How Quality Incident Management Can Be The Key To Continuous Improvement
For restaurant, grocery, convenience, and hospitality businesses, maintaining consistent quality and food safety is paramount in protecting brand value, reputation, and customer safety. But despite best efforts in sourcing food and beverages from suppliers with a strong focus on quality and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)-based procedures for food safety during the manufacturing process, seemingly simple errors to serious lapses in quality can occur.
This can result in products entering the supply chain that have anything from quality or packaging issues to physical, biological, chemical, or even radiological threats. Any of which can be costly and disruptive for locations to deal with if caught early, or even worse, harmful to customers if purchased and consumed.
Therefore it’s absolutely imperative to be proactive rather than reactive when issues arise for mitigating risk, limiting economic loss, and protecting consumers.
When issues arise
Alexander Pope once wrote, “To err is human.”
Certainly we all, as consumers, intuitively understand errors and issues are bound to happen. It’s why most brands aren’t judged by a product quality incident itself, but rather, their response to it and whether it’s an isolated event or part of a larger pattern of poor quality. A one-off issue can be forgiven—particularly if resolved appropriately—but when issues become systemic, the damage can be lasting.
You can’t simply ignore or snap your fingers to make incidents disappear altogether. That said, there are mitigating actions you can take to reduce the frequency, severity, and blowback caused by a particular event. Brands that respond with urgency, transparency, and conclusive action can reduce the impact to their reputation and bottom line.
So how do you do that? It starts and ends by partnering with the right quality incident management software solution.
What is a Quality Incident?
For retailers and hospitality groups, issues with product quality and food safety happen regularly. Whether an issue is identified upon delivery, discovered later, or ultimately involves a customer, incidents need to be documented and reported, and then addressed immediately before the problem can get out of hand and become more widespread.
Some common food and beverage quality issues include:
- Damaged, missing, or incorrect product
- Out-of-date products
- Products that don’t meet general quality requirements
- Chemical residues
- Undeclared allergens
- Issues with packaging or labeling
- Foreign objects
Other common incidents that can be reported within a retail establishment include:
- Consumer complaints due to illness or food poisoning
- Unsanitary conditions
- Slips, trips and falls
- Guest complaints about employees
Related blog post: Digital Transformation can improve Food Quality Incident Management (4 minute read).
Whenever these types of issues are reported, it’s vital that your brand immediately respond to the complaint, resolve the problem, and then take corrective action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again or at another location.
This is especially important for food quality incidents involving customers, which can result in costly lawsuits, insurance claims, and reputational harm.
Impediments to Continuous Improvement
Managing, documenting, and resolving incidents can also play an integral part in a brand’s long-term success and growth. While incredibly important, it’s not only about protecting and keeping customers happy. Focusing on complaint management can also be a great source for information that informs efforts toward continuous improvement. Being proactive in complaint management and incident management can also allow your brand to identify low performing suppliers, problems with product and packaging design, issues with equipment, and areas where procedures need to be adjusted.
But doing this is no simple feat without the right incident management software and processes. For many brands who continue to manage the process manually or with outdated software, there are several common impediments to quality and performance improvements, including:
- Incomplete and inconsistent reporting – If you don’t have a common way to report, collect, categorize, track, resolve, and analyze incidents and complaints, it’s practically impossible to improve quality and performance. Incomplete and inconsistent data makes analysis and trend identification difficult.
- Little to no automation – Plenty of companies still handle quality incident management via phone or email. Others may have simple forms to collect the complaints, but still rely on manual methods to resolve. These methods are time consuming, labor intensive, and error prone. Issues can “fall through the cracks”, pile up due to other “more pressing matters”, and be subject to long delays and sluggish responses—all of which is a recipe for disaster.
- Lack of supply chain visibility – If you lack quality data and visibility over your suppliers, products, and the flow of goods to locations, then you’re going to be challenged to be proactive, resolve issues in a timely manner, and be able to identify any trends.
- Little partner accountability – Due to the scarcity of data and analytics, it becomes incredibly difficult to measure and improve the performance and track record of your partners along the supply chain. And when all it takes is a single crisis of significance to impact your brand and customer’s safety, your exposure to risk is much too high.
- Delayed or incomplete credit recovery – If a supplier or distributor is ultimately at fault, they must either replace the product or provide credit to the location. Delays in getting credit or replacement products for your locations costs money and can impact customer satisfaction.
The Critical Features of a Quality Incident Management Solution
Obviously the goal of any incident management system is to provide some level of automation to quickly resolve reported issues. But not all incident management solutions are created equally. When it comes to complaint management software, there are a number of limitations to be aware of:
Is the system flexible?
Many solutions in the market today don’t have the architecture and flexibility to support the needs of the enterprise. These “point solutions' can't support variations in workflows or business rules for different types of cases, restaurant/store concepts, countries, or regions. Even if you are a regional chain, be sure the solution you are considering can easily be tailored to the specifics of your brand and process.
Does the system support integrations?
No two customers are exactly alike. Your environment, processes, existing systems, data quality and data sources are very likely unique to your business. When evaluating your options, make sure the software you are choosing can work for you now and in the future, should you want to grow more into a full enterprise platform for quality management.
Can the system support multiple languages, changes in terminology?
Making it easier on those who are experiencing the issues first hand and reporting on them in the field is important. Providing a reporting form, with instructions, that is easy to use and efficient is critical. Your organization definitely has its own vernacular and the forms and processes should reflect that. It also may mean the best option for your locations is to support multiple languages. Be sure the solution you select allows for these options.
Is the system really going to save you time and help you improve?
All too often clunky and difficult to use software is more work than it’s worth. Collecting complaints electronically isn’t difficult. That’s actually the easy part. Be sure the solutions you are looking at will actually save you time by automating and speeding up the resolution of issues. Further, be sure the system can monitor for incident trends and provide alerts and escalations when needed. You shouldn’t have to go looking for them, the system should notify you and your team. Does the system support Supplier Corrective Action Requests (SCARS) for corrective and preventative actions? Finally, be sure the data is stored in a manner that you can easily make use of it for reporting and identifying areas to improve.
What happens when incidents become a crisis?
The ability to effectively manage product incidents is certainly important, but what happens when the number of incidents grow into a full blow crisis and products need to be withdrawn or recalled from your locations? Be sure the solutions you are evaluating provide for this functionality or are easy to integrate with.
Ensuring Quality Incident Management is Done the Right Way—CMX1
CMX1’s Quality Incident Management Software was expressly created to address these common limitations of other systems. It provides retail and food locations with easy and intuitive electronic forms for reporting issues whether the product was damaged during delivery, expired, or fails to meet quality standards.
Additionally, it can track and resolve incidents involving guests, employees, or problems with distributors. This systematic approach ensures that the right parties are involved and that the proper steps are taken toward resolution. Each case is associated with the reporting location, the type of issue, the product, and the associated supplier—which at a chain-wide level, provides key reporting metrics on which partners and products are excelling and which are falling short of expectations.
Quality incident management should be a vital aspect of your brand’s customer service, quality assurance, and customer safety efforts. Being able to respond to an incident swiftly, accurately, and effectively before it morphs into something worse, is vital. But it could be more. The right solution can actually make your overall organization better and help drive your efforts towards continuous improvement.
David Abney, Vice President of Quality Assurance writes, “CMX1 was the only solution that addressed our business problems, and the flexibility of the platform allows us to address issues that we never imagined we could solve. It is easy-to-use and allows us to analyze our results and manage our supply chain more efficiently."
Interested in finding out more about what CMX1 can do for you? Reach out to us today and one of our experts can show you how to get the ball rolling to manage incidents much easier and effective.