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In our recent webinar with our friends at ANAB, we learned about the importance of complaint management for ISO-accredited organizations and some best processes for documenting them. While this blog will serve as a recap of the webinar, it’s always best to watch the full webinar as well! Not only will you have access to the presentation, but you’ll be able to listen in on an informative Q&A session with quality managers and other compliance professionals just like you.

Before we get into the webinar content, let’s introduce the speaker:

Melanie Ross has over 20 years of experience in quality assurance, quality control, and quality management. She has worked in several different industries, including chemical, biological, oil and gas, and aerospace. Her main role in each of these industries was the development of management systems, including internal audit programs, vendor qualification procedures, and implementation of lean six sigma. Currently, Melanie is a Technical Products Developer for ANAB designing and delivering training courses and supporting client outreach through business development activities. Her role serves as a technical resource to customers, assessors, and other interested parties.

Understanding Complaint Management

Many ISO certification and accreditation standards contain requirements for management of complaints by an organization but, oftentimes, implementing a system can be a challenge. Regardless of the standards that govern your management system, complaint management is a requirement that has to be implemented. Oftentimes, though, complaints slip through the cracks or get corrected without being recorded. During this webinar, Melanie discusses the importance of receiving and processing complaints not only for customer satisfaction but as an opportunity for organizational improvement.

What is a complaint?

The official definition found in ISO 9000:2015, clause 3.9.3 is: “A complaint is the expression of dissatisfaction made to an organization, related to its product or service or the complaints-handling process itself, where a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected.” All of this is to say that a response or resolution to a complaint is expected! So, anytime an organization takes action based on negative feedback that is complaint management! Even if it’s not a formalized process in the organization.

Requirements for Complaint Management

These requirements come from a variety of different standards and they are unique to your organization. Two of the most common standards used by organizations are ISO 9001:2015 and ISO/IEC 1705:2017 and they both require complaint management.

In clause 10.2.1 of ISO 9001:2015, it states: “When a nonconformity occurs, including any arising from complaints, the organization shall…” and it goes on to identify six actions that the organization shall take.

ISO/IEC 17025:2017 is similar in its requirements for complaint management. In clause 7.9.1, it states “The laboratory shall have a documented process to receive, evaluate, and make decisions on complaints.” Additional clauses in 7.9 identify aspects of the complaint management process that are required. The key here is to identify that a complaint has been voiced by the customer whether through a formal complaint submission or otherwise.

Anytime a customer expresses dissatisfaction, the provider must document it, evaluate it, and take action!

Identifying a complaint

According to ISO 9000, clause 3.9.2, complaints are a common indicator of low customer satisfaction, but their absence does not necessarily imply high customer satisfaction. For example, some errors are corrected without anyone formally noting this. Here is a list of complaints that are usually recorded as a correction but not always as complaints:

  • Product or service quality;
  • Product or service availability;
  • Customers service issues;
  • Timing of delivery;
  • Shipping errors;
  • Reporting errors;
  • Accounting errors;
  • Level of service.

When complaints are listed as corrections, organizations miss an opportunity to improve systems and processes. When identifying complaints, look for a gap between what was promised (contract review) versus what was delivered (product or service). It could also be that there was a mismatch between customer expectations and the actual experience. This is an opportunity for an organization to evaluate its processes to determine if any improvements can be made.

Finding value in complaints

There is value in almost all complaints and expressions of dissatisfaction. Complaints often highlight a problem in the management system. You will want to focus on the processes that are the subject of the complaint. Make sure, however, that you avoid placing blame on personnel. If a customer is dissatisfied, a process or system has failed. Use the complaint to enhance the customer experience by determining the cause and correcting the action.

Using complaints for continuous improvement

One of the first things you should do is categorize the complaints. It’s helpful to note, for example, whether or not the complaint has occurred before. This can help identify trends in complaints. You may even realize that there are repeat customers/organizations making the complaints which can be helpful in customer relations and retention.

One key to using complaints for continual improvement is to develop a robust complaint handling process or procedure.

Strategies for complaint management

In clause 10.2.1 of the ISO 9001:2015 standard we see steps organizations can take when complaints occur. Organizations need to:

  • React when a nonconformance occurs;
  • Evaluate the need for action to eliminate the cause;
  • Implement any action needed;
  • Review the effectiveness of any corrective action taken;
  • Update risks and opportunities;
  • Make changes to the management system.

ISO 17025:2017 offers further guidance on strategies for complaint management in clause 7.9.3. When developing your complaint management process:

  • Describe the process for receiving, validating, investigating, and deciding necessary actions;
  • Track and record the complaints;
  • Ensure appropriate action is taken. This can be accomplished by establishing a complaint owner.

Melanie offered a few additional strategies for complaint management at the end of the webinar. She suggests that your team:

  • Listens and understands;
  • Apologizes;
  • Resolves the complaint;
  • Notifies the complainant of actions taken;
  • Verifies the effectiveness of actions;
  • Incorporates the complaint management process into day-to-day operations;
  • Ensures that personnel understand that complaint management is a good thing and leads to process improvements;
  • And realizes that complaints can often be turned into training opportunities.

Melanie left us with a list of available guidelines directly related to complaint management which can be accessed in the full webinar. She also dedicated time at the end to answer questions from professionals just like you! So don’t forget to check out the full webinar.

Many ISO certification and accreditation standards contain requirements for management of complaints by an organization. Yet regardless of the standard requirements, it is important for organizations to receive and duly process complaints, not only for customer satisfaction, but as opportunities for improvement to the overall management system. We hope this blog/webinar have been helpful in building your understanding of complaint management. If you have any questions or would like to see how an eQMS like Qualtrax can help streamline your organization’s operations, please contact us!

Categories: Audits, Compliance Management

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