Improving Service Quality Standards via Customer Complaints

Purpose of Customer Complaints

There are usually two main purposes of customer complaints.  These are:

  • to recover some economic loss
  • to rebuild self-esteem

Service providers need to understand these motivations and need to be prepared to respond to each effectively.  It also needs to be remembered that it is not only what is said and done that is important, but also how this is done.

Complaining represents a form of social interaction and therefore is likely to be influenced by role perceptions and norms surrounding those role perceptions.  This means that not all customers feel comfortable or confident about complaining, especially if it means voicing their complaint to someone else personally.

Consumers in eastern collectivist cultures are less likely to complain since many of the religions (e.g., Buddhism) preach tolerance and societal norms mean complaining will cause the provider to lose face. Moreover, customers may feel there is nothing to be gained from complaining or, simply, that they just can’t be bothered to do so.

Courses of action in response to an unsatisfied customer

Figure 5.2 in the text summarizes major courses of action open to an unsatisfied customer.  Essentially these are:

  • Do nothing
  • Complain in some form to the service provider and seek redress
  • Take overt action with a third party
  • Defect and simply not patronize the firm again

It is significant, however, that most unhappy customers never take time to voice their dissatisfaction; they simply go away unhappy and never return.  Worse still, they may act as terrorists, that is taking great delight in relating their experience to as many friends and acquaintances as possible and telling them not to patronize the service firm in question under any circumstances.  Figure 5.2 shows that companies should want their unhappy customers to complain, as the alternatives are not as constructive.  Moreover, stories such as these often become embellished over time, and so their negative impact on a service organization multiplies.

Consequently, service providers in both East and West are well advised to consider alternative means by which customers can express their dissatisfaction, in ways that are not necessarily intimidating for them to do so, and in such a manner that encourages response and promises adequate redress.  This demands a management commitment of attitude, policy and resources.

Use of customer complaints as opportunity

Dealing with customer complaints is essentially problem-solving but can also be an opportunity to glean valuable information about service quality standards and how these might be improved.  Many firms lack the mechanisms to record complaints and then funnel them back to management.

Complaint collection procedures which include, for example, toll-free telephone numbers and customer (dis)satisfaction surveys, are useful for finding out more about what makes customers happy and unhappy, delighted or dissatisfied.  They don’t necessarily help to resolve problems, but they do serve to highlight them, to afford insights into customer attitudes and behavior, and to provide an opportunity for follow-up.

The Role of Justice in Complaint Handling Procedures

Figure 5.8 stresses that customers want 3 types of fairness when their complaint is handled.  The first- procedural fairness deals with fairness of procedures as the complaint was handled; the second is interactional fairness (how you were treated) and finally is outcome fairness – or get you get a just and fair resolution to the problem.

Leave a Reply