Every organization should make efforts to collect inputs to the corrective action process from external sources and from internal sources. In terms of external sources, how do you interface with your customers to collect information and customer feedback? Do you make it easy for them?
Surprisingly, sometimes it is not easy to figure out how to contact a business or organization in order to ask questions or to complain. They might make it clear how to place an order, but if you want to contact them for some other reason it can take some time and effort to figure out how — if you find out at all.
Companies who want to get better (improve their products, improve their processes, improve customer satisfaction) should understand the importance of customer feedback and look for ways to encourage and capture what customers and prospects say. All customer feedback is important, including complaints. So yes, we want to encourage people to complain, as well as encourage positive and neutral feedback.
The most effective way to encourage feedback is to make it easy for people to provide it. As an increasing amount of sales, marketing, and customer interaction takes place on the Internet, it is a logical place to focus your efforts.
On the Bizmanualz website, we give visitors several methods to contact us. We prominently give our business phone number and mailing address for anyone who wants to call or send something via mail. We also give a fax number. Another option is visitors can complete an online feedback form and submit it.
To submit an online feedback form, they select a category (i.e., procedure manuals, training) for their comment, question, or complaint. Then they complete and submit a feedback form. We don’t require much information, just a first name and an email address (so we can reply). Of course, we give them the option to give us complete information (name, address, phone number, etc.), but it is not required to submit the feedback form. Forcing people to provide a lot of information discourages feedback. We want to encourage it.
Once a customer feedback form is submitted, someone from our sales or customer service staff responds to it as soon as possible. They also review it to make sure the right category is selected and that other information is clear and correct. Then, we have our own internal flags and notes we add to the online comment as it is added to a database. This allows us to sort comments and feedback along several categories and subjects. Now the information can become more meaningful as we look for trends, topic patterns, themes, or a possible nonconformance that may lead to corrective action..
Obviously, all complaints are an input to the corrective action process (even if it is eventually determined that corrective action isn’t required ?? but more on that next week). Analyzing feedback for trends, patterns, and nonconformance can also provide input to corrective action, even if no one made a direct complaint. The old cliche “information is power?” has a strong truth. Collecting and processing information about what prospects and customers think, want, and need gives us the power to make informed decisions, including problems that need to be fixed. In an ISO 9001 QMS, for example, feedback should be reviewed to determine if a nonconformance (a requirement is not fulfilled) has occurred, or is occurring. Patterns can also show opportunities for possible preventive actions.
What makes this tool even more powerful is that we use it for all customer interactions. If someone chooses to call on the phone instead of completing an online form, then the customer service or sales person who assists them completes an electronic comment form that goes into the same database. Likewise, if a sales representative meets with a customer, he or she completes an electronic comment form that goes into the database as well. So now, no matter where the customer feedback comes from, the information ends up in one place.
Consolidating customer feedback into one place helps make sure that it is all being considered when analyzing it. Important information isn’t stuck in a folder in someone’s desk drawer, and it doesn’t dissipate into the air when told to us on the phone.
Getting feedback from outside the organization is important, but how are suggestions for corrections and improvements garnered from inside the organization? Does it take a big stack of non-conforming product or a major catastrophe to spur correction? Just as organizations who want to improve should set up processes to capture external feedback, they should also set up processes to encourage and capture feedback from members inside the organization. This could include small improvements, problems with processes, and corrective actions and preventive actions (CAPA).
At Bizmanualz we use a Kaizen process. Kaizens are used to make improvements, correct problems, and to do CAPA. Any employee can complete and submit a Kaizen form if they recognize an improvement (no matter how small) or identify a problem that needs correcting. We also have a Kaizen idea log, where recognized problems or potential improvements are listed, but the methods or solutions are not yet known. This creates awareness among team members of the issue, spurring discussion and brainstorming from areas outside of where the problem exists — potentially leading to innovative solutions.
Completed Kaizens are discussed at our regular morning meetings, and then posted on the wall of our kitchenette. This communicates the improvements and corrections so that everyone is aware of changes in methods or processes, plus it promotes an atmosphere or culture of improvement.
Actively looking for problems might seem like a strange way to do business. But if you are really interested in satisfying customers, finding good suppliers, and creating effective internal processes, it is the first step in achieving continual improvement. And that includes collecting information externally and internally. The sooner you can identify and correct problems the better your organization will be and the happier your customers are.
Employing expensive methods like focus groups and extensive surveys have their place, but it seems odd to invest in those if you are ignoring what you are told in your day-to- day interactions with your customers. How are you collecting information and data to spur your improvements and corrective actions?