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Silent Consumer Carelines – A major setback for industries

Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wrote in his book “My Vision” (Challenges in the Race for Excellence) that “Anyone visiting the city realizes from touchdown that Dubai is exclusive and different. Because Dubai’s officials are deeply aware of the fact that first impressions count, they take great care in meeting visitors with a friendly and hospitable welcome at the airport and provide them with all the assistance they need.” If only companies would realise that their consumer carelines are the avenue by which they make first impressions with their faceless consumers/customers, they will take that department seriously!

Consumer Care departments

A company like the human body has several parts that make it work like one unit. A fully fledged organisation especially in the manufacturing sector may have functions such as finance, human resource, supply chain, marketing, and customer development. Each of these functions may have departments spread under them. For instance, the supply chain function may have departments such as production, quality assurance, engineering etc. One key department that sits under the customer development function is the consumer/customer care department. The core function of this department is to serve as an interface between consumers/customers and the organisation. They are to ensure that all complaints regarding products and services are promptly dealt with. In the end anyone who calls the careline should end the call with the assurance that his complaints or inquiries are dealt with.

Professionals who manage care desks work in partnership with their counterparts in the quality department to ensure complaints are well investigated and feedback given to the complainant on time. A deficient consumer complaints department is a liability to any business.

Silent Carelines

My experience with two big companies in the country regarding complaints has been anything but great. In the first instance, I had a consumer complaint to make on a popular product. The consumer careline on the product label is only a tollfree number (0800…). For several days I called this number, but no one picked up. I proceeded to the company’s website and pulled out the only landline on their ‘contact us’ page. After several calls, I someone finally picked the call. If my complaint were related to consumer safety incident, it would have taken two weeks for a response by which time most consumers might have suffered! Worse still, it has been more than one week since my that call but I am yet to be contacted again for details of the complaint samples. As I write, the samples are still lodged in my office drawer.

The second incident involved another well-known brand from yet another well-respected company. The story was no different. It took almost 2 weeks and when no one was responding I had to use my networks to get an employee friend of mine to lodge my complaint. This is a systemic issue plaguing many companies in Ghana. Consumer/Customer care departments are left at the mercy of employees who have no clue about company policies on satisfying customer requirements.

The Forgotten Department

My research has revealed that, many companies do not have a functioning consumer/customer complaints department. In most cases setting up a complaints department is not a priority of the organisation and hence such departments do not exist. I have also come across instances where complaints’ management have been relegated to secretaries and front desk executives. In all the cases encountered it was clear that these personnel had not been given any training on complaints management. A typical example is what I encountered in the first scenario; the call was picked by a front desk executive who from our engagement was bankrupt about how complaints should be handled. The situation is akin to SMEs who hardly budget for training programmes for their employees but expect high productivity.

MDs and CEOs of most industries attend high profile events and even grant interviews to the media. While they busy themselves with these events in the name of networking the most important group of people being consumers/customers struggle each day trying to explain the frustrations they have regarding products they purchased. In most instances, their persistent calls to the complaints department go unanswered. No wonder consumers have found solace in social media platforms to air their grievances, a very  dangerous trend for most brands.

Reversing the Trend

Businesses must understand that a well-established complaints department with the right complaints management system creates wealth. This management system which may have a footprint in the company quality policy can also have a separate policy on its own. The department should have a dedicated phone line which should be included on all product packaging artworks. Having a tollfree line is great, but if it will go unanswered, it loses its significance. Having done all these, the recruitment of professionals to manage the department should be an exercise that must attract top management interest.

Complaints management professionals must be well-trained to manage both consumer and customer complaints. Their training must be specific and intentional. Since consumers cannot tell lunch periods and working hours, having at least two professionals managing the helpdesk is most ideal. They manage the department in a way that, one person is always available to take incoming calls. The telephone set being employed should be able to take messages after working hours too. Recorded messages are played back each morning and such complainants called back. Helpdesk professionals must be diplomatic and should have in-depth knowledge about each brand to offer insightful initial responses to people who call to lodge complaints.

Conclusion

Author and salesman Zig Ziglar once said “When customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business.” He could not be more exact; the making of a business is dependent on the patronage of its consumers. If their concerns about brands they have purchased will not receive the needed attention, they just move on to a competitor brand. Hence reorganizing your business’s complaint management system is a key priority and must be given top priority.
Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Chief Executive & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality Assurance, Health & Safety, Environmental Management systems, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety). He is also a consumer safety advocate and helps businesses with regulatory affairs. He can be reached on +233209996002, email: johnson@qaconsultgh.com.
BY: Johnson Opoku-Boateng

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