Leverage an Effective Customer Complaint Program to Reduce Risk

Each year, defective, faulty, or misused food products cause severe injuries to customers. However, many of these incidents can be avoided by using an effective customer service and complaint program.

Each year, defective, faulty, or misused food products cause severe injuries to customers. In some cases, these mishaps also result in product recalls, negative publicity, and a loss of customer goodwill.

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However, many of these unfortunate incidents can be avoided by using a customer service and complaint program. It's possible that you already have one as part of a comprehensive food safety procedures.

Customer support woman on phone

Customer complaints may serve a productive purpose for your firm. Companies that listen to their customers effectively make complaints a component of their process improvement program. This article aims to help you better understand relevant food manufacturing standards and how you can use customer complaints to improve your risk profile.

An Overview of Relevant FDA and ISO Standards

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food manufacturers to establish and follow quality management systems to ensure their products are of consistent quality and meet required specifications, known as current good manufacturing practices (GMPs).

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the regulations found in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, food manufacturers are responsible for ensuring their products are safe, sanitary, and labeled according to current federal requirements.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9000 family of standards provides guidelines and principles for quality management systems. ISO 10002:2004 offers guidelines for complaint handling as it relates to products.

An organization compliant with ISO and FDA rules must have a process to receive, review, and evaluate customer complaints by a designated department or person. Further, the FDA mandates in Section FDA820.198 that food manufacturers report that information to the FDA.

Challenges with Evaluating and Reporting Customer Complaints

Although the customer complaint process may seem straightforward at first, many businesses find it challenging. Here are the two main reasons you may be struggling and possible solutions.

  • Confusing customer access: Your customers may not know how to report a problem. Not only is a delay discouraging for customers, but the longer it takes for you to know about a problem, the longer it takes to correct it.A solution is to provide an easy-to-find link on your website, a toll-free helpline, or an email address for your customers to use.
  • Customers provide incomplete data: You can't follow up on a complaint if you cannot reach the customer to find out more information. Since complaints are often made through a variety of channels (email, phone, text, social media comments, etc.), it can be difficult to collect the required contact information. One solution is to use an automated software system built to handle this information and store it centrally.

What Does an Effective Customer Complaint Program Include?

Complaints are a part of all food-related businesses, and they can't be avoided. However, your organization must be responsive to these complaints to produce a safe product and be compliant with government regulations. In addition, manufacturers need to have a plan in order to maintain good relationships with customers and retail partners.

A delayed response to a complaint could lead to a product recall and withdrawal of products from other customers and the entire market. The FDA responds quickly to reports of illness or injury that may have been caused by an FDA-regulated product. Even one or two complaints are taken seriously.

Depending on the complaint's seriousness, an FDA investigator may visit the individual who made the complaint, collect product samples, and begin inspections of the food site.

Complaints that are less serious in nature or appear to be isolated incidents are carefully monitored. The FDA may send an inspector to identify problem areas in a production plant and discuss the complaints with company management.

That's why it is essential to have a trusted system in place for identifying, collecting, and analyzing data. An effective customer complaint handling system should have the following components:

  • Identification of all potential causes of the complaint
  • Complaint data collection, including name, date, and contact information
  • Investigation and root cause analysis
  • Steps for corrective action
  • Complaint analysis
  • Steps for continual improvement

Our Woodruff Sawyer team also offers the following tips for handling customer complaints:

  • Centralize the reporting of dissatisfied customer complaints internally.
  • Implement internal policies and procedures to handle minor, more frequent claims.
  • Make every effort to resolve a complaint directly with the dissatisfied customer before elevating to the carrier. For example, you could reimburse the customer for the product or offer coupons or gift cards with a signed liability waiver.
  • Triage the claims and have a set of criteria (such as a dollar amount threshold) to use during evaluation.

Finally, we recommend you engage the Woodruff Sawyer claims team to consult with you on cases involving severe injury or a distraught customer who cannot be appeased. Acting quickly can help prevent your issue from becoming a bigger one.



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