Decrease Your Product Liability Exposure Through Customer Service

There’s an old saying: “You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” These words should become the foundation for any product manufacturer’s customer service policy – be ready to handle customer complaints because you will always have them. That means at the very least, you have a written complaint filing procedure and someone who is designated to follow it through to resolution. If the organization is large enough, you may actually have a specific department whose function is responding to complaints. Customers need an effective way to gain your attention about problems with your products other than a lawsuit.

When you are developing a customer complaint procedure, the first consideration is standardizing the location in which to make a complaint whether it is in person, by regular mail or via email. This information should be communicated to customers on any written material included in the product packaging. Your employees should also be able to explain this procedure to customers when asked.

Whoever is designated to handle customer complaints needs to design a form that will encapsulate all of the necessary information to process the complaint, as well as information that can be used for analytical purposes should the complaint become the start of a trend. The form needs to be scrutinized by the R & D team who developed the product, line supervisors who are involved with its manufacture and senior management. As with any company form, it is always a good idea for corporate counsel to review the finalized version. The purpose of the record keeping system is to identify and communicate problems to the source that can correct them in addition to senior management.

The actual complaint processing is when useful customer service techniques can be practiced.  Be sure to get an accurate depiction of the problem and as much detail as possible, such as the circumstances of the problem, the duration of the problem, whether the customer has frequently encountered the same problem, etc. This data needs to be logged so that R & D can use it to begin investigations as to whether the defect is inherent in the product itself, or a manifestation of the product being used in a certain way or under a specific set of circumstances. Be quick in forwarding information to the next appropriate level so that you can give the customer a timely response/resolution. Keep the customer informed about the progress of their complaint if it goes on for a lengthy period. And above all, notify them as soon as it has been resolved, for example with a refund; or on a larger scale such as a product recall.

When you notify a customer, be sure to personalize the communication. If you are responding be regular mail or email, never use a form letter. Use language that is easily understood and avoid industry jargon or complex technical explanations. The complaint handler should always follow-up the letter with a telephone call to determine if the customer is satisfied with the resolution.

Handling customer complaints in this manner appears on the surface to be both time-consuming and costly. However, if you consider it as an investment in your protection against future tort action, this type of program is worth every penny. By taking no action or inappropriate action, you increase the risk of paying down the road when you find your company as the defendant in a lawsuit filed by an angry customer.