint effectively resolved is most important in securing a happy customer, a timely response is a close second. Ensure that, whether you have a dedicated call center or a lone intern taking your complaints, the client is treated as though their time is of the upmost importance, and that they are made fully aware of the timeline in which they can expect resolution, if applicable.


3. Not communicating up
Top level management is usually not among the employees responsible for maintaining the customer complaint program down to the minutiae. While this is not a problem in itself, senior leaders should be wary of the “out of sight, out of mind” effect that can occur if complaints are not being communicated to them, assuming that no news is good news. Management should not only request updates on top trends on a regular basis, but also make sure employees are comfortable bringing problems to their attention, whether it be a trend, a customer interaction the employee isn’t sure how to handle, or even an isolated complaint that needs to be elevated. Too often, upper management only becomes aware of an issue once recall or withdrawal is already necessary.


4. Not communicating down
Conversely, it’s also important to communicate complaints to your general workforce, on down to the least senior employee. Your more hands-on employees often have valuable knowledge of the actual process and can provide key details. If you only look at your theoretical process as opposed to what actually occurs, your root cause analysis is likely going to lack authenticity and you may come to the wrong conclusion. Ensure that a diverse group of individuals are involved in your complaint abatement activities, and you will have an engaged workforce that better understands why the changes you make are important.


5. Failing to dig up the root cause
Root cause analysis is tricky. It is difficult to know when reached the “root,” rather than mere contributing factors. It can be helpful to correct these as well, but the problem won’t be eliminated unless root cause is determined, as though you are treating symptoms of a disease rather than providing a cure. There may not be any one best process for RCA, but the following steps are crucial regardless of method chosen. First, make sure you have collected all of the pertinent information and expertise available, but ensure that all opinions on causation are tabled until the conclusion of the analysis. Second, be sure use the correct tools to help you organize your thoughts and information. Try the famous “5 why” method – after which you may have your answer, but if not, pair with other tools, including but not limited to: Pareto charts, cause-and-effect diagrams, or Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA). Lastly, critically examine your conclusions. Even if the root cause is not something you can immediately solve, ask yourself “would solving this actually prevent the issue from reoccurring?” If you can affirm this based on your experience and knowledge of the process, you have probably found the root cause, and you can begin to proceed towards closure of the complaint with confidence.


Overall, the message is clear: don’t underestimate the importance of your complaint handling procedures. View complaints not as black marks on your record, but as important data alerting you to your clients’ needs, and you’ll succeed in maintaining your reputation as a quality manufacturer or distributer.


About the Author:


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Stephanie Cunningham
Quality Assurance, J.R. Simplot Company
A foodie with more than 5 years in Quality Assurance and a B.S. in Food Science from Penn State, Stephanie is an avid food safety advocate with passion for reading and writing about the food industry and encouraging people to rethink their roles in assuring the food they eat and produce is safe and reliable. In her current role, she supervises food safety and quality, facilitates continuous improvement projects, and dabbles in product development.


*Please note that all opinions expressed in my pieces are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.

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