Complaints and communication

Complaints and communication

The customer is always right. Popularly attributed to Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field in the early 1900s, the idea of the customer always being right still persists in business to this day. At the time of its inception it was seen as the driving force behind the rising popularity of the department store.

Nevertheless it did have its critics who argued that there are always going to be circumstances in which the customer patently is in the wrong. Those critics may not have understood the reasoning behind the slogan, which was less about acknowledging right and wrong and more about the way in which customers were treated. In other words, businesses looked to make customers feel special and cared for by putting those customers first, by listening to them and trying to understand the reason behind their query or complaint.

That idea of recognising the importance of treating customers appropriately falls within the duties of a director as set out in the Companies Act 2006; most particularly as part of the duty to promote the success of the company. Here, promoting success falls within two sections. Firstly directors should act with regard to the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others. And secondly they should ensure that the company maintains a reputation for high standards of business conduct.

The rise of social media has given particular importance to this last requirement. No organisation wants unhappy customers to spread their dissatisfaction across the social media sphere. Having said that, it has to be acknowledged that there are times in which companies receive vexatious complaints. The way in which these are dealt with can speak volumes about the organisation and its culture.

Here again, when dealing with vexatious or inappropriate complaints, having good communication and listening skills can help to defuse the situation, or at the very least prevent it from escalating. Having a good complaints process which is well understood by all employees can also help to ensure that individuals are aware of the part they have to play and can respond appropriately. Those looking for some guidance in this area may wish to take a look at the unreasonable complaints and communications policy which has been released by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC).

Acknowledging that the FRC should ‘allocate its resource to addressing complaints and enquiries which are genuine and pursued reasonably’, the policy goes on to highlight examples of unreasonable and inappropriate conduct before setting out a number of avenues which the FRC may then follow. These include notifying and implementing a tailored communications approach, redirecting all correspondence to a nominated individual, and taking further action in order to mitigate the actual or potential harm caused by a complainant’s unreasonable behaviour.


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