Retail foodservice and food manufacturers must embrace customer complaints as opportunities for improvement
Customer complaints about service or food safety, and general quality incidents for delivered products, are bound to happen. It’s how brands use these incidents to further enhance product quality and the customer experience that matters.
Restaurant and grocery customers will—and should—report bouts with food poisoning, issues with packaging or labeling, out-of-date products, the quality of the items they ordered, and more. Whether an issue is identified upon delivery, discovered later, or involves a customer, it must be properly documented and reported, and then immediately addressed before the problem becomes more widespread. This is especially critical when it comes to food quality incidents involving customers, which have the potential to result in costly lawsuits, insurance claims, and reputational harm. Brands that respond with urgency, transparency, and conclusive action can reduce the impact on their reputation and the bottom line.
It’s common practice for food-related businesses, including restaurants and grocery stores, to have some type of incident management program in place to deal with customer comments and complaints. However, many of these programs fall short because they rely on manual or outdated approaches, such as Excel spreadsheets, email, phone, or even pen and paper to document, coordinate, and manage the response. Without digitizing incident management, businesses are missing out on the opportunity to document incidents thoroughly and analyze the data collected over time to spot trends that may point to a specific supplier, incorrect product specification, an ineffective storage process, or inefficient preparation procedure, for example.
Monitoring and analyzing trends can assist quality assurance teams to proactively identify systemic and repetitive issues, and then take swift action to mitigate risk for the organization. On the flip side, an outdated approach to incident management can lead to a delayed and inadequate response, which may expose companies to significant economic harm, degrade customer trust, and cause long-term damage to a brand’s reputation—and that kind of damage can take years to undo. In some cases, overcoming the loss of trust may even be impossible.
Some common food and product quality-related issues that require immediate action include:
- Food contamination
- Foreign objects
- Products that don’t meet general quality requirements
- Products past the expiration date
- Damaged, missing, or incorrect product
- Products that don’t meet general quality requirements
- Chemical residues
- Undeclared allergens
- Issues with packaging or labeling
Modernizing incident management
Establishing a set of best practices to ensure the appropriate parties across the supply chain are involved in your resolution strategy, and that the right steps are followed unilaterally, is critical for limiting your company’s exposure and mitigating the damage to its reputation and bottom line. In an era when one wrong move can cause irreparable damage, incident management and resolution best practices should include these three strategies.
1. Manage and document
Incident management isn’t only about protecting and keeping customers happy. It can also be a great source for information that informs efforts toward continuous improvement. Being fastidious and proactive with regard to customer complaints and quality issues, in general, can empower quality assurance teams to identify low-performing suppliers, product and packaging design issues, equipment failures or shortcomings, and procedural missteps. However, the success of this approach is highly dependent on the quality of the data captured and its structure. With a modern incident management software solution designed specifically for restaurants, grocery, and retailers, brands can leverage features like conditional forms that ask follow-up questions based on initial responses. These forms can aid in thoroughly documenting and capturing pertinent information in detail each and every time rather than relying on the individual filling out a paper form or spreadsheet. With this method, the data also becomes structured for analysis and insights.
2. Be data-driven
Outdated, manual complaint tracking and reporting methods are also time-consuming, labor-intensive, and error prone. The modern approach that leverages specialized incident management software and automation allows companies to scale, driving the ability to report and respond with urgency and accuracy. With modern systems, incident response can be customized, going well above simply contacting customers to offer an apology, credit, or a replacement product. The data-driven, digital-first approach allows organizations to define incident types with severity and keywords/phrases, and then apply business rules that then apply custom workflows and responses. Incidents can also be flagged and routed to a quality assurance manager, or if severe enough, to the legal department, halting the process to allow for a manual response that is handled offline. Another benefit to having structured data is gaining the opportunity to improve product quality and safety, which will undoubtedly result in a positive impact on customer loyalty and revenue over the long haul.
3. Improve partner accountability
There’s another benefit to leveraging a data-driven approach: There is a richness in the data collected that can be leveraged to drive real and lasting change within your organization and throughout the supply chain. Without quality data and visibility over suppliers, products, and the flow of goods to locations, it’s more difficult to measure and improve performance and track your partners’ supply chain record. The lack of information may expose your brand to too much risk. If a supplier or distributor is at fault, they must respond promptly, either by replacing the product or issuing a credit. Delays in a response can impact cash flow and be costly for the brand’s reputation.
In reality, brands aren’t judged by a single product quality incident, but rather by their response to it. An isolated event can be forgiven, particularly if resolved quickly and appropriately. But when issues become systemic, the damage can be lasting. By taking a holistic, proactive, and data-driven approach, you increase your ability to avoid catastrophe and turn issues into opportunities for growth.