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ARTICLESManagement & Service


What is the most difficult job to perform in any organization? - COMPLAINT HANDLING

Yes, Handling complaints is the most difficult job in any organization because each and every customer approaching you has a grouse. Have you ever heard of 'Pleasant Complaints'? I doubt! Though the intensity of a complaint could differ from one customer to the other they are by and large unpleasant.
As the age old saying goes 'most cures are bitter'. Similarly complaints are the bitter doses any organization can get to get better. It is the most important area any company should put their prime focus on. It is a gold mine of valuable information for management to work with. This is the area that gives you the opportunity to reflect, analyse, correct and improve.

Survey shows
1. Only 4% of customers actually bother to complain. This means the balance 96% walk away depriving you the opportunity to improve.
2. 70% of complaining customers come back if the problem is solved in their favour.
3. And a whooping 95% comeback if their problem is solved on the spot.

Handling complaints is the most difficult job in any organization. For ...

- Employees shudder at the thought of it.
- Many a bosses pass the buck down the line.

And in the process, let go of 95% business that could otherwise have been recovered.

You can avoid 95% of business slipping away from your fingers if you get your managers more involved in complaint handling.

I had a problem with my mobile phone. Since it was within warranty, I took it to their authorised service center. I noticed the frontline staff handling customer complaints were basically trying to understand the problem, translate it in their service order, take the customer details with a standard reply of 'Sir, we need to send it to the service center to have the problem checked' and 'We cannot stand guarantee for the data in your mobile'. They would then return your sim card, battery, memory card (if any) and back cover. Then get your signature on the service order, give you a copy and wrap the unit with their copy of the service order and send you off with 'We will get back to you in a week'.

I got the opportunity to study the process for I visited them six times to resolve 2 issues that came in succession for the same unit. The first issue took four visits to identify and resolve. It involved moving from frontline and escalating it to their manager. When the second problem of storage memory cropped up, I preferred to bypass frontline and contact their manager directly. This meant saving time and agony for me and front line. Though the problem itself was not resolved with regards storage memory they kept me at bay with a complimentary 1GB mini SD card. This was not the solution but we were both tired of seeing each other and hence seemed the best way out.

Sadly but not surprisingly every customer who visited had an issue with their unit. Since frontline were not technically qualified to convince or satisfy the customer they acted as couriers taking messages from customers to support to manufacturer (hopefully) and back. Irrespective of the gender they were more of a punching bag than problem solvers. A punching bag takes in all the jabs and kicks but never retaliates, for it can't. Again you don't get a result punching the bag. Similarly you can fret and fume to frontline. They will tolerantly listen and take in all your emotions and excitement but can't resolve your problem on the spot. I saw them more as a shield for the company and their service team.

Now let's replace the frontline employees with specially trained service representatives or in this case technically qualified staff who might be in a better position to understand the problem, empathise, come with solutions, communicate and convince the customer effectively. The end result would be better resolution of complaints leading to less dissatisfied customers, better service recovery and a favourable tilt in satisfaction levels.

Take this a notch further and get managers more involved in handling complaints. Could it then reduce dissatisfaction level even further?

I am sure it will, simply because you surprise the customer and reduce his excitement.

How often have customers met a manager at the first instance to vent their feelings? Won't he be surprised to meet a senior employee? Someone, who can take on the spot decisions. Someone who will not give the standard 'We will have to check and get back'. He will feel important for he is being heard by someone in authority. A manager who may follow policies and procedures but is also empowered to act pragmatically and fast. In short you make him feel better if not good in spite of his excited state.

Though middle management do get involved in handling complaints there is a world of a difference between hearing from frontline about a grievance or receiving written complaints, as against hearing it from the horses mouth. Any amount of graphic description by frontline will not have the required effect of the customer. Hence go out and meet the customer. Get a feel for yourself. You will not only start empathising more with the customer, you will also understand why your frontline look tired and harassed by ten in the morning.

Getting more involved with customer complaints help eliminate layers in communication, leading to better understanding of the problem. You don't expect frontline to speak about product, price, process, quality, after sales or service. And if they do how far will it be heard. This however can be done by a manager, in his position, his meetings and interaction with peers.

Having said that there are times when managers (without choice) have to get involved with customer complaints. They must get into the act like it or not. This is when ...

  •  A customer starts to shout and voices his grievance for every one to hear. Yes, when voices go up, managers must get out and meet it head on.
  • If a customer comes a second time with a complaint. Take over, get in the act and investigate for yourself.
  • When values are high and issues warrant attention from a manager to sort the problem as soon and as smoothly as possible.

Managers play a vital role in problem solving and complaint resolution. He is in a better position to understand, analyse and balance a situation. He is the important link between customers, peers and management.

Towards the customer - Knowledge of the product, policies and procedures gives him the edge to determine as to how far he can and should stretch in ensuring satisfaction. His position gives him the advantage to better empathize with the customer. He can be more convincing with explanations to a situation. He wields authority to come up with on the spot solutions. He can decide to go the extra mile. He can turn a complaint around to a win-win situation.

Imagine you have a customer complaining that the heart shape patched in his white T-shirt is running colour. You can apologise, promise to investigate, exchange the item or refund (in that order) and send him off less disgruntled.

To his peers, Having first hand information about a complaint gives him the advantage to understand the cause and effects of it. He can analyse the complaint in a broader perspective. See the big picture and address the issue at department meetings or in manager meetings. Meet and discuss on the complaint with peers, study the reasons, identify areas that need improvement, pool resources and expertise, work out costs and arrive at solutions for improvement. He can suggest corrective actions based on his experience.

Call for an urgent meeting with managers. Exhibit the colour run white T-shirt. How did it happen? Determine how many pieces were produced, how many are on shelf's. Can they be pulled out? What are the cost implications? How best to salvage the situation. Analyze, decide and act.

To Management, Having met the customer, managers can analyse and decide whether to escalate the issue depending on its gravity. When involved in complaints they can stress and give it its due importance. If serious, report to management for them to understand the complaint, the customer and his grievance. Most often managements are complacent receiving customer satisfaction surveys or the likes. However reports from within helps to review their visions, missions and strategies. It helps management to understand their product and its shortcomings, the market and their market share, customer trends, psychology etc. Simply pulling up sales or marketing is futile when the problem lies elsewhere. Product, pricing, process, policies, HR, R&D, marketing, collaboration, agency agreements and much more need be reviewed, analyzed and corrective actions taken.

Management decides to pull the t-shirts from the market, redesign it and six months later market it to a select consumer group with a totally different concept. Now they inform customers that the heart is expected to bleed and give washing instructions. For they have redesigned the T-shirt with this message on it 'Don't bleed, we can save the world'.

After all fashion sells anything!

The effect of frontline reporting a color run as against seeing the item for your self will make a huge difference between reporting the complaint and addressing the defect with other managers.

While frontline may consider it as a 'one bad piece', managers can determine that.

Crisis control can be handled more efficiently and professionally when managers have seen the problem for themselves, than waking up to frontline reporting ten similar complaints.

Managers more actively involved in handling complaints would mean less dissatisfied customers, better service recovery and more business.

I am sure there would be many who would right now be ridiculing the idea of managers getting drawn with customers and their complaints. 'If managers start handling complaints when will they manage their department and operations'? You are right. I agree they cannot be only manning complaint counters. They cannot be the punching bags. Nor sit 9-5 at a desk meeting customer and getting feedback. There is more to managers than that.

But I am sure they can prioritise more time to focus on this sensitive area. Maintain a discipline of spending an hour every day or a day every week and get hands on feel. Use complaints as a strategic tool for improvement and business development. After all it would result in a win-win situation. For, managers play a pivotal role in making complaints less agonising and more friendly for all, the customer, the company and its employees.


What is our focus on customer complains? Do we go by hearsay and reports or experience real life situations? Can we recover complaining customers?

Spend an hour every day or a day every week handling customer complaints. Include customer complaints as part of your agenda in department and manager meetings. Escalate complaints to management. Review complaints vis-à-vis customer satisfaction survey reports.




True, because when you ask for the manager they seldom come to meet the customer leaving the frontline to take the entire brunt of the customer.


I would totally agree!! :)

I was fortunate in the place where I work. When ever a customer starts to complain and shout our manager would walk in and take over. It is so motivating to find that you have support. In the bargain you also get to learn from the seniors on how to handle the situation and how far you can bend for the customer.

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