How can Businesses Transform Customer Complaints into Operational Improvements?

After getting over my disgust of opening up a jar of ‘bad’ baby food, I ended up submitting a customer complaint to the company. So what happens next? I got a refund from the store, but what about the manufacturer? Did they do anything with my complaint?

In this blog, I present the actions I hope the manufacturer took after receiving my complaint and the software capabilities they employed I trust to prevent it from happening again.

Buying baby food for my twin toddlers can sometimes be a struggle since both are picky eaters. That’s why my recent purchase of their favorite brand and flavor was so frustrating after I discovered discolored lumps in 2 containers out of a 4 pack I recently purchased. I took a picture of opened packets, noted the lot number and expiration date of the 4 pack, and brought the remaining 2 containers back to the store to get a refund. The store manager made a note of the product info and told me I could pick up another 4 pack. I checked the shelf for the same brand and flavor, found a few 4 packs with the same lot number as well as a few other lot numbers, which I didn’t purchase because their expiration dates were so close to one I had bought. So I reluctantly ended up buying another flavor.

As an employee of a software company, and a concerned parent, I was curious about what would happen if I called the baby food manufacturer’s customer care number. Well, I did. Their customer rep took down all my info, thanked me for being a loyal customer, and assured me that the company would investigate this situation and take the appropriate actions.  

So what exactly are these appropriate actions that a food manufacturer should take to identify and resolve these food issues?

Here is the process I trust they follow:

Capture customer complaints.
Whether it’s an email or a call, customer service representatives need to capture consumer and product information, specifically item, lot and expiration date of the product in question.

Create a nonconformance record.
Multiple customer complaints may all be associated with a single nonconformance record. Customer shipments, batch jobs and stored inventory that are associated with the lot number in question are identified so that an investigation can be initiated.

Notify customers.
It is critical to identify and notify all customers who received the same bad lot so they can remove those products from the shelf. Next, the manufacturers need to quarantine all stored inventory of this bad lot in their facilities, as well as notify 3rd parties who are storing this same inventory lot.

Tip: Look for graphical traceability mapping tools that can quickly identify only those affected customer shipments and specific lot inventory locations. Generating a recall letter to these customers and 3rd parties should be executed with a simple command.

Perform a root cause analysis of the batch job.
After identifying the batch jobs in which the lot was produced, the quality control test settings and results need to be reviewed. Also, a review of equipment inspections should check if the settings were correct or were trending out of spec.

Tip: Look for graphical traceability mapping tools that can drill down into the QC tests and inspection results performed at each node of the process, including receiving, WIP, and shipping activities.

Perform root cause analysis of vendor delivered raw materials.
Manufacturers may determine that the cause of the problem was linked to the ingredients or raw materials used in production. The lot number of all raw materials used in the batch job which produced that bad finished good lot needs to be investigated. It is critical to identify and notify a supplier who delivered this suspect lot.

Tip: Look for graphical traceability mapping tools that can quickly identify only those affected vendor deliveries. Generating a recall notification to these vendors should be a simple command.

Update current settings and procedures.
To ensure these issues do not reoccur, manufacturers must record their findings in corrective action and preventative action or CAPA records. Multiple nonconformance records may be associated with a CAPA record in which the manufacturers records revisions to those affected QC tests, inspection plans, and procedures.

After noting these software activities and key features, I did a Google search on FDA recalls and was surprised to find that over the last 3 months, there have been over

  • 45 recalls registered for suspected fungal/microbial issues.
  • 15 recalls registered for undissolved fragments or sediments.
  • 28 recalls registered for improper packaging/ leakage issues.

As a software employee, I can say that without having the quality assurance, lot traceability and recall software capabilities that I noted above, these food manufacturers risk losing sales and loyal consumers, like myself, not to mention may incur unnecessary fines and penalties and lawsuits.

As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from the baby food manufacturer’s customer service team later that week. I was informed the situation was resolved, and to my delight, I was sent a few coupons for their baby food products. Back at the grocery store, I found my twin’s favorite flavors and none of the bad container lots were on the shelf. I feel my confidence in my grocery store and the manufacturer has been restored. And most importantly my twins are enjoying their favorite flavor once again.