Customer complaints are a part of doing business—and one of your best sources of valuable information. When people who spend money with your organization are giving you feedback, be glad they care enough to say something. The customers who do not say anything and take their business elsewhere are important too, but a complaint is chance to learn and do better.
How can you take a team approach to addressing—and reducing—those quality complaints?
When I say team, I am not suggesting that only the quality department is to be involved. Quality is an organizational initiative, not just a departmental one. Everyone from all facets of the organization (executive management, sales, operations, purchasing, and the shop floor) should be onboard with the goals of making the best product or service available and reducing customer complaints.
I have heard it said that one way to reduce customer complaints is to reduce the number of customers. That is not a solution I would recommend, as no doubt those companies do not last long. However, I can suggest some actions a quality team can take to improve customer complaints and increase customer satisfaction.
- Make it right the first time. This cannot be stated enough. If organizations spend the same amount of money they waste on rework, recalls, and so forth on the front end—using statistical process control (SPC)—they will save money throughout the entire manufacturing process.
- If you can’t make it right the first time, catch it before it gets to the customer. Prevent a defective product from leaving the building if at all possible; if not, intercept it where you can, before the customer sees it. Once defective products are received by customers, they can incur more costs and reputation damage from using your products. That is not a good thing.
- Do not let your suppliers dictate your quality. Set a standard that both you and your suppliers agree on, and hold them to it. Often, I visit customer sites where teams have implemented raw material specifications for their suppliers but they don’t audit them. I would much rather find a supplier who is willing to work together than lose a valuable customer.
- Apply the team concept. Everyone is going to play a part in quality—from the person ordering supplies to the people working on the equipment to the person stacking product in the warehouse. All eyes have to be on identifying ways to build quality into what they do. One person can derail the efforts of many.
- Educate your customers about your products. Don’t just sell the product; inform the customer how to use it. Customers complain at times because of something they did just because they didn’t know what to do or how to do it. If it is a common issue, update your product literature or instructions to cover the preventative measure.
- Communicate between sites. Share the knowledge across the organization. If there is a problem, let other sites know because they might have the same issue. Do not let the customer identify it for you.
- Listen to the customer if there is a complaint. Listen—do not take the complaint personally. The customer is providing valuable and useful information. Respond accordingly and professionally.
- Do not send a replacement product without checking it first. The worst thing you can do is send the customer a replacement product from the same batch or lot without inspecting it first. If you send the customer some more of the same problem, they will go somewhere else.
- Track the complaints. Collect the data around the complaints and run pareto analyses on them. Identify frequency and duration of the issues. Attack the big hitters as well as the little nagging ones that keep popping up over and over. Minor issues might be small in cost, but they are repetitive and the customer is getting tired of them.
- Think about quality from a customer’s perspective. Try to anticipate the customer’s needs. If you were to identify a common element in the success of “World Class” companies, you will find that most of those organizations have a customer-driven focus.
Consistently making quality products (and services) is not easy. If it was, everyone would have a sterling reputation. Successful companies constantly strive for perfection knowing it’s not an attainable goal, but understanding that customers expect nothing less. Cultivating a quality mindset in your organization will go a long way towards the success that will benefit your customers and your company.