Customer Complaint Handling

The report was published in March 1996 by the Federal Benchmarking Consortium and was based on President Clinton's order to put customers first : "All executive departments that provide significant services to the public shall provide a means to address complaints and make information, services, and complaint systems easily accessible." President Bill Clinton

The full report is available here. The content and findings of the Federal Benchmarking Consortium is of universal value to Local and State Governments everywhere, plus I believe to any organisation large or small in the business to add value to their customers. For those organisations contemplating OUTSOURCING this report outlines a blueprint to help define and specify critical success criteria and failure standards.

Read the Executive Summary and then go and get the full report.

27 May 1998 Niels Kjellerup Editor.

Executive Summary

The government's customer service revolution started in 1993 with a recommendation from Vice President Gore's National Performance Review team, followed by President Clinton's Executive Order, "Setting Customer Service Standards." The President directed federal agencies to survey their customers to see what kind of service people want and whether they are getting it; to get ideas from front-line workers who deal with customers day-to-day; to give customers choices and easy access; and to develop a way for citizens to complain and get problems fixed. He set a goal for the government to deliver service equal to the best-in-business.
In 1995, President Clinton reinforced his order to put customers first. It leaves no doubt that the goal is a revolution in how government does business so that customers are the focus. Customer service standards and measures are to be part of strategic plans, training programs, personnel systems, and anything else that ought to be changed to advance the citizen's satisfaction with government service.

To comply with the Presidents directive, teams of government agencies embarked on a series of benchmarking studies. For purposes of this study, Benchmarking means determining which businesses--public and private--are doing the best job of customer complaint resolution (request study), understanding the gap between the agencies' own performance and taking action to close that performance gap. When the best-in-business were identified, government teams set out to determine why they were the best and then set forth an action plan to make their agencies as good as, or better than, the benchmarked businesses in resolving customer complaints.

Some of the valuable lessons learned during this process are:

* Make it easy for your customers to complain and your customers will make it easy for you to improve. A dramatic lesson was learned by the teams involved in this study; the best-in-business want their customers to complain. Informed customers know how your services should work. If things are not working, customers are the first to know. Customers who are dissatisfied tell twice as many people about it as those who are happy with your service. The best-in-business use feedback from 1-800 calls, letters, and surveys to identify and resolve root causes of dissatisfaction and to change their services to ensure that the customer will be quickly satisfied.

* Respond to complaints quickly and courteously with common sense and you will improve customer loyalty. We found that customers reward companies that quickly solve problems by remaining loyal customers. A speedy response can add 25 percent to customer loyalty. Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc. has adopted a formula for customer satisfaction; doing the job right the first time + effective complaint management = maximum customer satisfaction/loyalty. Government agencies can develop the same kind of loyalty and trust from the public if we match or exceed the best-in-business.

* Resolve complaints on the first contact and (1) save money by eliminating unnecessary additional contacts that escalate costs and (2) build customer confidence. A call back which involves two or more employees just has to cost more than a call that is handled right the first time. Our research confirms that resolving a complaint on the first contact reduced the cost by at least 50 percent.

* Technology utilization is critical in complaint handling systems. Use your computers to develop a data base of complaints. See if you find a trend. Then fix it! We learned that the best-in-business electronically compiled customer complaint information and presented it to everyone, including management, so that the organization could better align services and products to meet customer expectations.

* Recruit and hire the best for customer service jobs. The customer service and complaint resolution specialist positions established by benchmarking partners tend to be highly sought-after positions. Complaint specialists learn the company so well they get promoted. Some organizations built the customer service position into a formal career ladder for advancement in the company. In all instances, front-line employees were valued for feedback in making decisions.

There is no reason why each government department cannot equal the best-in-business customer complaint resolution systems. The blueprint is in this book. Follow this simple plan and you will improve customer satisfaction and reduce your costs at the same time. In a nutshell, a manager who wants to have a first-rate complaint system with results within six months should take five steps:

1. Issue a policy statement that says our organization embraces complaints; we view complaints as opportunities.

2. Establish an implementation team with representatives from each step in the complaint handling process and identify each step in the process.

3. Establish a tracking system. Your staff should record and classify complaints which will allow them to analyse the complaint data and report to top management. The difference between your process and the best-in-business process is known as the gap. A gap analysis will show you what to improve.

4. Develop recommendations to improve your core processes and empower front-line employees to resolve complaints on first contact.

5. Implement. The team should put together an action plan for implementing the approved recommendations.

Done right, your customer will notice changes within six months!

Take me to the Report, Back to the Top of the Page, Back to What's New or Home Page