Proper Procedures for Managing Customer Complaints (Part 1)

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — You have a partially unattended store that has a box for complaints.

One night, a customer scribbles down that she lost a dollar in a machine. Your attendant comes in the next morning. Around noon, he looks in the complaint box and sees the complaint form. He scoffs and returns to his usual work.

At the end of his shift, he retrieves the complaint again, but reasons that the sum is such a small amount of money that the customer won’t remember it.

On his way out, he tosses the form in the wastebasket.

In another attended store, a customer complains to the attendant that her child cut herself playing in the back yard.

The attendant looks at the child’s wound, retrieves a bandage and hands it to the mother.

With an air of grievance, he says to the mother, “You should always supervise your child. It isn’t our responsibility,” and he walks away.

These two incidents reveal weakness in responding to complaints. In the first incident, the customer wasn’t taken care of and might decide never to return.

The customer might say to herself, “They didn’t even get back to me. They surely do not value their customer, so I guess I’ll go to the Laundromat on Stuart Avenue.”

In the second incident, the mother might be offended by being criticized. Secondly, no effort was made to find out how the child injured herself. There could be something dangerous lying in the backyard.

Every operator should have a complaint procedure. It is not sufficient to expect all attendants and staffers to handle complaints.

As these examples show, such situations aren’t always handled in the correct manner.

COMPLAINT FORMS

Nobody likes paperwork, but there should be a mandatory complaint form, which goes to you. That way, you have control over all complaints, and you can follow up to see that the customer is satisfied.

It is also a way for you to keep your finger on the pulse of your business.

One “Laundromateur” says: “Complaint forms are my eyes and ears of the company. I learn what’s happening at each store. I get a sense of staff commitment. I find out what customers think of our operation.”

The complaint form should be as simple as possible. A 5-by-8-inch scratch-pad size will do. Include date, name of customer, situation, resolution (what is done to solve the problem), and customer’s phone number.

Five or six lines are all that’s necessary. The customer might be encouraged to fill out the form, but if he/she doesn’t want to, the attendant fills it out. The form should be placed in a box, where you can find it.

Your hands-on staffers will probably not be enthusiastic, so you will have to come up with a rationale about its importance.

The answer is this procedure prevents complaints from slipping away. That’s because you receive the complaint, examine the contents, and often, follow up with a phone call.

“Hello, Mrs. Manfriedi. I see you lost $1.50 in the dryer. My attendant, Carlos, said he reimbursed you, and then fixed the machine so that it won’t happen again. I just want to apologize for the aggravation.”

If Mrs. Manfriedi is not in and you reach the answering machine, leave the same message.

Mrs. Manfriedi will receive the message, and if the report isn’t accurate, she will surely get back to you. If it is accurate and the complaint was resolved, she will be pleased that you cared enough to follow up.

COMMITTED TO SERVICE

One purpose of having the procedure is to ensure that attendants are doing their job. Another purpose is to demonstrate follow-through.

Customers don’t like to be bothered, but if they had a problem, they are pleased that it was noticed by management.

A final purpose is to show your staff that you are committed to providing excellent service.

You want zero dissatisfied customers. But what if a staffer doesn’t write a complaint report? Doesn’t that defeat the procedure?

Yes, unless you become aware of a problem that was not reported, and then you can lean into the staffer who should have known better.

Furthermore, you can periodically spot-check this employee by dropping in on his shifts and listening to what’s going on.

Maybe the staffer is not right for your operation, and needs to be replaced. Or maybe with some re-education, he can be rehabilitated.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

About the author

Howard Scott

Industry Writer and Drycleaning Consultant

Howard Scott is a former business owner, longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant. He welcomes questions and comments and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359; by calling 781-293-9027; or via e-mail at [email protected].

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