Guest Column | December 7, 2017

5 Steps To Better Manage Customer Complaints

By Greg Coleman, Vice President, Strategic Programs, Service Strategies Corporation

Field Service Customer Complaints

Service and support organizations invariably receive complaints from customers. You would expect that most organizations would have programs in place to manage complaints. While this seems logical, it’s not always the case. In addition, many organizations that have complaint processes focus mainly on resolving the immediate issues and don’t do any root cause analysis on what is driving the complaints. So let’s discuss a few steps you can take to improve your customer complaint management process.

1. Document The Complaint Process

An effective complaint management process should be fully documented so that all parties involved can execute it. The process should generally include the following:

  • Clear definitions of what represents a complaint
  • The potential sources of complaints
  • Methods for handling and escalating complaints
  • Goals for responding to and resolving complaints
  • Methods for tracking and reporting on complaint status

2. Broadly Define Complaint Sources

Many organizations take a narrow view of what constitutes a complaint. Generally speaking, the service and support organization should be the focal point for all complaints received by the company since (theoretically) they have the processes in place to manage them. Example complaint sources may include:

  • Those that come through customer support via telephone and electronic interactions
  • Those given directly to field service engineers when onsite with the customer
  • Comments sent directly to the corporate or support website or via email
  • Feedback from satisfaction surveys (low ratings or negative verbatim comments)
  • Issues forwarded from sales, marketing or executive management
  • Direct feedback from customers at user groups or conferences

3. Measure And Manage Complaints

Most service and support organizations have relatively sophisticated customer management systems that track customer issues. Unfortunately, not enough of them use these systems to track their complaints. In addition, many organizations only track their own complaints, i.e. those originating during service interactions. Once an issue is forwarded to another organization, it drops off the radar screen. To address these issues consider:

  • Leverage the customer management system to track all forms of complaints
  • Classify the source and nature of complaints for reporting and analysis
  • Maintain ownership of complaints escalated to other organizations
  • Review complaint status regularly to ensure response and resolution goals are met

4. Take A Holistic View

Resolving the immediate issue identified by a customer has to be a priority. However, this can be equivalent to treating the symptom rather than the cause. Discovering what drove the issue to begin with, then identifying patterns in complaints, will allow the organization to eliminate future occurrences of the complaint and potentially improve customer satisfaction and retention. Consider the following to help identify and cure the root causes of complaints:

  • Report on the number and frequency of complaints by source and type
  • Look for trends and patterns in the types and frequency of complaints being received
  • Segment complaints by service channel, offering, product or organization and provide reporting to the groups affected
  • Get the staff and other affected organizations involved developing solutions to address root causes

5. Communicate The Results

Where appropriate, results of actions taken to address specific or generalized complaints should be communicated to the customer base. By communicating results, you let the customer know that you care about their feedback and are actively working to address their concerns. Consider these communications methods:

  • Directly communicate your plans, actions and results to strategic customer accounts
  • Publish a list of issues and actions on the service and support section of your website
  • Include the list in company or service and support newsletters sent to customers

Reviewing your complaint management process and following the five steps outlined can have a positive impact on customer satisfaction. Programs such as the Service Capability & Performance (SCP) Standards, which define a stringent set of performance criteria, can help drive improvements in the complaint management and other key business practices used within service and support.

Greg Coleman is a principal partner and vice president of strategic programs at Service Strategies Corporation. He resides in San Diego, California and has more than 25 years of experience in the high-technology service and support field. Coleman has worked with leading technology organizations around the world to develop and deploy global standards for service performance. You can email him at

Service Strategies advances service excellence by helping companies deliver the highest quality service and support to their clients. Thousands of service professionals around the world have enhanced their skills through participation in the company’s training and certification courses. In addition, its standards, strategic advisory and consulting services help service organizations optimize business operations and achieve substantial performance gains. For more information visit or email