Why complaints make the best learning opportunities

‘Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone,’ sang the American rock group, Blondie, back in 1978. Rather than unrequited love, the band might easily have been singing about the trials and tribulations of customer service – and, particularly, the emotional turmoil of trying to get through to the complaints department. Anyone who’s ever tried speaking to a vendor or supplier over phone or email knows the score: unlike sales, complaints don’t generate revenue, so it follows that companies invest minimal resources in staff and infrastructure. And so, the long, agonizing wait for a reply…

Though that’s not how it’s seen at the European Supply Chain department of Covestro Resins & Functional Materials,, where managing complaints is a fundamental element of our growth strategy. Rather than being handed off to specific members of staff, complaints are everybody’s responsibility within our supply chain and an integral part of our day-to-day jobs. We also have a dedicated complaints coordinator who oversees the handling process. Their instructions are simple: ‘turn those frowns upside down’! 

Complaints, and how we handle them…
For my colleagues and me, every complaint is both a learning opportunity and the chance to strengthen our relationships with our customers. Because it’s not just about resolving the issue in front of us; we want to know the specific series of events leading up to it, so we can learn and prevent the same thing from happening again. For every administrative complaint, we apply our ‘five-times-why’ approach to find the root cause of the issue and draw tangible conclusions from the investigation. This approach comes with a clear set of KPIs: we want to reduce the volume of complaints we receive by 10% each year.  

The only way to make this work, however, is if we treat each complaint with the same level of dedication and attention to detail. While other companies might leave minor, quickly resolved issues untracked, for us, no complaint is too small – every dented container, misunderstanding or delayed delivery makes it into our database for further investigation and analysis.  

Lean but not mean
For our furniture coatings teams, being super thorough in our customer interactions is especially important. The products we supply are part of a large and complex value chain. A lot can go wrong in making coating resins and creating an item of furniture for people to use in their homes and offices; we want to help ensure smooth cooperation throughout the supply chain. It ties in nicely with our Lean-inspired approach, through which, among other things, we aim to reduce lead times, improve productivity and minimize errors.  

None of us are perfect, and mistakes are a part of life as they say, but by listening to our customers and learning from them, we know we can offer them an even better product and an even better level of service. And we can promise them less time spent hanging on the telephone – which, as Blondie will assure you, is never a bad thing.  

Would you like to know more about our complaints handling procedures, and how they help us serve the furniture coatings market? Feel free to reach out to me! And stay tuned for our next blog.

Brigitte Jacobs, Marketing Manager Furniture

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