Using complaint data for improvement

Using complaint data for improvement

Welcome to Food Bites, your weekly food safety fix!

What gets in the way of using complaint data for improvement?  Many organizations identify complaint reduction as a food safety or quality objective but very few successfully manage to establish a downward trend.

So, what gets in the way?

  1. Denial, otherwise known as “defence mode” which is aimed at disproving the validity of the complaint. This occurs in various departments in an organisation and from a consumer perspective, often starts in the call centre.  As soon as a complaint is lodged, a standard answer about all the control measures is given from a list of prepared responses to explain to the customer why it is impossible that the complaint is factory related.   Once the complaint moves to quality and operations staff, they further build on this analogy by finding ways to prove why it could not happen.  The reality is, it did happen and so, the mindset should rather be “How could it have happened?”  This mindset triggers an investigation with the focus of determining the cause as opposed to an investigation focussed on proving that the customer is wrong.
  2. Linked very closely to denial/defence mode, is blame.  This is where companies start to blame their suppliers for the issue.  Fact is, they are your suppliers and should be managed by you.  If a supplier cannot consistently supply according to the agreed specifications, you need to ask yourself whether they deserve to be your supplier.  And, if it is really essential to use them, the onus is on you to put effective control measures in place to eliminate any hazards and mitigate potential complaints.
  3. As part of the proof that companies use to explain why the complaint could not occur, the records from the batch in question are reviewed in an attempt to prove that everything happened “according to plan”. On paper, everything worked perfectly!  However, too often, the recorded information does not reflect actual practice.  Stop blindly trusting the paperwork and get into the factory!  Instead of studying production records, investigating staff should spend time in the receiving, blending, mixing and production areas, to see how things are actually done.

What does it cost a company NOT to find a solution to complaints? 

We know it is difficult to calculate the cost of actually losing a customer (over and above the devastating heartbreak) but there are other costs that can be quantified in monetary terms that clearly show the impact on the bottom line.  This includes costs of market returns (product and distribution costs there and back), rework and destruction of product, claims and the cost of replacement product to consumers.

It is time to look beyond denial, blame and paperwork, and focus on activities that can provide focused improvements.  If you want to reduce your customer complaints, get into the factory, observe what is going on around you and use tools like proper root cause analysis (see our blog from last week) and internal audits to get the complaint numbers down!

If you are keen to improve your current mock recall system, next week we share some useful tips on mock recall and traceability exercises.

Keep calm and keep reading Food Bites!