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Keywords:

  • Benchmarking;
  • Complaint Management;
  • Continuous Improvement;
  • Gap Analysis;
  • Quality Management;
  • Role Of Top Management In Quality;
  • Voice Of The Customer

ABSTRACT

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. BACKGROUND ON COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT
  4. PROJECT OVERVIEW
  5. EFFECTIVENESS, INSIGHTS, AND IMPLICATIONS
  6. REFERENCES
  7. APPENDIX A
  8. APPENDIX B
  9. APPENDIX C
  10. Biography

This article describes a “conscientious consumerism” project that involves the student as the consumer to either commend or complain to a company about a recent product or service experience. This activity and presentation helps students develop an understanding of the commendation/complaint management process within organizations while adding realism with the student as the customer. Students initiate communication with an organization and maintain a timeline of all contacts, calls, e-mails, letters, and visits to the company as they work to resolve or report their issue. The project begins early in the semester and concludes with a final registered, certified letter to the company CEO where students summarize the class project and praise processes or recommend any needed changes. When the project is presented, students learn how organizations manage and process customer feedback and complaints. Students have insightful comparisons of the implementation and execution of such processes within organizations. The project contributes to student learning and understanding of numerous key objectives of quality management including: how quality is managed in organizations, the strategic focus customer feedback can play in organizations, process management, voice of the customer, and benchmarking best compliment/complaint management practices.


BACKGROUND ON COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. BACKGROUND ON COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT
  4. PROJECT OVERVIEW
  5. EFFECTIVENESS, INSIGHTS, AND IMPLICATIONS
  6. REFERENCES
  7. APPENDIX A
  8. APPENDIX B
  9. APPENDIX C
  10. Biography

Even with a goal of zero defects, companies make mistakes in producing goods. Services create more opportunities for failure, given the amount and variability of the human element within the delivery process. When problems occur, Zairi (2000) asserts complaint management is essential for achieving customer retention and loyalty. His research recommends developing a corporate culture that is open to handling complaints. Hansen, Wilke, and Zaichkowsky (2009) found retailers who attribute significant, negative consequences to consumer dissatisfaction are more likely to develop a positive strategic view of customer complaining. Stauss and Schoeler (2004) agree complaint handling impacts customer retention and recommend complaint information be used to make quality improvements. Few companies calculate the profitability of their complaint management and regard it only as a cost center, yet their study found calculations are possible and should be based on the customer's repurchase intent.

De Matos, Vieira, and Veiga (2012) studied failure recovery and found the perceived severity, attitudes toward complaining, and switching costs were associated with customer satisfaction, intention to complain, and negative future word-of-mouth. Similarly, Ogungbure (2012), in a study of service recovery in Internet retailing, found customer's expectations, satisfaction, and intent to remain were important and they recommend mechanisms be employed to improve customer satisfaction, minimize negative word-of-mouth, and improve profitability.

Managing complaints can be seen as part of an organization's continuous improvement activity (Coy & Adams, 2012). Much of the existing literature on complaint management stresses the importance of the process for quality improvement but there is a dearth of literature on how to specifically manage the process. As a teaching example, Finch and Salzarulo (2011) directed students to develop a process for collecting and analyzing quality data after considering a customer complaint letter and perspectives of a service manager and CEO. Yet the process of complaint management and the role of the consumer in the process of reporting product and service quality issues are not well defined. Organizations need voice-of-the-customer comments to improve their offerings and because business students are also consumers, this is an important area to add to entry-level quality management classes.

Dissatisfied customers may never complain, but Cunliffe and Johnston (2008) found customers who complained directly to the CEO, rather than using normal channels, were motivated by multiple underlying service failures. Cebrzynski (2007) studied the CEO of a restaurant chain who used ads to personally solicit customer feedback and complaints and saw increased sales. Johnston and Mehra (2002) found the speed of complaint resolution, human touch, and CEO involvement to be best practices.

At the other feedback extreme, Kraft and Martin (2001) agree compliments are an under-researched form of customer feedback and recommend firms encourage and capture them. Payne, Parry, Huff, Offo, and Hunt (2002) found compliments were most frequently due to seeking a positive response from the seller, great satisfaction, or the pleasure of giving flattery. Regardless of complaint or compliment, customer relationship management practices assert the importance of customer engagement and collaboration, and if addressed appropriately and timely, the knowledge can support customer retention (Greenberg, 2009).

PROJECT OVERVIEW

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. BACKGROUND ON COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT
  4. PROJECT OVERVIEW
  5. EFFECTIVENESS, INSIGHTS, AND IMPLICATIONS
  6. REFERENCES
  7. APPENDIX A
  8. APPENDIX B
  9. APPENDIX C
  10. Biography

In this individual exercise, students documented and assessed the entire customer feedback process based on a personal product or service experience. Students were given instructions (as shown in Appendix A) within their syllabus and were asked to choose a quality success or quality problem they experienced during the semester and to initiate a contact with the organization. Students thus began a timeline after their first contact (either in person, by phone, fax, e-mail, comment card, or through the company's website) and recorded the time between responses. At the end of the iterative process, students wrote a final letter to the company CEO explaining the project along with their accolades and/or recommendations for changes in the customer commendation/complaint process. Students sent their letters via certified mail which included a return delivery receipt confirmation from the US Post Office.

The course, Quality Management Systems, is required for management majors in the undergraduate Bachelor of Business Administration Program and an elective course for other business majors. Course prerequisites are principles of management, operations management, and fundamentals of computer applications. The course examines the continuous improvement philosophy, quality tools, and lean Six Sigma.

Implementation

Students were reminded that service experiences have more variability than products and even the typical fast-food experience could be a suitable project as well as product failures or issues in order fulfillment. Students without a quality problem during the first part of the semester were reminded they could comment on a superior product or service instead. Students were also told they could use a household issue as the basis for their project.

The Presentation and Examples

Presentations of the Conscientious Consumerism project were scheduled for the last class of the semester. Students were allowed 5 minutes for their Power point presentation and given another 5 minutes for class questions and comments from the professor. The board was used to record examples and ratings on the speed and efficacy of the corporate response. Students were polled as to whether they thought the response was appropriate and if not, what changes should be made. Sample board notes often included issues on the promptness (recording the number of days or hours between responses), whether the solution to the problem placed more burdens on the customer such as additional correspondence, store visits, or the need to supply official bank documents or additional receipts, or whether the complaint was effectively noted and disseminated within the organization.

Students handed in their written reports along with copies of all correspondence. The reports summarized the entire complaint/compliment process and the student's satisfaction with the resolution, the quality of communications, and the student's future repurchase intentions. A rubric (see Appendix B) was used to score the project. This assignment was used in the author(s) small classes (with enrollment of 20 students or less) and may not be best suited to large classes.

Project topics varied widely with electronics a common theme—problems with laptops, faulty hard drives, network adaptors, car stereos, video game systems and portable DVD players along with appliances. Interestingly, most of the electronics manufacturing companies had a good online process for handling returns and replacing defective products. Fast-food and dinner-house dining was the focus of a number of service complaints and included problems with the order, food preparation, bills, or missing items. The examples that follow highlight the diversity of responses to problems.

A student's online order for a new smart phone arrived promptly, but was missing the vehicle charger. He completed the firm's online comment about the order and received an almost instant electronic communication. The following day he received a second e-mail from the firm apologizing for the missing portion of the order and noting the charger cord would arrive in 7–10 days. The charger arrived in 5 days and the student was extremely satisfied with the process.

A student's fast-food drive-through breakfast order was a biscuit and pepper gravy. When she opened her order, she had been given sausage gravy. She immediately called the restaurant. They apologized and asked for her mailing address. The store manager wrote to her and included two coupons for free hamburgers on her next visit. While this could be a plausible and acceptable recovery for a wrong order, but when the student presented her findings she shared her letter to the CEO where she mentioned her Indian heritage and vegetarian lifestyle. She recommended future “form” letters to customers include a coupon for a set dollar amount, $5 for example, rather than specifying a product. The class discussion that followed reminded students that companies should not create another complaint or more ill-will when trying to correct an initial problem.

In another example, a student drank the last serving from a gallon of a private labeled milk only to notice a contact lens stuck to her glass. Since no one in her family wore contacts, she knew it had been in the milk. She called the big-box retailer and they gave her the name of the supplier, a well-known regional dairy. She called the dairy and was given instructions for returning the container and the lens. Within 3 days, she received a personalized letter of apology from the company stating they were investigating their production process and would be in touch soon. The second letter arrived 11 days later and included three coupons for free gallons of their premium ice cream. The company apologized, explained that quality was their top priority, and discussed ways they were assessing their packaging and filling production lines to ensure similar problems did not arise for her or other valued customers in the future. They included three more coupons for their premium ice cream.

When the student wrote the summary letter, the CEO wrote back and invited the class to tour his manufacturing plant and to meet with him. He mentioned he was pleased the college class was studying quality and appreciated the student's letter. He emphasized the importance of quality and how it was indeed his top priority. The class discussion noted the fast timeline of the CEO's response and how the free ice cream coupons shifted the customer focus away from the problem with the milk. The letters from the company and later from the CEO who stressed the production process would be assessed, served to assuage the customer the problem was being taken care of and that future customers would not experience similar issues. While the problem was not a pleasant one, the company maintained their positive reputation and goodwill with this student and the class. Finally, the positive letter from the CEO stressing quality's importance was seen as the best response of that semester.

Customers will seldom complain about a wrong fast-food order or similar low-level/low severity failure. But after the project presentations and in-class discussions, students better understood their role as a conscientious consumer and their obligation to provide feedback to organizations. Such feedback, in the spirit of continuous quality improvement, can influence a product, service, or even the entire organization's longevity and success. Students previously not comfortable with providing complaints/compliments now had less fear of the process.

Most complaints are handled quickly and effectively in the initial contact with company customer service employees and would not necessitate the customer following through to the CEO. This step was part of the project to illustrate the range of possible actions by the customer. The instructor should remind the class, however, that this extreme step would depend on the nature and severity of a product or service failure. The instructor can have student rank the various projects from least to most severe and reflect on which quality issues would need the final letter to the company CEO.

At the end of the presentations, students commented that a quick apology to a problem was best but they did not like nor appreciate the generic, computer-generated responses, even though they often arrived instantaneously. CEOs who acknowledged a problem, offered an apology, and suggested steps they would take to prevent future problems were rated highest by the class. Spelling and grammar was noted as important in all correspondence to customers, particularly ensuring the customer's name and salutation was correct.

Compliments too often are not received by the CEO and are a good way to ensure practices and processes that are favorable are not changed. One student wrote his new dentist to compliment the helpful staff and customer service received on his initial visit, the ease of scheduling future visits, and the helpful e-mail appointment reminders. The dentist responded to his certified letter and noted his surprise in receiving the compliment as he typically only received complaints.

EFFECTIVENESS, INSIGHTS, AND IMPLICATIONS

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. BACKGROUND ON COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT
  4. PROJECT OVERVIEW
  5. EFFECTIVENESS, INSIGHTS, AND IMPLICATIONS
  6. REFERENCES
  7. APPENDIX A
  8. APPENDIX B
  9. APPENDIX C
  10. Biography

The project has been extremely well received and valued by students. Table 1 summarizes survey results of the effectiveness of the conscientious consumerism exercise from four recent undergraduate classes. Students completed a five-question Likert-type assessment of the project with an additional open-ended question about suggestions for improving the project.

Table 1. Survey results of four recent undergraduate quality management classes (N = 79)
Scale: Strongly Disagree (1); Neutral (3); Strongly Disagree (5)
QuestionMeanSD
The conscientious consumerism project improved my understanding of complaint handling management4.74.26
I prefer the conscientious consumerism project and presentation to a traditional reading/test assignment to understand the role of failure recovery and customer satisfaction.4.87.43
Because of the conscientious consumerism project I understand the value of the voice of the customer to an organization.4.65.38
I believe the exercise on conscientious consumerism will have value for me beyond this class.4.89.35
I feel the presentations of the conscientious consumerism project were a good use of class time.4.52.51

While assessing the commendation or complaint management process was the key project learning objective, developing a conscientious consumer is also a secondary objective. Additional learning is summarized in Appendix C. This assignment has been used effectively in accreditation assurance of learning assessment for oral and written communication skills. Student scores on the multiple-choice questions of the course comprehensive final exam covering textbook concepts of gathering and analyzing the voice of the customer, complaint management, service recovery, and measuring customer engagement (see Evans & Lindsay, 2014) have also improved since the project was implemented and the improvement has ranged from 11-16% to 18.5-24% during the four most recent semesters. Long-term results have been numerous, anecdotal comments from former students about the value of the conscientious consumerism project. Students report they have kept the CEO letters as a template and used the complaint/commendation process when they had quality issues or positive experiences. In the case of a complaint, following the steps from our class project, almost guaranteed a quick response and resolution.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. BACKGROUND ON COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT
  4. PROJECT OVERVIEW
  5. EFFECTIVENESS, INSIGHTS, AND IMPLICATIONS
  6. REFERENCES
  7. APPENDIX A
  8. APPENDIX B
  9. APPENDIX C
  10. Biography
  • Cebrzynski, G. (2007). Tumbleweed's sales spike after CEO vows to field complaints personally. Nation's Restaurant News, 41(15), 9, 4 & 6.
  • Coy, S., & Adams, J. (2012). Walking the talk: continuous improvement of a quality management field exercise. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 10, 223244.
  • Cunliffe, M., & Johnston, R. (2008). Complaint management and the role of the chief executive. Service Business, 2, 4763.
  • De Matos, C. A., Vieira, V. A., & Veiga, R. T. (2012). Behavioral responses to service encounter involving failure and recover: the influence of contextual factors. The Service Industries Journal, 32(13), 22032213.
  • Evans, J. R., & Lindsay, W. M. (2014). Managing for quality and performance excellence (9th ed.). New York: Cengage Learning.
  • Finch, B., & Salzarulo, P. (2011). Teaching brief: the customer complaint letter: a student exercise in Six Sigma. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 9(2), 307314.
  • Greenberg, P. (2009). CRM at the speed of light, fourth edition: social crm 2.0 strategies, tools, and techniques for engaging your customers. New York: McGraw-Hill Osborne Media.
  • Hansen, T., Wilke, R., & Zaichkowsky, J. L. (2009). How retailers handle complaint management. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, 22, 120.
  • Johnston, R., & Mehra, S. (2002). Best-practice complaint management. The Academy of Management Executive, 16(4), 145154.
  • Kraft, F. B., & Martin, C. L. (2001). Customer compliments as more than complementary feedback. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, 14, 113.
  • Ogungbure, A. T. (2012). Failure and recovery: an opportunity to reconnect and recommit to customers after service failure in the Internet-based service encounters. Journal of the American Academy of Business, 18(1), 2532.
  • Payne, C. R., Parry, B. L., Huff, S. C., Offo, S. D., & Hunt, H. K. (2002). Consumer complimenting behavior: exploration and elaboration. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, 15, 128147.
  • Stauss, B., & Schoeler, A. (2004). Complaint management profitability: what do complaint managers know? Managing Service Quality, 14(2/3), 147156.
  • Zairi, M. O. (2000). Managing Customer Dissatisfaction through effective complaint management systems. The TQM Magazine, 12(5), 331340.

APPENDIX A

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. BACKGROUND ON COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT
  4. PROJECT OVERVIEW
  5. EFFECTIVENESS, INSIGHTS, AND IMPLICATIONS
  6. REFERENCES
  7. APPENDIX A
  8. APPENDIX B
  9. APPENDIX C
  10. Biography

ASSIGNMENT INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE COURSE SYLLABUS

Evaluating a Firm's Response to Customer Feedback

Successful operations strategies must be based on the premise of consistent quality to consumers. Managers in manufacturing and service operations must continually monitor and use consumer feedback in their planning and control processes. This information can help organizations better design operations to serve the consumer. As consumers, we have an obligation to voice concerns (and praise) to the companies we patronize. If we do not, firms will lack feedback on how to maintain or improve their products, services, or procedures.

How many times have you used a product only to find that it did not meet your original expectations? Perhaps it was falsely advertised, misrepresented, or failed to perform due to design or workmanship problems. Have you visited a restaurant only to get poor service, poor quality food, or even the wrong order? Have you been through a drive-through window only to get home and find something was missing? Have you had a bad experience in a department store or other retail establishment? Or have you used a great product that deserves praise?

Now is your chance (or your motivation) to respond. Let a company know about a good or bad product or service. Your individual assignment is to initiate the feedback process, create a timeline to track and document communications, and finally write a letter to the CEO at the end of the project. Save a copy of all correspondence and transcribe phone conversations to present to the class along with a brief (5 minute) presentation about your product or service praise or compliant and how it was handled by the company. Hopefully, if the company cares about their customers, you will receive a response from your letter. Be sure to make a copy for the class.

You should begin this project early enough in the semester (typically by mid-term) to allow time for a response. If you do not receive one before this assignment is due, please call the company directly and record your verbal conversations.

For your oral presentation, discuss your praise/problem, your initial actions, and follow-up actions or solutions. Bring copies of all correspondence, a record of calls, and a summary of any phone conversations to class to hand in along with a timeline of the events. Discuss how the situation was handled by the company and discuss their strengths and weaknesses in responding to you. Finally, write a letter to the company. Tell them while you did experience a good or bad product or service that you responded in large part because this was an assignment in your Quality Management Systems class. Close the letter by sharing your specific suggestions and ideas for improving the way they handle customer complaints or praising them for the steps in the process that demonstrate concern for the customer. The CEO letter should be sent by registered, certified mail (Save your receipts and the returned, signed card from the post office).

The grading rubric for this project is attached for your review. This project represents 10% of your individual course grade.

APPENDIX B

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. BACKGROUND ON COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT
  4. PROJECT OVERVIEW
  5. EFFECTIVENESS, INSIGHTS, AND IMPLICATIONS
  6. REFERENCES
  7. APPENDIX A
  8. APPENDIX B
  9. APPENDIX C
  10. Biography

CONSCIENTIOUS CONSUMERISM PROJECT AND PRESENTATION FOR QUALITY MANAGEMENT

Student ID: ____________________________Date: __________________________________Grade: _____________________________

Suitability of Scenario: ____ Appropriate or _____ Not Appropriate

Scenario (check one): ____ Complaint or _____ Compliment Focus: (check one) _____Product or _____Service

  1. Other Comments: ___________________________________________

Assessment CriteriaYes(5 Points)No(0 Points)
Compliment or Complaint initiated? (Circle) company visit, phone, fax, e-mail, company website, comment card, letter or other _____________________________________________.  
Project started early enough to allow time for company responses and timely student follow-up was conducted to allow time for CEO responses?  
Included copies of all correspondence and letters for presentation to the class (including final letter to the CEO?  
Timeline of events was present?  
Final letter sent certified mail? Postal receipts and delivery confirmation (signature card) included?  
Final letter to CEO outlined processes that were effective and praised them or identified area for change and suggested improvements?  
Critique or Comments followed suggestions from our text on “focusing on customers and management of customer feedback and service recovery)? Analyzed process, alternatives, and consequences?  
Commendations or improvement suggestions were valid, realistic, and could be maintained or implemented by the organization?  
Oral Presentation—appropriate length (5 minutes or less)?  
Oral Presentation—appropriate content?  
Oral Presentation—addressed key points of the project?  
Oral Presentation—appropriate mannerisms, style, and effectiveness?  
Oral Presentation—quality of student's visuals (slides and handouts)?  
Oral Presentation—handling of audience questions?  
Paper—written communication style—clearly communicated findings and recommendations?  
Paper—organization and structure?  
Paper—grammar, punctuation and spelling?  
Paper—addressed all sections of the project?  
Paper—closed with summary of the resolution, their satisfaction and repurchase intentions.  
Paper—clearly identified best practices of the organization (that could be benchmarked by others) and offered suggestions and recommendations for areas that needed improvement  
Total (100 points possible)  

APPENDIX C

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. BACKGROUND ON COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT
  4. PROJECT OVERVIEW
  5. EFFECTIVENESS, INSIGHTS, AND IMPLICATIONS
  6. REFERENCES
  7. APPENDIX A
  8. APPENDIX B
  9. APPENDIX C
  10. Biography

ADDITIONAL LEARNING FROM THE CONSCIENTIOUS CONSUMERISM PROJECT

  1. Company Internet Research: students must locate the company's webpage and investor relations information to find the name of the current CEO (often in the annual report or other SEC filings) and the corporate headquarters address.
  2. Written Communication: students must compose a formal business letter—reinforcing business communications skills. This can be used as an accreditation assurance of learning assessment.
  3. Service Delivery: students identify the importance of standardized service delivery and stress prevention to reduce errors in product manufacturing. Positive encounters can document superior processes.
  4. Employee Empowerment: empowering employees and front-line staff to have the authority to quickly correct quality issues before they escalate is reinforced.
  5. Benchmarking: best performance of responding to complaints and compliments and learning from mistakes (from the timelines and responses presented).
  6. Project Management: students can assess the length of time to receive responses along the compliment/complaint management value chain. Completing the project steps reinforces their own skills in project management.
  7. Business Process Reengineering: by suggesting ways organizations can streamline or improve, students identify supportive and positive compliment/complaint management approaches.
  8. Knowledge Management: students suggest ways customer information could be captured and the knowledge used by various units in the company for product/service enhancements.
  9. Reverse Logistics Flow: the return process for sending defective or unwanted products back to the organization can be assessed (including the number of steps and time between each) and presented as a visual chart.
  10. Websites and Online Systems for Customer Comments: when searching for CEO and corporate information as well as searching for web-site comment forms; students can also critique websites for ease of use, layout, and use of automated response systems.
  11. Consumerism, Consumer Behavior, Customer Relationship Management, and Marketing: the project stimulates and engages students and makes the quality topic come alive as there is relevance to their role as a consumer within organizations. Best practices can be linked to marketing messages.
  12. Oral Presentation Skills: the course is typically taken in a student's junior year before they complete major and/or program capstone courses, thus the project reinforces and refines oral presentations skills.
  13. Chain of Command and Organizational Structure: the project can identify steps and extra layers of communication flow that distort or impede the flow of customer information. Students can think critically to improve communication channels.

Biography

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. BACKGROUND ON COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT
  4. PROJECT OVERVIEW
  5. EFFECTIVENESS, INSIGHTS, AND IMPLICATIONS
  6. REFERENCES
  7. APPENDIX A
  8. APPENDIX B
  9. APPENDIX C
  10. Biography
  • Marilyn M. Helms is the Sesquicentennial Endowed Chair and professor of management in the School of Business at Dalton (GA) State College. She teaches principles of operations management, quality management systems, and strategic management. Dr. Helms is a member of the APICS Basics of Supply Chain Certification Exam committee and works with practitioners and consultants to oversee the exam content, study materials, and testing process. She has published numerous journal articles in periodicals including the International Journal of Business and Management Research; Thunderbird International Business Review; International Journal of Management; Journal of Small Business Strategy; Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship; Competitiveness Review; Journal of Business Strategy; Journal of Small Business Strategy; Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship; Journal of International Business & Entrepreneurship; Quality Progress; Journal of Education for Business; and the Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies. Her current research interests include quality, customer service, supply chain management, and reverse logistics for recycling.