Complaint Management

Every organization has received complaints in some form or fashion and will receive complaints in the future. Even organizations with internal customers field complaints about turnaround time, quality, and customer service. External customers may also complain about those issues, but also about ease of ordering, product selection, and many others. Organizations benefit from having a complaint management process that puts the needs of the customer first, ensuring that complaints are adequately and appropriately addressed.

Defining Complaint

The definition of complaint resides in many ISO standards, but the two most common definitions are:

  • ISO 9000:2015 [3.9.3] – “expression of dissatisfaction made to an organization, related to its products or services, or the complaints-handling process itself, where a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected”
  • ISO/IEC 17025:2017 [3.2] – “expression of dissatisfaction by any person or organization to a laboratory, relating to the activities or results of that laboratory, where a response is expected”

The definitions have two phrases in common: “expression of dissatisfaction” and “where a response is expected.” ISO 9000 has additional words, but when pared down the gist is that the individual making the complaint expects a response from the organization to which the complaint is being made. Organization must receive complaints, determine if the complaint pertains to their activities, address the complaint, and respond to the complainant.

Expression of Dissatisfaction

Expressions of dissatisfaction can come in many forms, such as email, phone call, in-person, or through a survey response, for example. The level of detail may vary, as well, with some complainants providing lengthy explanations and others simply checking that they were dissatisfied when responding to a survey. The organization must gather all details about the complaint so that the response is appropriate to the specifics of the complaint.

There are many different types of dissatisfaction, as well. An organization may fail to deliver on what was promised. This could be in the form of expected product features, unfulfilled service requests, or on-time delivery. Other dissatisfaction may arise from performance or usability issues of a product, or inadequate customer service. Failing to meet customer expectations and needs can also elicit dissatisfaction from customers.

Responding to Complaints

Neither definition details what that response should be. It is up to the organization to determine the appropriate response. The appropriate response will be unique to the circumstances surrounding the complaint, as well as the customer themselves. Some customers may require additional information that other customers do not. Complaints about product failures may require additional consideration than complaints about on-time delivery. Each complaint should be treated with the same level of quality, though, to reach a resolution that satisfies the customer and improves the organization’s processes and procedures related to the complaint.

Addressing Causes of Complaints

Regardless of the type of response provided to the complainant, the actions taken by the organization should effectively address the cause of the complaint. For example, inadequate contract review could be a cause of failing to meet customer expectations and needs. This could lead the organization to evaluate the contract review process to ensure it is implemented appropriately and adjust with improvements, if needed.

Addressing causes of complaints ensures that the issue will not recur or occur elsewhere in the organization. This not only enhances customer satisfaction, but it also decreases the effort needed for repeat issues, ultimately saving the organization time and money. Customers of organizations that address causes of complaints feel that they are important to the organization and that their complaints will not only be received but also addressed. This also enhances customer satisfaction.

How ISO Standards Address Complaint Management

While ISO standards require certified or accredited organizations to have complaint management processes, all organizations can benefit from having a defined process that they follow to receive and address customer complaints. Everyone has, at some point, submitted a complaint to an organization only to hear nothing back or receive an unfulfilling response. Organizations that effectively address and respond to complaints build trust in their customer which in turn builds brand loyalty. Complaint management is a critical component of customer satisfaction and should be on the forefront of operational planning so complaints can be used to drive organizational improvement in both the short- and long-term.

For specific details on how laboratories can benefit from complaints, check out this blog post: How Laboratories Can Benefit from Complaints.

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