Justified Versus Unjustified Complaints

Has your organization decided that it’s a good idea to classify customer complaints according to whether they are “justified?” This occurrence just took place with a client of ours that received a complaint due to using a product beyond its capability and felt it wasn’t necessary to utilize their corrective actions system for identification and resolution.

This may make some logical sense, but it’s the worst thing a company can do for building customer satisfaction.  Take all customer complaints seriously!

Craig Cochran recently wrote an article for AIAG Quality Standards which highlights ways to ensure your customers are satisfied with how you handle their complaints.

If I’m a customer, all my complaints are justified. If you try to tell me that my complaint is “unjustified,” it’s only going to make me angrier than I already am. Once the customer experiences a problem, it becomes the company’s problem. Regardless of the fault of the problem, customer satisfaction has been affected, and action must be taken.

Consider these scenarios:

(1) The customer used the product incorrectly, and the performance was adversely affected; the complaint is deemed unjustified. But why did the customer use the product incorrectly? Was the application known prior to the sale? Were the instructions unclear? Is there any chance that the customer was misled, even unintentionally?

(2) The customer says the product was damaged, but the type of damage described could only have happened at the customer location; the complaint is deemed unjustified. But should the product’s packaging be improved? Should you provide guidelines for proper handling?

In each of these cases, an argument could be made that the problem was the customer’s fault. Taking this position, though, does nothing to enhance customer satisfaction, nor does it further the organization’s long-term objectives. Savvy organizations will look for ways to error-proof their products with customers. Of course, some problems are truly the customer’s fault. When these situations occur, the organization might not be obligated to replace the product, provide credits or refunds, or accept returns. In all cases, however, customers must be treated in a diplomatic, cordial manner.

Reporting Back to Your Customer. Customers want to know what action has been taken. After all, the customers had a negative experience related to something they spent their hard-earned money on. They even took the time to tell the organization about it. Now they’re curious. What are you going to do about it? If your organization is interested in turning the negative experience into a positive one, someone must take the time to report back to the customer. The communication should include three key elements:

  1. The results of the investigation into the problem;
  2. The action taken; and
  3. A statement of thanks for reporting the problem.

Reporting action back to the customer closes the loop on the issue. It also lets the customer know that you take his or her feedback seriously and are committed to making improvements. In some cases, it can determine whether your organization remains a supplier to this customer.

The following steps represent implementation guidelines for an effective complaint system:

  • Determine what information is needed in order to investigate and take action on customer complaints. Build your complaint form/CAR around this information.
  • Establish contact methods for customer complaints. Remember that voice contact is preferred by most customers.
  • Appoint someone as the complaint administrator. This person will be responsible for the entire process.
  • When a complaint occurs, use structured problem-solving techniques to address them in a systematic manner.

Complaint information should be one of the most widely disseminated topics in an organization. Trend data should be posted on every departmental bulletin board, along with the details of relevant complaints involving that department. Complaints, their root causes and eventual corrective action must be made topics of any regular communication that takes place throughout the organization.

Does your organization neglect unjustified complaints?  Give us an example and we will provide a direct response to your input with suggestions for improvement.

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