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Handling the Complaint Process

15 January, 2016 - 09:19

A good customer complaint handling process involves the steps listed below. Note that one step is to acknowledge the customer’s feelings. A customer who is angry or upset due to a failure does not want to be patronized or have his or her problems taken lightly. The situation is important to the customer and should be important to the person listening and responding to the complaint.

  • Listen carefully to the complaint
  • Acknowledge the customer’s feelings
  • Determine the root cause of the problem
  • Offer a solution
  • Gain agreement on the solution and communicate the process of resolution
  • Follow up, if appropriate
  • Record the complaint and resolution

Note that the complaint-resolution process involves communicating that process and gaining agreement on a solution, even if the customer sometimes might not like the outcome. He or she still needs to know what to expect.

Finally, the complaint process includes recording the complaint. We stated earlier that a firm’s best strategy is to perform at or beyond the customer’s expectations so as to minimize the number of complaints it receives in the first place. Analyzing your company’s complaints can help you identify weak points in a service process or design flaws in a product, as well as potential miscommunications that are raising customer’ expectations unreasonably. To conduct this analysis, however, you need a complete record of the complaints made.

A complaint record should reflect the main reason an offering failed. Typically, the failure can be attributed to one (or more) of the following four gaps: 1

  1. The communication gap. Overstating the offering’s performance level, thereby creating unrealistic expectations on the part of customers.
  2. The knowledge gap. Not understanding the customer’s expectations or needs, which then leads a company to create a product that disappoints the customer.
  3. The standards gap. Setting performance standards that are too low despite what is known about the customers’ requirements.
  4. The delivery gap. Failing to meet the performance standards established for an offering.

You can attribute the complaints your company receives to one of the four gaps and then use the information to figure out what must be done to fix the problem, assuming you have one. If the problem is overstating the performance, then perhaps your firm’s marketing promotions materials should be reviewed. If it appears that the offering is simply not meeting the needs of your customers, then more work should be done to identify exactly what they are. If your firm is aware of the needs of its customers but there is a gap between their requirements and the standards set for your firm’s performance, then standards should be reviewed. Finally, your company’s processes should be examined to ensure that standards are being met.

When the Smokey Bones chain of barbecue restaurants (owned by Darden Restaurants) noticed falling profits, managers cut costs by eliminating some items from the menu. Unfortunately, these were the items that made the chain unique; once they were gone, there was nothing distinctive about the chain’s offerings. When customers complained, servers replied, “Yes, a lot of people have complained that those products are no longer available.” But apparently, there was no process or way to get those complaints to register with the company’s management. As a result, the company didn’t realize why it was losing customers, and its profits continued to spiral downward. Many locations were closed and the company filed for bankruptcy.

Keep in mind that the complaint handling process itself is subject to complaints. As we mentioned, customers want a process that’s fair, even if the outcome isn’t what they hoped for. Consequently, monitoring your firm’s customer satisfaction levels also means you must monitor how satisfied customers are with how their complaints were handled.


Measuring customer satisfaction is an important element of customer empowerment. But satisfaction alone is a minimal level of acceptable performance. It means that the customer’s expectations were met. Getting positive word of mouth requires exceeding those expectations. To minimize the number of complaints a company needs an effective process of both handling complaints and understanding their causes so any problems can be corrected. Because the complaint process itself is subject to complaints, monitoring your firm’s customer satisfaction levels also means you must monitor how satisfied customers are with your company’s complaint handling system.


  1. Should a company be happy or concerned if most customers are satisfied?
  2. Why have customer satisfaction scores remained relatively steady over the past few years?
  3. What are the desired outcomes, from a marketer’s perspective, of a complaint management process?
  4. How would marketing management use customer satisfaction survey results?