• Bill Greider

Time to Shine: Customer Complaints

What? You get complaints from your customers? You mean the people who pay all of your bills aren't 100% pleased with your performance 100% of the time? I thought our focus was to delight (not satisfy) our customers......never mind perturbing them.

The truth is that even the best companies on the planet get a steady diet of customer complaints. The truth is that customer complaints represent one of the most powerful ways to show off just how good you are. Keep in mind that your customer could have walked away. They could have simply walked away and told all of their friends what happened (their "side of the story"). Instead, they decided to give us a golden opportunity to get even better.

How do we handle this opportunity? Think about how LL Bean operated for the longest time. "Do you have a pair of boots you bought in the 90's you're just not thrilled about any more?" Call them up, tell them your "problem", send them back, get a new pair of boots. LL Bean does not want you to own any article that you are not 100% satisfied with. No questions asked. No forms to fill out. No going on hold. No getting transferred. The downside is sometimes you need to replace items you really don't have to. The upside is that nobody can ever say LL Bean doesn't care about their customer and doesn't believe 100% in what they offer the world.

If you are a "lean" company, pay special attention to your process of complaint resolution. On average, how long does it take from the minute the gun goes off to corrective action and follow up ("did we make you happy?"). If your process is slow, it might be a signal to the people who pay all the bills that they might not be all that important. Jump right on it, and they can conclude that they are very important.

If you think this process is too slow in your company, apply A3 thinking to the process. Silo thinking KILLS your customer's spirit. First, make sure many of your customer's problems can be addressed at their point of contact. Work hard to give your people the tools and confidence to satisfy their customer right then and there, without transferring the call or having to call them back. If this isn't possible, your A3 teams are a 3-5 person cross section of your business. Every decision maker required is on the team. A person from quality, maybe manufacturing, shipping, customer service and perhaps accounting. The complaint goes on the A3 board to make it visible, and the team uses the DMAIC to agree to the current condition, get to root cause, implement a countermeasure or two, and teach everyone what happened at the A3 closing. By leveraging diversity and gaining agreement, you will no longer feel like you are answering the same complaints over and over. No more "whack-a-mole".

A3s that are about a specific complaint open & close very quickly, and the customer gets their answer very quickly. The icing on the cake is the organizational learning. Think about your own complaint process. Does it give you a golden opportunity to get better?

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