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Investigating Customer Complaint Allegations


Dealing with customer complaints is always part of any business.  The way a company handles customer complaints will greatly determine the number of loyal customers it has and the levels of customer satisfaction it achieves (Jennifer, 1998).  A business that effectively handles customer complaints can turn dissatisfied customers into active promoters of the business.  Studies suggest that for businesses to acquire and retain loyal customers they need to positively delight them (Jennifer, 1998).  This will require a company to develop strategies on how to deal with difficult customers. Dealing with a case like 'Café Nero' (where one the manager lost temper with a customer who had returned an almost empty cup and wanted a replacement because the coffee was too cold; the customer later launched a formal complaint) will require the business to properly investigate the matter so as to establish what transpired.

Also based on this case study; the organisation need to develop a strategy of handling the varying needs of their customers especially those who are overtly critical about the service levels. Analysis of this case study reveals the following problems within this organisation: ineffective customer management systems, procedures, practices and conduct of individuals. This paper develops criteria that can be employed by the organisation in investigating customer complaints to determine what real transpired.  This paper also develops a strategy that can be employed in managing customers especially those who are overtly critical of service levels.

Investigating customer complaint allegations

Organisations can often deal with customer complaints without launching formal investigation into the complaints (Craig and Craig, 2003).  Since these allegations by the customer touch a very vital component of any the organisation, that is; customer satisfaction, it will require the organisation to launch formal investigation into the issue to ensure that such a problem does not happen again. Another reason why there is need for further investigation is that; from the surface point view it is difficult to establish who was on the wrong- the customer returned an almost empty coffee cup and demanded for a replacement; the manager responded to the customer in a manner that irritated her. So this situation warrants further investigation to establish facts on what real transpired. But whatever the findings, the interests of the customer should be highly upheld. According to NSW Ombudsman (2001), the following criteria can be vital in investigating customer complaint allegations:

Assessment and planning - this will require an organisation to critically analyse the complaint to determine its nature, when and how it should be dealt with, whether further investigation is required. During this stage an organisation is required to take into consideration some of  the following issues: the seriousness of the complaint and the significance it has on the organisation; how immediate is the action required; whether the complaints indicates system problem; whether the complaint is inconsequential, frivolous or vexatious, availability of alternative  means of redress. According to Williams (1996), the seriousness of the problem is determined by relating the complaint to potential problems that are likely to rise as well as the already obvious problems. Based on this case study (Café Nero), this complaint appears to be serious and if not properly handled it is likely to ruin the reputation of the company and potential loss of loyal customers.

Also based on this case study, it appears that the issue is also associated with system problems because it is apparent that the organisation is lacking appropriate customer relation management systems (managers do not know the best way to relate to customers in enhancing high levels of satisfaction). Also based on the fact that this organisation is a beverage industry (very sensitive to customer satisfaction), allegations of customer complaints should be properly investigated since they bear great significance to an organisation. Evaluation of the complaint in this case study indicates that this complaint relates to procedures and practices and conduct of individuals. Also this complaint will call for internal investigation. To ensure that this investigation is a success, the organisation should invest more time in ensuring that it is well planned (New South Wales. Office of the Ombudsman, 2000).  

Information gathering- after carrying out assessment and planning; the next step involves gathering information. This will help the organisation in coming up with resolution options. It is vital that the complainant's expectations are effectively managed from the outset. According to William (1996), the satisfaction of the complainant after an investigation will greatly depend on how his or her expectations are managed. The person investigating the complaint should seek to ensure that the expectations of the complainant are achievable and reasonable. Also the person responsible for investigation should collect all facts from the manager who was directly responsible for the complaint. According to Terry (1997), dealing with a complainant entails considerable information gathering and analysis. The investigator should gather all the necessary parties (from the customer and manager on duty). This will be vital in establishing what transpired and to guide the process of decision making. According to (Alberta Government Services, 2001), these facts should be recorded from the worker's point of view and with his or her knowledge.  The complainant should also be thoroughly interviewed to collect all the facts by getting her side of story. NSW Ombudsman (2001) states that, the customer should not be asked lead question but direct-response question.

It also required that, during this process the investigator should not agree or disagree with the customer even if it is apparent that what the customer is saying is not true. Instead, the customer should be told that her complaint is seriously being looked into and that the organisation will contact her with as solution as soon as possible.  From this case study; the expectation of the customer (complainant) is for the organisation to recognise that there was a problem on their part and probably give a formal apology It is also required for the investigator to clarify various issues before planning investigation. For instance the investigator would want to know why the customer returned an almost empty coffee cup and then went to ask for a replacement on the basis that the coffee was cold.  Talking to the complainant will be indispensable in ensuring that all issues are put into consideration. NSW Ombudsman (2001) advises that during information gathering, an investigator should act in a fair, reasonable and objective manner and in good faith.  Also during the process of carrying out investigation, the investigator should not take the advantage that the complainant cannot argue some issues to his or her advantage. The main source of evidence for this investigation is oral evidence from the complainant and the manager on duty.

Making decision: the information gathered will help the organisation in the process of decision making and in formulating remedies after considering that the complainant's complaints are justified. This will require an investigator to critically compare the two accounts of the issue. In this case study, the complaints made by the customer hold some weight. The manager on duty lost temper when the customer returned an almost empty cup of coffee and demanded for a replacement because it was cold. The manger should have spoken to the customer in manner that will not stir emotions. It is the responsibility of the organisation to relate to all its customers in a positive manner if it is to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction. Therefore from this case study, it appears that there are system problems within the organisation. This organisation seems to lack appropriate systems of dealing with its customer (NSW Ombudsman, 2001).   

Therefore to maintain its reputation, the organisation should come up with remedies to address the complaints. These remedies should also focus in strengthening the internal processes that will ensure high levels of customer satisfaction (Williams, 1996). From this case study; some of the possible remedies that the organisation should consider include: apology to the customer; financial compensation (refund of the bill); an admission of fault and change procedure, practice or policy (Terry, 1997). For instance, the organisation should promptly send a formal apology to the customer regarding the behaviour of the manager who lost temper. Even if investigation indicates that the customer is wrong, an apology should be made on behalf of the company and the person who made the mistake. According Jennifer (1998), an apology should not be made too early as it will further irritate the customer; instead a substantial amount should be allowed for the customer to speak and explain his or hers side. This will also require the organisation to openly acknowledge that they made a mistake. They can consider refunding the bill that had been paid by the customer. Another remedy of great significance is to take appropriate actions that will ensure that the problem is not repeated again. The organisation should view this complaint as an opportunity to enhance high levels of consumer services. It is also very important that the remedies that an investigator comes up with should not contravene the established policies of the company.

Evaluation and follow up - according to NSW Ombudsman (2001), the last step of an investigation is evaluation.  The evaluation should be preferably handled by a person who is independent in an organisation. This will give the organisation a chance to assess the investigation and any make improvements in the investigation process recorded for future conjecture.  Terry (1997) argues that, an organisation should make a follow up by getting in touch with customer and tell her that the complaint she made was of significant to the company. This will make the customers not only feel that you value about their complaint but also you value them as your customers.

From this case study, the managers of this organisation need to find ways on how to effectively relate to all types of customer. For instance finding ways of dealing with customer who are overtly critical of service levels is very critical in avoiding such future complaints which can be very costly to an organisation.  According to Williams (1997); the following are important methods handling customers in manner that will ensure positive relations between the organisation and its customers:

Listening to the customer- when a customer presents a complaint; the person responsible should listen careful to establish the root cause of the problem. One should not get defensive when handling customer complaints.

Let the customers know you understand their problem: this can be done for instance by asking questions in a concerning and caring manner. This will enable one to get more information that will help in understanding the customer's perspective. Understanding an angry customer will be vital in diffusing the situation and providing room for a solution. The Manager of Café Nero should have responded to the customer in an understanding manner that does not provoke emotions of the customer.

Clarifying the exact problem- one should take time in understanding where the exact problem lies. This will vital not only in solving that particular problem but also in ensuring that such incidences do not happen in the future. The manager in this case study should have taken time to understand why the customer was given a cold coffee.

Apologise without complaining- apologising to the customer without blaming any person or department will be vital in diffusing the whole situation. The manager of Café Nero should have apologised to the customer without blaming anyone. For instance, blaming the customer for returning an almost empty coffee cup for a replacement would further worsen the situation. 

Solving the problem- this can be done by providing a remedy that is acceptable by the customer and confirming to them that such problem will not happen again. According to this case study; replacing the cold coffee with another would have adequately solved the problem.


Since different customers have varying needs and different levels of satisfaction, an organisation should put in place effective customer satisfaction systems. Whenever a customer launches a complaint effective investigation criteria should be applied in establishing the underlying causes of the problem which will be vital in guiding the process of decision making and in formulating possible remedies that not only solves the current complaint but also ensures that similar complaints do not happen in future. Analysis of this case study (Café Nero) reveals that the complaint raised is a serious one that calls for further investigation. As described, this investigation will entail the following process: assessment and planning, gathering of facts and decision making and formulating remedies, and evaluation. This process will ensure that all facts related to a complaint are revealed to enable an informed decision making. This case study also reveals ineffective customer management systems that need to be redesigned to ensure that they are more customer-focussed.

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