Elements of Successful Customer Complaint Handling Initiatives
- Service & Complaints Guides
- A Practical Guide to Handling Consumer Complaints
- Best Practices in Handling Customer Complaints
- A Guide for Consumer Complaints Management
- 6 Steps to Achieve Customer Service Excellence
A Summary Checklist for Individual Firms
For many firms, the elaborate approach to developing Customer Complaint Initiative initiatives outlined above may be unnecessary, and may exceed available resources. Even when the eight-step model is inappropriate, there is still much that can be done by individual firms to decrease the likelihood of complaints arising and to properly respond to them when they do occur. The following represents a summary checklist of key elements of successful Customer Complaint Initiative initiatives within individual firms.
- Develop and communicate policies and procedures to decrease the likelihood of problems arising and to ensure certain positive outcomes should problems occur.
- Designate a location to receive complaints that is visible and accessible, and publicize its existence.
- Develop a system for record keeping, so that complaints data can be easily communicated to top management, analyzed and used to monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of complaints response. Process and record complaints as they occur, in appropriate categories. Assign complaint handling to the appropriate person.
- Acknowledge the complaint, preferably personally, bearing in mind any special needs of the customer.
- Investigate and analyze the complaint fairly, getting both sides of the story and keeping records of all meetings and developments.
- Resolve the manner according to company policy, keeping the customer informed throughout the process, including prompt notification of a proposed settlement.
- Follow up with the customer to ensure that he or she is satisfied. When necessary, refer the complaint to a third party dispute resolution service.
- Prepare and file a report on how the complaint was resolved, and periodically analyze complaint data.
Tips and Suggestions for Developing Customer Complaint Initiative Initiatives
The following tips and suggestions are of potential use to those developing and implementing comprehensive, multisector Customer Complaint Initiative initiatives or more modest single-firm Customer Complaint Initiative programs.
Be flexible and patient. Original conceptions of the problem and possible solutions will likely change as new information becomes available, difficulties develop or circumstances change. Developing Customer Complaint Initiative initiatives is, in large part, a learning process.
Draw on existing institutional structures. For many firms, industry associations represent known quantities — trusted intermediaries with the profile and experience to bring parties together and broker differences. Associations can provide forums for discussion and serve as a basic institutional structure for moving Customer Complaint Initiative initiatives from concept to implementation. However, as discussed earlier, implementation may necessitate creation of new, more specialized structures beyond the capability of conventional industry associations.
Don’t assume that “if you build a Customer Complaint Initiative initiative, they will come.”
Once a program has been announced, ongoing efforts are needed to ensure that Customer Complaint Initiative initiatives are visible and accessible to customers at the right time and in the right place. The following are examples of techniques to maintain the profile of a Customer Complaint Initiative initiative:
- a logo on a retailer’s door
- a notice on a company’s invoices and statements and in electronic communications
- a clickable logo on a merchant’s Web site that takes customers to more detailed information
- pamphlets placed at the point of transaction.
Provide a range of options. When it comes to matters of customer complaints management, one size definitely does not fit all. The nature of customer problems differs significantly depending on the particular issue, the product, the customer and other factors. When a number of Customer Complaint Initiative options are available, the likelihood increases that the appropriate response will be found, and both the customer and the merchant will be satisfied. Comprehensive services, from prevention through internal complaints handling to external dispute resolution, provide maximum choice.
Set a time limit for each stage of the process. Time limits provide a pre-determined structure for both the customer and the merchant, and give guidance about what to expect. Customers and staff alike need to know the deadlines and the consequences for missing them.
Draw on the credibility and expertise of customer organizations. In addition to being involved in the development of initiatives, customer groups can provide ongoing assistance through participation on advisory panels or committees, membership on the board of directors, participation in a formal panel, or direct involvement in implementation, monitoring and dispute resolution.
Hire the right people to do the job. Effective complaints management personnel have the following characteristics:
- good communication skills
- the ability to empathize with unhappy customers
- enthusiasm for and a commitment to effective, fair and efficient complaints management
- thorough knowledge of the organization’s structure and processes
- the ability to objectively assess all relevant factors about complaints from the point of view of both the customer and the company
- the ability to identify systemic complaints and to devise strategies todeal with them
- training in mediation, facilitation or arbitration, as appropriate.
Dispute resolution providers must have sufficient skills and training to competently fulfill the function. While formal legal training is not required, knowledge of basic legal concepts and relevant laws, standards, codes and international agreements is essential.
Draw on existing standards, criteria and benchmarks. Standards Australia, the British Standards Institution and the Argentinian Standards Organization have all developed complaints-handling standards, and Standards Australia has published a guide to preventing, handling and resolving disputes. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is developing an international standard on complaints handling. The Canadian Standards Association and the Bureau de Normalisation du Québec are developing e-commerce standards for customers.
A complaints-handling approach could be built into a company’s overall approach to quality management, such as the ISO 9000 quality management system. The multistakeholder Principles of Customer Protection for Electronic Commerce is another useful benchmark on which to draw. The American Arbitration Association developed the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators for customer mediators to follow (http://www.adr.org; click on Rules/Procedures in the menu on the left side of the screen, and then Ethics and Standards; the title of the document will appear as a clickable link in the main part of the screen).The Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution developed ethical standards for dispute resolution professionals (http://www.acrnet.org/about/committees/ethics.htm). Protect the personal information of customers. While complaints oriented data can help businesses improve their products and services, great care must be taken to ensure that the personal information of customers is fully protected, in keeping with federal and provincial laws.
- Market-based Customer Complaints Handling Initiatives
- Preventive Customer Complaint Handling Initiatives
- Internal Complaints Handling Initiatives
- External Private Dispute Resolution Initiatives
- Comprehensive Complaints Handling Systems
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- Online Redress
- The Need for Effective Customer Complaint Handling Initiatives
- Customer Complaint Handling Initiatives and the Law
- Developing and Implementing Complaint Handling Initiatives
- Elements of Successful Customer Complaint Handling Initiatives
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