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Customer Focus and Customer Complaint Management

Development – To define detail, scope and purpose.

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Training participants will gain a basic understanding of Customer Focus and Customer Complaint Management and its applications within food safety and quality systems. Basic knowledge competency will be verified through successful completion of the accompanying Customer Focus assessment activity. Basic skill competency can be verified through the Customer Focus and Customer Complaint Management competency checklist available as a resource for this training activity.

Key Definitions For Customer Focus and Customer Complaint Management
- Complainant: A complainant is someone who has lodged a complaint.
- Customer Complaint: Notification of displeasure or disappointment regarding a product or service received.
- Customer Focus: Customer focus is a term used to describe the structured systems through which a food business reviews, trends and analyses customer expectations and requirements. This may also include customer contact and communication requirements.
- Key Performance Indicator or KPI: A quantitative or qualitative measure that enables the overall delivery of a service to be assessed against the goals or targets set by an entity in their strategic plan. Also known as a KRA or Key Result Area.


Customer Focus and Customer Complaint Management Development
When considering the development, documentation and implementation of Customer Focus and Customer Complaint Management within food safety and quality management systems, the following information should be considered to ensure effective outcomes:

About Customer Focus and Customer Complaint Management
Without customers, food businesses do not survive! It is important that food businesses understand the sometimes rapidly changing and evolving requirements of customers, and anticipate customer requirements before they change. This process is aimed at meeting customer requirements through a strategic approach to identifying and managing customer needs.

The benefits of customer focus include:
- Developing and maintaining an understanding of customer needs;
- Meeting customer requirements;
- Exceeding customer expectations;
- Ensuring Food Safety, Food Quality and Ethical Sourcing requirements are maintained in accordance with customer specifications;
- Ability to obtain increased revenue and market share through efficient and flexible responses to market opportunities;
- Effective use of the business' resources including plant, equipment, staff and processes to enhance customer satisfaction;
- Ongoing business through continued customer loyalty.

It is important that the Senior Management of any food business play a leading role within the management and review of the Customer Focus and Customer Complaints processes. This will ensure general awareness of product or service issues as they occur, rather than after a significant incident has occurred.

Customer Focus and Customer Complaint Management review activities must be scheduled, conducted and recorded as elements of established Verification Activities within any food business.

Customer Focus Activities
Customer focus activities are important to provide verification regarding the related processes. These activities can be divided into two areas; Proactive Customer Focus and Reactive Customer Focus:

Proactive Customer Focus
Proactive Customer focus generally involves a communicative process to ensure systems and procedures are developed, implemented and maintained to provide a strong foundation on which customer requirements can be met, and customer expectation can be exceeded. Proactive Customer Focus provides a strong foundation upon which mutually beneficial customer relationships can be built and maintained.

Proactive Customer Focus may include:
- Regular communication with customers regarding their opinion of products or services being received;
- Reviews of product specifications, contracts, and other relevant documentation to ensure the customer is receiving an appropriately costed, quality product and / or
service;
- Systematically managing customer relationships;
- Ensuring all staff and contractors are aware of customer needs and expectations;
- Researching and understanding the needs and requirements of customers;
- The development, implementation and management of objectives that are linked to those of the customer;
- Acting upon identified opportunities for improvement;
- Facilitating a balanced approach to managing relationships with current and prospective customers.

Reactive Customer Focus
Reactive Customer Focus includes procedures and mechanisms through which customer incidents, concerns or complaints are received, investigated and rectified within appropriate timeframes, and with the required sufficiency. Corrective and preventative actions are important elements of this process, as they can be used to ensure similar incidents, concerns or complaints do not occur again.

Customer Focus is obviously better managed and maintained by proactive measures, but reactive measures must be readily available for the management of any customer issues if and when they arise.

Reactive Customer Focus may include:
- Documenting responses and investigations regarding customer incidents, concerns or complaints, and ensuring related protocols are followed whenever a customer issue arises;
- Using corrective actions as a stimulus to improve business systems, so that similar customer issues do not occur again;
- Implementing appropriate preventative actions after a customer issue has occurred, to ensure that similar customer issues do not occur again.

Customer Requirements
Customer requirements are the aspects that the customer or consumer wants from product or service from any particular business. Once the basic and expected elements of customer requirements have been met, desired and unanticipated elements can be addressed to produce increased customer confidence and loyalty.

A common method of understanding what elements of your Customer Focus and Customer Complaints Management systems require the most attention is to find out from your customer what exactly is important to them. This may be done by presenting a survey to your customer, including questions such as the following:


- How well do we deliver what we promise?
- How often do we do things right the first time?
- How often do we do things right on time?
- How quickly do we respond to your request?
- How accessible are we when you need to contact us?
- How helpful and polite are we?
- How well do we speak your language?
- How well do we listen to you?
- How hard do you think we work at keeping you a satisfied customer?
- How much confidence do you have in our products or services?
- How well do we understand and try to meet your special request?
- Overall, how would you rate the appearance of our facilities, products, communications, and people?
- Can you list any specific instances where we have fallen down?
- Overall, how would you rate the quality of our service?
- What could we do to improve our service to you?
- Overall, how would you rate the quality of service provided by our competitor?
- How willing would you be to recommend us?
- How willing would you be to buy from us again?
- Are we doing or not doing anything that bugs you?
- What do you like best about what we do?
- What parts of our service are most important for you?
- What parts of our service are least important to you?

Once you have received feedback from your customers, you can define which customer requirements can be categorised as following, which are presented in the logical sequential order from the elements that need to be addressed first:

Basic Expectations
Basic elements are those that are critical to providing value to the customer. These could be either the product itself, or the way in which a service provider acts towards the customer. It is important for both examples to ensure that a proactive approach to customer focus is implemented, as there is no point trying to sell the product or service to the customer without these basic elements

Expected Expectations
Expected elements of the product or service are what the customer has come to expect from the supplier. These are usually pre-conceived expectations, based on best practice, legislative and industry compliance. Expected elements include the customer’s expectation that the sales and marketing team of a food business has high levels of product and process knowledge. Customers also expect that food is of substantial quality and safe until its designated use by date.

Desired Expectations
Desired elements of customer expectations are those that the customer does not expect, but value highly and genuinely appreciates when they are present. These may include promotional or permanent size increases for a product, or a complimentary addition to a service provided. Desired elements are an important resource in maintaining customer confidence and loyalty to brands of products and services. Desired elements add value for the customer, and also promote added value for the supplier through return custom.

Unanticipated Expectations
Unanticipated elements are often grouped closely with the desired elements, but are generally separated when the expectations of the customer has been overwhelmed. This may include circumstances in which the customer is given products and / or services which are far beyond what they had anticipated. It may be an unexpected offer from the supplier to assist with transport costs, or the initial offer from the supplier to tailor a product and / or service to the customer's specific requirements.

It is important to consider that desired and unanticipated elements can become expected elements within long term supplier and customer relationships. This is not always a negative situation, as long term customer interactions are beneficial to both suppliers and customers alike.

Customer Complaint Management
When your business receives a customer complaint, it is important to record the complaint details and conduct an investigation prior to responding to the complaint. This enables your business to identify potentially unsafe products and correct non-conformance issues or opportunities for improvement within in your food safety management systems.

There are three main components to the Customer Complaint Management process:
- Recording of the initial complaint information;
- Investigating the complaint and recording the findings;
- Taking action based on the investigation findings.

Recording of the Initial Complaint Information
Complaints should be recorded by a designated individual or individuals, and should include details such as:
- Name, address, email address and telephone number of the complainant;
- What is the problem with the product, for example, chemical taste, allergic reaction, illness, foreign object;
- Product details including: product name; package type; product size; product identification coding;
- Details of whether the complainant has a sample of the product.

Retail details including:
- Name and address of where the product was purchased;
- Date of purchase;
- Details of storage and handling after purchase.

Illness and Injury details including:
- Details of the consumption date and time;
- Details of whether the food been consumed before by the customer;
- Number of persons consuming the product;
- Number of people ill or injured;
- Names and ages of the people ill or injured;
- Amount of product consumed;
- Time the people became ill or injured;
- Symptoms of illness or injury in order of occurrence;
- If a physician has been consulted, the Physician’s: Name; Contact details and Date of consultation;
- Current status of illness or injury;
- Details of whether the issue had been referred to anyone else.

Customer complaints may be received by-proxy through a member of staff, from a completed customer feedback form or through general mail directed to management. Complaints transposed directly to a member of staff should be actioned immediately; taking into account the content and authentic nature of any comments received. It is crucial to remember that the reputation of yourself and your business may be at stake after a complaint, so it is in the best interests of all involved to rectify the problem with propriety. Complainants should be encouraged to substantiate a serious complaint in a written form. Such objective evidence would form the basis of any investigation required to address the issue of concern. Complaint subjects may be specified regarding the associated responsibilities of management staff.

Key team members with responsibility for the Customer Complaints process should liaise closely with other key team members regarding any complaints, addressing corrective actions, and providing appropriate and timely responses to the complainant. Details should be documented, archived and regularly reviewed as part of standard procedures.

Investigating and Managing Complaints
Should a food borne illness outbreak occur in relation to a particular food business, the impact on the business and the alleged ill or injured can be substantial. The following section suggests a scenario and procedures to follow if a suspected food borne illness outbreak is alleged against your business:

A customer contacts your food business to inform you that they or someone that they know have become ill as a result of consuming your product.

You can follow the following steps which are displayed in logical sequence in handling the matter appropriately.  It is essential to remain objective regarding the submission throughout the investigation until a conclusion is reached.

1. Regard the matter as very serious: At this point no one has been proven guilty, and due process requires a diplomatic approach. Your business may wish to propose to the complainant or those allegedly affected some form of compensation, though this action should not be pursued until the findings of the investigation are absolute and legal advice has been sought;
2. Remain calm and courteous with the complainant at all times and do not try to offer explanation until an investigation has been undertaken;
3. Record the following details from the complainant as appropriate, keeping in mind that all interactions with the complainant must remain confidential:
- Name, address, email address and telephone number of the complainant;
- What is the problem with the product, for example, chemical taste, allergic reaction, illness, foreign object;
- Product details including: product name; package type; product size; product identification coding;
- Details of whether the complainant has a sample of the product;
- Name and address of where the product was purchased;
- Date of purchase;
- Details of storage and handling after purchase;
- Details of the consumption date and time;
- Details of whether the food been consumed before by the customer;
- Number of persons consuming the product;
- Number of people ill or injured;
- Names and ages of the people ill or injured;
- Amount of product consumed;
- Time the people became ill or injured;
- Symptoms of illness or injury in order of occurrence;
- If a physician has been consulted, the Physician’s Name, Contact details and Date of consultation;
- Current status of illness or injury;
- Details of whether the issue had been referred to anyone else.

The information needs to be promptly evaluated and a decision made on the likelihood that a product related outbreak has occurred. There are no clear-cut guidelines. The best practice is to consider that a foodborne disease outbreak may have occurred when two or more persons experience a similar food-borne illness after consuming a common foodstuff.

Customer Complaint Investigation, Results Notification and Resolution
The complaint should be investigated immediately by a suitably qualified person from your business, or by an approved external specialist. The investigation should answer the following questions:
- How did the problem occur?
- Did the problem occur in your manufacturing plant or was it caused by a raw ingredient or package received from a supplier?
- Could the problem affect other products?

All products that may have been implicated by the problem should be immediately risk assessed and investigated.

Record in your customer complaint file:
- The name of the person at your firm who investigated the complaint;
- Date and time of the investigation;
- Investigation findings;
- Other products that may be affected by the problem;
- Corrective Action taken;
- Preventative action taken or proposed actions to be implemented.

Where Customer Complaints involve allegations such as foreign objects, samples of such objects may be provided by the complainant. During the investigative process, it is in the best interests of the food business involved to:
- Test the foreign object to confirm its composition, which can then provide information regarding the source of the material;
- Assess the size of the foreign object against the size of physical contaminant control, such as screens, filters or metal detectors within the process. This may provide useful information regarding the genuine nature of the complaint, or may also provide a stimulus for considering deliberate product contamination. Where an identified foreign object is extremely unlikely to have originated from raw materials or through processing, consideration should always be given to the potential for deliberate product contamination of a false complaint.

After giving the matter proper consideration, if key team members have reason to believe that a food borne illness incident has occurred, the following contacts should be facilitated within an appropriate timeframe:
- Key Customers: Contact key customers who on-sell the items manufactured by your food business;
- Legal Representative: Advise your legal representative of the situation and the action taken. Although your attorney will most likely recommend that you cooperate fully with the health department, he or she may want to be included in the investigation to ensure that the rights of all concerned are properly respected;
- Insurance Agent: Depending on the nature and the extent of the outbreak, your insurance company may become involved. It is advisable to inform your agent at the beginning of an official investigation.

Once the investigation has gathered as much information as possible from all relevant sources:
- Contact the senior management of the business and all relevant personnel. These contacts should be made aware that the person handling the complainant has gathered all of the relevant information. If it is ascertained that more information is required from the complainant or other sources, additional details must be collated and recorded as soon as possible. The responsibility is now placed on the food business to determine whether or not any of the alleged suspect food remains at the business premises. If any such foods are located, they must be hygienically segregated, secured and identified so as not to potentially cause further food borne illness;
- When you have all of the investigation findings, a decision of notification to relevant authorities should be made. This process may include contacting the local heath authority to ensure that the corrective and preventative actions applied are appropriate considering the situation. It is important to consider that a multi-tiered contact structure may be required for regulatory bodies. Relevant food legislation must be followed to ensure appropriate notification of suspected or confirmed food borne illness incidents. Once this notification has occurred, it is often the responsibility of appropriate government departments to investigate the matter and assist with any related processes, which may include Product Recall and Product Withdrawal.

It is important to consider at this step that if your food business supplies foodstuffs manufactured to a customer’s specifications, you may be required to contact the customer prior to notifying the nominated regulatory body, particularly where private label branded products are involved. This is an important consideration as legal accountability for the regulatory compliance of any foodstuff often remains the liability of the brand owner, rather that the manufacturer.

A local health authority notification contact list should contain the following information:
- Name of the primary contact;
- Contact telephone number;
- Contact fax number;
- Contact email address;
- Contact postal address;
- Secondary contact details.

Outcomes of his notification process generally include details for:
- What to do with the affected product;
- How to correct the problem.

The following details should be recorded as an element of notifications:
- Who made the corrective and preventative action decision, including time and date;
- The details and dates of the corrective action taken with the affected product;
- The corrective action taken to fix the problem that caused the incident and any preventive actions taken to prevent reoccurrence.

If your food business supplies foodstuffs manufactured to a customer’s specifications, it is important to consider any specific Customer Focus and Customer Complaint Management Development requirements in relation to their items.


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