Customer Complaint Management
“There is only one boss. The customer and he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” ―Sam Walton
Feedback is the breakfast of the champions. We do things to the best of our capability & intention and leave the result to God. When a child shares his homework with a teacher, the intent is to receive a response so that child can improve further. In a hotel reception or flight, the attendant offers the feedback form so that customers can share what they liked and what needs to be improved.
Something similar happens in the industry wherein an organization delivers product or service to the customer. Many times, the customer responds favourably but at times the response is negative. The organization needs to analyse such feedback and take suitable action.
Earlier, it was said that ‘Customer is God’ but later it changed to ‘Customer is King.’ God is generally benevolent but King is not! In the times of cut-throat competition, any dissatisfaction of the customer means opening the doors of a competitor. The importance of customer satisfaction can be gauged from the fact that ‘Customer Focus’ has been the first Quality Management Principle. It is imperative to have systematic and robust complaint handling and resolution process so that the confidence of the customer remains intact.
As per ISO 9000: 2015, following are the related definitions.
Customer (clause 3.2.4): Person or organization that could or does receive a product or a service that is intended for or required by this person or organization.
Complaint (clause 3.9.3): Expression of dissatisfaction made to an organization related to its product or service or the complaints handling process itself where a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected.
Management (clause 3.3.3): Coordinated activities to direct and control an organization.
Complainant (clause 3.1; ISO 10001: 2018): Person, organization or their representative making a complaint.
Some of the key IATF subscribing OEM’s have specific requirements related to Customer Complaint Management. They are
FCA, USA: Global Issue Management (GIM) Process, Return Product Analysis (PS-11346)
FCA, Italy: As per 08018, Supply Quality Performance (SQP) 9.01100
Ford: Global 8D
Peugeot: Supplier quality and development process and measurement procedure: 01272_14_0005
ISO 10002, ISO 9001 and IATF 16949 Standard (clause 10.2 & 10.2.6) have specified different way and requirements to handle customer complaint and related corrective action. They are
Receipt of complaint: Any type or size of the complaint should be recorded. If possible, a unique number can be provided for each complaint.
Tracking: Organization can have a process of regularly updating the customer about the status of the complaint as per timeline. The intent is to have a process to track the complaints from receipt till the time it is satisfactorily resolved.
Acknowledgement: Once the organization received the complaint, it has to be acknowledged to the customer and start working on it. The intent is to give confidence to the customer that the organization is serious about customer feedback.
Initial assessment: The objective is to assess the gravity of the complaint like impact on safety or legal requirement, recall or field return, major rejection etc. Based on the assessment, an organization can create a cross-functional team (CFT) who will work on the complaint and plan suitable action. Based on the initial assessment, the organization can propose immediate containment action and correction so that customer can get some respite from the problem. It will include checking existing stock of the affected product at supplier, organization, warehouse, transit and customer end. For correction/interim action, many times organization or third party supports the customer at their end (Segregation, Rework etc.).
Detailed investigation: Once the correction is done, to find out the root cause of the failure, the organization can use different techniques like 3 Why (Why-occurrence, Why-detection, Why-Systemic), Fish-Bone diagram etc. to find out the real reason of the complaint. The depth of the investigation should commensurate with the criticality, frequency and its severity. The intent is to find the real reason which caused the problem so that appropriate actions can be planned to eliminate its recurrence and occurrence in other products or services. While analyzing the root cause, the interactions with different processes like HR, Purchase, Maintenance process etc. should also be analysed. Where applicable, this shall include analysis of the interaction of embedded software of the organization’s product within the system of the ﬁnal customer’s product. Many times, the organization is not able to find the adequate root cause or corrective action, in such cases, sufficient arrangement should be made so that customer is not impacted and it can be escalated to either top management of the organisation or customer.
Communicating the decision: Within stipulated time frame (as per agreement with the customer), the organization should respond to the customer with detailed root cause analysis, proposed/implemented corrective action plan with a timeline and responsible person. Based on the feedback from the customer, further analysis and actions can be planned. The same action plan should be communicated to all the relevant process owners inside the organization too.
Horizontal Deployment: The intent of corrective action is not only to take action on the root causes but also to ensure that they should occur again and if a similar type of complaint can appear on another product, similar actions have to be taken there too.
Closing: Depending upon customer specific requirement for monitoring the effectiveness of the corrective action plan (time frame or the number of lots), the organization can close the complaint in agreement with the customer. The closing date also signifies the time taken for closing the complaint. In many organizations, this is one of the key performance indicators. In case the customer is not yet satisfied with the effectiveness of the action plan, the complaint can remain open until the customer is satisfied and convinced.
Changes to Quality Management System: The effectiveness of the action plan will depend upon the review and Updation of relevant QMS documents like Drawings, Process Flow, DFMEA, PFMEA, Control Plan, Work Instructions, Technical specifications etc.
Documentation: It is key for the effectiveness of ‘Customer Complain Management.’ As per IATF 16949, there is a requirement to have documented process (procedure) for it. The documentation will include organization and customer-specific requirements like type of format, record retention, a medium of documentation (soft or hard), training records, control of approved samples, trend charts etc. When demanded by the customer, their template has to be used. The organization also need to review and update the Risk and Opportunity matrix too.
Responsibility & Authority: For the complaint process, the organization has to assign personnel responsible for handling and resolving the complaint. Depending upon the type and severity of the complaint, different CFT can be formed but it should be headed by the authorised personnel.
Analysis and evaluation (Trend): Systematic analysis and evaluation of the complaints help the organization to understand ‘which complaints are repeated, which complaint has impacted the organization most in terms of finance or customer dissatisfaction, which type of complaints are one-off, which complaints are related to interested parties like supplier etc.’ The systematic analysis will result in the elimination of the repeated causes and will also help in the improvement of the processes, products and services.
Evaluation of the satisfaction of complainant: Periodically, the organization can systematically capture feedback from their customer about their satisfaction level from the complaint handling process. This can also be done along with Customer satisfaction survey. The intent is to understand the effectiveness of the entire process.
Internal Auditing: The organization should systematically monitor the effectiveness of the complaint handling process by periodically conducting an internal audit by competent personnel. The intent is to verify the conformity of the process and its effectiveness.
Management review: One of the key inputs for the management review process is a complaint management process. The top management should review the effectiveness of this process, areas of improvement, relevant risks and opportunities, impact on statutory or regulatory requirements, any potential change needed in the process, the recommendation for improvement and any additional resources needed.
Benefits to Organization:
- Enhances the ability of the organization to resolve the complaints in a consistent, systematic and responsive manner
- Enhances the ability of the organization to identify the trends and eliminate possible causes of complaints
- Helps the organization to create a customer-centric approach to resolve the issues
- Provides the basis for continual improvement
- Enhances the reputation and reliability with customer
- Helps to understand the real voice of the customer
An effective and efficient complaint handling process leads to the improvement in the products and services as well as the reputation of the organization.
- How often organizations consider customer complaints seriously?
- How often customer transfers the business to another supplier owing to ineffective customer complaint management system?
- How often the organization is surprised at the customer complaints as they may be aware of the gaps in their manufacturing process?
- How often customer seriously go through the correction, root cause analysis, corrective action, horizontal deployment, timeline for implementation and effectiveness of the action taken?
ISO 9000: 2015
ISO 9001: 2015
ISO/TS 9002: 2016
ISO 9004: 2018
IATF 16949: 2016
ISO 10002:2018: Guidelines for complaints handling in organizations
This is the 65th article of this Quality Management series. Every weekend, you will find useful information that will make your Management System journey Productive. Please share it with your colleagues too.
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