S Cook book coverSarah Cook’s objective is to “provide practical advice, tools and techniques for managers to effectively manage complaints in their organization.” She largely succeeds in achieving her goal over the book’s 11 well-crafted chapters and 200 pages. It’ll have taken Sarah much longer to write, but you’ll find it an easy, well-structured and stimulating read about complaint management that you can get through in an evening. It’s liberally illustrated with examples, mostly from the UK and USA, and tips and checklists that readers can apply immediately in ther quest for excellent complaint management processes and outcomes.

The book’s strengths are many. I like that she stresses the importance of embedding complaints handling into a broader customer-focused organizational culture. A complaints management unit that lacks these foundations is unlikely to be sustainable. I also like that Sarah identifies ISO 10002 as a cornerstone of complaints-handling excellence. Although the book claims to be aimed at management, there is much of value in the book for members of the complaints resolution team, or as I prefer to call them, the customer retention team. For example, there is excellent content about the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) and listening and writing skills, and the importance of conciliation, mediation and arbitration to successful outcomes.

The book has no coverage at all on the technological support available to managers. There are now a number of high performance complaints management solutions that are cloud-based or can be installed on your organization’s own computers or servers, as well as the issue management functionality in many CRM applications. The book also has a stab at developing a framework for establishing the complaints handling business case. In Sarah’s view this is largely established by computing the downside of complaints – lost revenues, churned customers and damaged reputation. I don’t think this goes far enough; part of the business case must be about the cost-benefits of improved complaints resolution processes. Yes, process improvement, technological support and front-line training cost money, but the pay-off can also be computed in terms of the at-risk customers who are retained and the positive word-of-mouth that is generated, with its associated influence on the buying behavior of the saved customer’s social network. Expert judgment can be used to compute these cost-benefits, and enhance the business case.

There are other complaints focused books. “A Complaint is A Gift” is really little more than a shout-out about the importance of complaints management. We already know that. Sarah Cook’s book delivers more organizational guidance. The other notable book is “Complaint management: the heart of CRM”. This book synthesizes the published academic research on complaints handling. It’s a brilliant book in its own right, comprehensive and thoroughly researched, but it doesn’t try to do what Sarah Cook sets out to do. If you are looking for well-informed guidance for management, with a strong focus on the organizational context and the needs of the front line, Sarah Cook’s book is for you. You can contact Sarah at sarah@thestairway.co.uk

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