Handling customer satisfaction with code of conduct and complaints procedure

As I elaborated in my article Main elements of handling customer satisfaction in ISO 9001, managing customer satisfaction is a necessity that can be often overlooked, or simply put on hold – i.e., “continually postponed.” However, ISO 9001 requirements include enhancing customer satisfaction by meeting customer requirements (5.2., 6.1) and monitoring of customer satisfaction (8.2.1); additionally, globalization and the continually increasing competition are forcing organizations to reconsider the customer satisfaction aspect.

Maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction is the key goal of most companies, and managing customer satisfaction represents a major challenge. One approach for meeting this challenge is communicating to customers through a code of conduct and a formal procedure for handling complaints.

ISO 10000 series of standards supporting customer satisfaction

For the purpose of giving guidelines for managing customer satisfaction, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has published a few standards related to customer satisfaction under the ISO 10000 series. This series contains a number of standards that are complementary to and support the ISO 9000 family of standards for quality management. These standards are intended to be used solely as a guidance document, not as certifiable standards. The guidance from the following two standards will be used for this article:

  • ISO 10001:2007 Quality Management – Customer Satisfaction – Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Organizations
  • ISO 10002:2004 Quality Management – Customer Satisfaction – Guidelines for Complaints Handling in Organizations

Code of conduct for customer satisfaction

Defining a code of conduct represents a preventive measure in ensuring customer satisfaction, and is an essential element of the framework for effective managing of customer satisfaction. A customer satisfaction code of conduct represents a set of promises made to your customers concerning the behavior of your company and the parameters of products/service provision, all aimed at strengthening the satisfaction of the customers. The code of conduct should be customer-focused, but strong management commitment is essential. The code should be aligned with the existing company policies and procedures, and designed based on the available resources so it can be easily implemented and maintained. A code of conduct that is promoted, but is not functional, can only be counterproductive.

Elements that should be considered when designing a code of conduct:

  • Should be aligned with the existing policies, procedures and practices in the company (e.g., complaints handling procedure);
  • Ensure that the company can dedicate the required resources for effective and efficient implementation of the code (do not promise things that you know you can’t fulfill);
  • Define a clear scope (e.g., geographical coverage, variety or limitations for products/services etc.);
  • State the exemptions or exceptions (e.g., does not apply in the peak periods, does not apply if not under warranty);
  • Clearly define terms and avoid technical language and jargon;
  • Explain who the customer should contact, and how to do so, if they have questions or complaints – i.e., explain the complaints handling procedure to customers.

The relation between the procedure for handling complaints and the code of conduct can be seen on the flowchart below, where the general process for delivery of services and products is depicted.

Service product delivery process

As shown in the flowchart, the code of conduct has relevance for the entire delivery process, while the complaints procedure is strictly focused on dealing with the problems that occur during the delivery and are reported to the company.

Procedure for handling customers’ complaints

Another relevant aspect of managing customer satisfaction is the complaints handling procedure. The main purpose of this procedure should be to create a customer-focused environment that will allow for enhanced customer satisfaction. This procedure should be perceived as an ultimate opportunity to convert unsatisfied customers into satisfied customers. Additionally, customers should be encouraged to give any kind of feedback. The procedure should define the following aspects:

  • Clear definition of roles and responsibility for handling complaints;
  • Take into consideration different channels for filing complaints and describe all acceptable and supported ways of filing a complaint (phone call, e-mail, online form, comment box, etc.). Depending on the organization and the industry, diverse channels can be perceived and used differently;
  • Detailed description of the steps for handling the complaint: recording the complaint, notifying customer that the complaint is received, assessing the complaint, dealing with and solving the related problems, making decisions and taking actions such as refund, exchange of product, etc., communicating the solution to the customer who complained and closing the complaint by recording the solution and the effect;
  • Explain how a problem can be escalated;
  • Define continuous review of the complaints and measure the effectiveness of the complaints handling procedure.

When designing the complaints handling procedure, have in mind that it should be customer-focused and it should allow effective handling of the complaints – including the way they are reported, who will gather them, how they will be treated and resolved and how this procedure will be connected to the code of conduct. A good complaint handling approach should motivate unsatisfied customers to complain so you can learn and improve from their complaint, but also for you to get a chance to turn them in a satisfied customer, rather than one who spreads negative rumors/stories about your company and service/product. The steps for filing complaints should be accessible to all clients, and all employees should be acquainted with their roles and responsibilities regarding handling customer complaints.

Managing customer satisfaction is a major challenge; however, having a suitable code of conduct and complaints handling procedure in place makes things significantly easier. Just make sure to design them to fit to your organization and your clients, to consolidate them and implement them consistently.

Enroll in this free online training: ISO 9001 Foundations Course to learn more about customer satisfaction.