Complaints Handling

"MOAN, MOAN, MOAN…..”      COMPLAINTS HANDLING SESSION

We have a very strong relationship with a major manufacturing company who have approaching a hundred sites in the UK, Europe and now the USA manufacturing metal and glass containers.  The company wanted to improve their communication capability in a specific area and I was invited into one of their major manufacturing plants to run a short session on managing complaints from local residents on the rare occasions they arise.

Glass manufacturing is a very old industry and the history of creating glass can be traced back to 3500BC.  A modern glass manufacturing plant has state of the art technology allowing precision design and manufacture to exacting standards however most of the sites have been the scene of industry for many years.  The majority of the current manufacturing sites have been at the heart of local communities for generations and those communities have often grown up around the sites as a source of local employment with homes immediately adjacent to what is by any measure a heavy industry.

Glass manufacturing is a 24/7 operation and the furnaces are designed for continuous use.  In a highly competitive industry where margins are tight it is imperative to be as efficient as possible and that means keeping the plant working all the time. Sites are a hive of activity all day every day, and although uncommon, neighbours have been known to raise concerns about aspects of operations.

Relationships with local communities are very important and gone are the days when a workforce lived in the immediate locality of the plant and therefore had a good grasp of what went on in the production process.  Many current local residents have no connection with the site and being sensitive to managing those relationships the company wanted to equip out of hours staff with the skills and confidence to deal with issues raised by local residents should it be necessary.

"This was a session I had to build from scratch, but many of the skills of communication we use in other sessions are transferable so I set about creating something that would give the team what they needed."

The start point was to raise awareness of the importance of a positive approach to complaint management.  For any multi-site organisation a very real threat is that in this connected world relatively small groups or individuals can create a coordinated campaign that targets not a single site but many. The internet gives the capability for the dissatisfied or angry to talk directly to key individuals and make their cause highly visible to many many people.  This clearly makes managing issues raised by local residents an important piece of the reputational management jigsaw.

I worked with the group to identify and build a deeper understanding from their perspective of the cause of complaints – noise and dust were the main sources, along with a range of other ad hoc situations.  This led into an exploration of why people complained, not just the material fact of a complaint, but some of the underlying psychology around choosing to make a complaint or not complaining at all and how that made them feel. As a part of this we made efforts to see what the complainer sees and to understand their perspective.  In doing so we were able to build awareness of what approach and actions were needed to satisfy them.

We then discussed the processes that were in place to stop these situations arising.

The best sort of complaint is one that never arises, and the company had many measures in place to ensure that was the case.

Equipped with a greater understanding of a complainer’s perspective, what was needed to address their concerns and a certain knowledge of what they could do to address the particular issues we then did some lively role plays around what were considered realistic complaint scenarios.  Those involved rather enjoyed the opportunity to be literally, “on the other side of the fence!”

The feedback from this practice was very revealing in the impact upon both the complainant and the person dealing with the issue.  With clarity on process, a greater degree of empowerment, and an understanding of how to address concerns those handling complaints felt much more positive about dealing with challenging situations.  The participants recognised that the handling strategies around tone and words, and most importantly action, worked well. From a complainant's point of view, as the strategies were applied they felt satisfied they were being listened to, that something was being done and far less minded to continue to complain.


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