Case Studies

Complaint Handling: Customers’ first impressions

complaint handling process
Søren Pommer
By on 06/02/2015

In this article we take the customer’s perspective on complaint handling procedures and look at the online returns and complaint policies from three companies in one industry. What can a customer expect if they want to make a complaint about workwear, for example? You will see how some find it hard to get beyond short-term cost reduction.

We start with high expectations

Online stores such as, Zappos, and have given us easy and free delivery and returns and therefore high expectations of service levels when buying shoes and clothing. We are used to freeing return labels or even boxes to return products of poor quality. This is great customer service and eases the complaint handling procedure as a customer. But shouldn’t it be even higher when it comes to expensive workwear? This may be a logical conclusion, but how are complaint handling procedures done in practice? If we take a look at the balance between costs versus customers’ loyalty, the main focus in the workwear industry is clearly on costs.

We decided to do a little fieldwork and here are some of the cases we came across online:

Cases on complaint handling procedures

Case #1: The PDF form that is mostly for internal usage

complaint handling process

This Danish example is found on the Danish webshop which sells work and safety shoes. The first thing that meets the customer when searching for the complaint procedure is this long PDF form that needs to be downloaded, filled in, and returned by email together with the product. It requires the customer to fill in details about the article number of the shoe, sole, lace, etc., and contact information. We acknowledge that customers need to provide information to support their complaint, however, this goes a bit too far – where do you find the “article number” of your work shoe’s inner sole? Maybe this field is for internal use in the company, but how would the customer know?

The Danish text below is also found on the same complaint handling procedure at Sika. It explains that the complaint will be handled as soon as possible and the customer needs to attach a copy of the invoice. This raises further questions – What is the expected processing time? When do I receive an answer? Can I download a copy of the invoice?

Easy and simple complaint procedures are preferable as a customer. It is a balance between time and cost. Costs mostly play a bigger role for the private customer, while time is more important for the business customer. A complicated complaint handling procedure and a relatively inexpensive product often result that the business customer drops the complaint.

If you think “problem solved”, then you should think again. If there are too many steps and demands to fulfill, the customer will lose the trust and maybe – most importantly – the faith in the company and their service level. Simple complaint procedures without complicated demands may lead to more complaints, but also to greater confidence for the customers.

Case #2: The company’s responsibility


As mentioned before, customers are used to a high service level from webshops that address them as consumers and maybe the Danish webshop (red. cheap workwear) lives up to the customer’s high expectations when it comes to online shopping. The text explains that covers all costs related to returns, complaints, and exchange of any item plus the response time is within 24 hours. This way all important information is outlined and all the customer needs to do is to call or email customer service.

A simple complaint handling process from a customer’s point of view demands quick and clear feedback from the company which manages to do.

Case #3: The simple online form

complaint handling procedures

We have found an example on the Danish webshop BygXtra who has an easy step-by-step procedure when customers need to file a complaint. There are only a few steps that need to be fulfilled about contact information, invoice number, type of item, and a description of the flaw. Also, everything can be handled online, with no need to scan invoice copies or other documents. You get the feeling that the company would like the customer to report a complaint and that they take their complaint handling seriously. As a customer you feel – consciously or unconsciously – that the company is open-minded and listening, which is great for customer loyalty.

Responsibility and learning

The previous examples have shown us different approaches when dealing with complaint handling politics. On one hand, you can lower your costs related to the complaint by letting the customer be responsible. But is the customer the one that should be held responsible? Or is it the company that lives by its customers?

The opportunity to increase customers’ loyalty is easily lost when the complaint is not seen as an opportunity to give extraordinary service and customer experience. Complaints are furthermore an excellent opportunity to expand your knowledge about your products, how the customer uses them and how you can create improvements. If you know your customers, you know what they would buy and maybe also when they need something new. Thank your customers for each complaint and receive them with open arms – it pays off.

How is your balance between costs and loyalty? “We have talked a lot about that,” you might think. But try to Google the word “complaint handling procedures” and your company name and see what meets the customer – the practice might be different.

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