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Unfortunately for all organisations providing public services, receiving customer complaints is something that is likely to happen due to the inevitable nature and complexity of delivery.

In the last few days, Ofgem, the UK’s regulatory body supervising the operation of the gas and electricity industry, has taken compliance action over energy suppliers’ complaints performance. They have found that 57% of domestic customers were dissatisfied with how their complaint was dealt with. Ofgem
However, implementing a customer focused and robust system to handle complaints can turn complaints into an opportunity to delight the unhappy customer and also provide a source of incredible data and intelligence on what is important to your customers.
There are a number of standards that have been published that help organisations achieve this. This includes ISO 10002 which is an international recognised standard that outlines good practice in developing a complaint handling system, with the objective of turning a complaint into customer satisfaction. Going further than this is the government’s own standard for Customer Service called Customer Service Excellence. This starts with the premise of understanding the needs of your customers and designing services that then meets those needs, or if this is not possible, perhaps due to budget constraints, setting clear expectations at the start. The standard also goes on specifically to talk about setting clear timelines for dealing with complaints and interestingly learning from people who have complained about how user-friendly the complaints system/process was for them.
So, in addition to these, what other key characteristics make up a robust complaint management system?
  • Defining clear accountabilities within the organisation of who deals with the complaint, especially if this is complex and may involve several people from various departments.    
  • Giving an initial response to the complainant - to define both timescale and/or process.  Also, having a system in place that monitors this and flags up where complaints are taking longer to deal with than expected.  Thus, enabling updates to be given to the customer.
  • Honesty - if you have made a mistake then dealing with this and putting it right quickly is often the best way to delight or at least turn an unhappy customer into a satisfied one.
  • Learning from your mistakes - probably obvious but what about publishing what you have done in response to a complaint, or where you have identified a common issue through a series of complaints.
  • Assessing how your organisation handles complaints - using an external organisation to carry out an independent review to help identify gaps or weaknesses in your systems.
At SGS we undertake many hundreds of assessments on organisations looking at customer service delivery and the handling of complaints. Often the principle difference between organisations that handle complaints well and those that don’t is a culture that is open, welcoming of complaints and willing to put things right quickly and learn from them. Just as important as complaints is compliments. Often, organisations do not really recognise these, but they can also be an incredible source of data for what parts of your service really matter to customers.
For more information, contact:
Haider Ali
Customer Solutions Specialist
Certification and Business Enhancement
t: +44 (0)1276 697715


SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 95,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 2,400 offices and laboratories around the world.