Why should senior management take charge of learning about customers’ complaints?

By Viviana Hernández de San José, Costa Rica

Translated by Lucila Agustina Norry from Buenos Aires, Argentina

Organizations daily face a great challenge called “customer satisfaction”, which does not only apply to the product but also makes the provision of service more demanding.

The challenge of providing products or services with full customer satisfaction has been a strategic and critical issue which should be in charge of organizations, regardless of its nature and including all hierarchical levels.

The term “complaint” has historically been related to the concept of disgust, and it refers to a statement about expectations that were not fulfilled.

If managers of the organization consider the service to be an emotional and subjective experience of the customer, taking into account that two customers could perceive and describe the same service in different ways, they will definitely take charge of training their staff very well to undertake the challenge of satisfying the needs of a specific customer in order not to compromise the image of their company. Therefore, they will strengthen the relationship with the customer by using given information to the company’s benefit.

Some leaders have felt upset when customers express that the efforts and decisions they are making are not meeting their needs. Especially nowadays we can see leading companies which take charge of implementing changes in products and services on the basis of “complaints”. This shows that senior managers are recognizing the customer as the most important evaluator to give attention to. Finally, they have learnt that a specific business owes its existence to their customers.

The concept of complaint has evolved positively to remove its negative connotation.  The well-known complaints receive other names today: customers’ comments, suggestions, feedback, opportunities for improvement, among other concepts. This is not random coincidence but the need of regarding them as a contribution to the company. They have succeeded in activating a feedback mechanism, which facilitates fast changes by focusing on the market to satisfy the needs and expectations of customers.

It is quite easy to lose customers, just by ignoring the complaints or responding to them poorly.

A call for reflection invites us to answer the following questions as diagnosis of the management done by your organization when dealing with complaints:

What does the staff from my organization think about customers’ complaints?

Has the staff been trained to deal with, resolve and manage customers’ complaints?

Is it frequent to hear from the staff that established procedures do not allow any other solution?

What specific measures has the organization taken to benefit and learn from customers’ complaints?

Does the organization use customers’ complaints as a source of information to manage changes in procedures?

Does the organization measure the impact of managed changes on the basis of the frequency of complaints?

Are complaints considered to be a source of research on the targeted market?

Does your organization manage statistics showing the service of complaints? Are decisions taken on the basis of those statistics?

Does your organization know about the progress of complaints according to the factors which generate them?

Has your organization analyzed the cost of attracting customers against the cost of retaining an existing one?

Does your organization know how many of the customers who have complained maintain a certain level of loyalty?

Is staff from your organization aware of the fact that each inconsistency detected by the customer is an opportunity to improve the way of doing things?

I know that many of the answers cause great concern and invite us to take actions in order to take advantage of a topic which has been historically uncomfortable to deal with. We are ready to revise some of the golden rules which can help senior management to benefit from customers’ comments:

Accept customers have the right to complain, whether they’re right or wrong. Include this issue in your policy of customer satisfaction.

Define the scope of warranty, terms and criteria for acceptance or refusal applied to your product or service. Make sure your staff explains these points clearly to the customer upon delivery.

Provide options for an extended warranty, many customers do not mind paying a little more to make sure that they have a product which will not cause any inconvenience in the short term.

Listen carefully to customers’ complaints. Don’t miss the opportunity of improving your service and make sure you rectify what you have learnt.

Do not be concerned about reducing customers’ comments or complaints, focus on managing and dealing with the complaints you are receiving.

Encourage staff discussion to learn the origin of complaints and define actions to minimize their impact. Make staff from all hierarchical levels be involved in this situation.

Customers have the right to receive a formal response to their requests, as they have taken their time to let us know about their problem. Take advantage of this and thank them for the loyal level shown, which gives you the opportunity to correct and prevent further problems with other customers.

Let your staff have the authority to make systems more flexible and, therefore, face situations presented as complaints. Consider that more than 80% of the customers choose the competition for the attitude of staff service.

Develop flexible and dynamic systems to ensure that customers’ complaints are received by people responsible for resolving them. Furthermore, they look into the root of the problem for not exposing new customers to them.

Do not pay too much attention to customers who want to take advantage of your company. It has been proved that only between 1 and 1.5 % would try to do it.

Consider that customers who have complained and received a satisfactory response are regarded as the most loyal customers of the organization; however, if we take into account that there is a statistic which shows that 26 out of 27 customers do not complain, it will be convenient that each complaint is multiplied by 27 to measure how great the problem of the organization is.

Dissatisfied customers will talk about their experiences to 8-10 people, and one out of five people will talk about it to 20 more people. When managers of organizations are aware of this information, they introduce it as a strategic issue in their planning of actions.

Complaints usually represent an inexpensive way of doing market research to manage changes and correct existing products and services. It is convenient to set objectives to manage complaints, although you need to be careful as it is common to hear Managers proposing as a goal the reduction of complaints received by departments. This can be understood by company staff as avoiding the actual recording of dissatisfactions expressed by their customers in order to meet the proposed objective.

Good practices applied to fulfill real objectives for managing complaints are related to applying surveys on customer satisfaction. This represents an important channel to obtain information about hidden complaints.

Only by providing the customers with the ways of making complaints will lead to their reduction, apart from minimizing negative rumors and turning them into positive ones. Giving customers the possibility of measuring your response capacity makes the image of your organization stronger or weaker. The option is on your hands.

Strategies presented by organization senior management to retain their customers will be well considered in terms of financial impact if we consider that retaining an existing customer is always much cheaper than attracting a new one.

Edwards Deming, quality guru says that repairing service is not the same as enhancing quality.

“To find the issue which is out of control, to discover the cause and solve problems, we should get the process back to its starting point. It is not about improving the process” (Barlow & Claus, 2000)

Managing complaints with a strategic vision enables the creation of a customer-centered culture, which is the basis of a total quality strategy.

Phil Crosby, another quality guru, defines this as follows

“Satisfying the customer in first place, last place and always” (Barlow & Claus, 2000)





Translator’s profile:

Lucila Agustina Norry es Traductora Pública en idioma inglés egresada de la Universidad de Buenos Aires. Se dedica a la capacitación en idioma inglés de negocios y con objetivos específicos, principalmente inglés técnico, económico y legal, tanto en instituciones públicas (BCRA, CNV, Aerolíneas Argentinas) como en empresas privadas de primera línea. Brinda servicios de traducción en los pares de idiomas inglés <>español de documentos Comerciales (Contratos, actas, minutas, informes, estados contables), documentos legales (demandas, sentencias, escritos judiciales), documentos Públicos (Certificados, Diplomas, C.V.), documentos técnicos (manuales, informes técnicos) y sitios web.



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