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Dealing with unhappy customers

ISO 9001 Quality / Thursday 2nd of March 2017

Do you recognise the phonecall “Its Mr X and he is not happy with……………” Often, its because Mr X has a complaint about the goods or services you as a company have supplied.

But, beyond the specific example, how does a dissatisfied customer generally act?

Its often quoted that given a poor experience, 90% of customers will chose to go elsewhere in future (if they can).

The vast majority will tell more than 10 other people.

But in the UK, only about 4% actually complain. We don’t like to do that, do we!

All this could be very damaging to sales and increasingly these days, Brand.

There may be a 1/3rd of all small and medium businesses who have no formal procedure in place for dealing with customer complaints. Maybe they don’t have many complaints, or take the view that they will deal with them as they occur.

But one of the benefits of implementing an ISO9001 Quality Management System is that it puts Customer Satisfaction at the cornerstone of your system. It requires that you put strategies and processes in place to manage customer satisfaction, and by definition reduce customer dissatisfaction.

As part of any Quality Management System, here is a simple list of things which you could consider,

What is your “Context”. Are you a B2B business where handling of customers may be very different to a retail B2C environment. You might have Account Managers for key customers for example.

Leadership. The strategy, policies, systems, culture and resources need to be driven from the top of the organisation and cannot be understated. Clear policies on Quality, customer satisfaction and issues like returns will help.

However, the Standard does now give organisations more flexibility in a risk based approach. So, how you deal with customer satisfaction is rather more down to you.

Communication. A key customer satisfaction issue and response. You might receive a formal complaint or negative feedback directly or increasingly via social media if you have a presence.

How you respond or don’t to external interested parties will inform ongoing attitudes to your business and your goods and services. Consider the negative publicity which Uber is attracting currently. Financial pundits are quoting a £10bn or 15% devaluation in the company’s valuation in the last few weeks! Notwithstanding the very serious issues highlighted, the management of communication has been woeful.

Operations, including monitoring and measuring. You could be producing non-conforming goods, which are not fit for purpose. To prevent re-occurrence, systems, processes and actions to monitor and measure performance against the product or service requirement can be implemented. Quality Control inspections and Internal Audits are key activities.

Resources. Looking into the root cause of issues might find that a lack of resource, components or competence exists. There might be a need for you to look into the infrastructure of the business, your human resources, manufacturing capability and training regimes.

Suppliers. Consider if you get a supplier problem as some of the goods being supplied are not of the quality you specified or expected.

The magnitude of a problem might have a fundamental influence on your future supply arrangements and control of suppliers. Contracts, KPIs or specifications might help to enlighten or resolve any disputes. It is very common for supplier agreements to be verbal only. Does this adequately protect you?

While each organisation will deal with customer satisfaction and the issues surrounding it in their own way, a Quality Management System (QMS) like ISO9001:2015 creates a framework to work to. It provides a Standard of business activity to adhere to, which if implemented, helps meet customer expectations and supports continuous improvement.

Chris Reading

March 2017