It is not only important that companies handle customer complaints professionally but they identify the root cause(s) of complaints and that taking action to eliminate the cause(s) does reduce the adverse costs of complaints to the business and improves customer satisfaction and trust.
Complaint Procedures in ISO9001
In ISO9001 2015 section 10.2 there are clearly described procedures for dealing with customer complaints. these involve;
1)recording individual details for every complaint
2) reacting to and investigating the complaint
3) identifying the root cause(s) of the complaint
4) taking action to eliminate the root cause(s) and checking that no other products or services are also affected
5) notifying the customer that the problem has been dealt with and suitable recompense has been given to the customer.
When I first start working with customers to get them ready for ISO9001 2015 certification it is not unusual for me to get an initial response of ” we don’t have customer complaints” or alternatively to find that the customer has no formal method for recording and investigating complaints.
They either see customer complaints as a black mark against the business or more often they don’t see the benefits to the business of the time spent dealing with and resolving complaints.. The classic response to a complaint is to offer a replacement product or service.
Case Study of Dealing with Customer Complaints and ISO9001
One client I work with was recording complaints in a log book but had not made any attempt to either categorise the complaints or investigate them. As the complaints were typically 300-400 a month which was leading to an extra 25% load for remakes on production the client didn’t feel able to allocate non-productive resources to resolving the complaints.
Following my involvement the client was able to identify and categorise the complaints. This enabled the client to identify 3 main categories of complaint. These were;
1) incorrect product supplied
2) transport damage
3) incorrect quantities supplied.
Each of these areas of complaint were then dealt with;
For 1) extra training of the sales admin staff resulted in a dramatic reduction in this type of complaint.
For 2) the poorest transport company was identified and a new transport company approved for delivering their products. In addition the packaging of the products most frequently damaged in transit was substantially upgraded
For 3) batches of product were photographed and details of the traceability information filed with photographs. This type of complaint is now no longer a serious problem.
In the last 5 years total business turnover is up by 150% and typically the number of monthly complaints has fallen by 90%.
The pressure on production control to reschedule items which needed to replace the complaint products has significantly reduced and the cost savings resulting from the right quantity of product being delivered to customers undamaged at the agreed time have had a marked improvement on the companies profit margins.
The benefits of identifying the root cause(s) of complaints and being able to tell the customer that these have been dealt with to close out complaints has resulted in far higher levels of customer satisfaction and trust.
Improvement through Complaints and ISO9001
An area where it is unusual for complaints as such to be recognised is web design and software development. In these businesses customers will ask the supplier to modify existing features or provide additional features. For these types of businesses it is very important that detailed records of requests and modifications made are retained.
The benefits to a business of putting in place the processes and systems to meet the requirements of ISO9001 2015 are substantial and once companies have achieved certification to the standard they realise the cost savings far outweigh the initial and ongoing costs of certification.
How companies handle complaints is just one section of the standard. overall customer focus, employee knowledge and competence, leadership and planning are some of the other areas covered by the standard.