I was sitting in the room and admit I was caught up in the troubleshooting frenzy. I asked, “what have we checked with the applicator?” “Everything,” he responded. “We can’t pinpoint the root cause.” It dawned on me mostly out of confusion, “Do you have a list of what lots this is affecting?” Silence. “No.” Okay. We’ve got a concrete place to start. Let’s get a list of those and see if a pattern shows up. Going forward, here’s what we need to do with tracking complaints against lot numbers…
Complaint Tracking As an Afterthought
As a rule, if I hear about something three times in short succession from people whose opinions I value, I look into it. So it only follows that this week, after asking the lot code tracking question for a third time, with a third client, about a third product complaints issue (all minor, mind you!), I thought it was time to share a simple solution and a powerful thought framework.
It’s no secret that I love data. While there are hundreds of software platforms, applications, etc. for tracking software, all you need is a basic complaints tracking routine to make sure you are collecting meaningful data to support your tactical and strategic decisions. Here are the actions you need to take to make sure you are collecting the minimum useful information:
- Store Complaints/Issues — ISO 9001 and other more industry-specific quality guidelines will add more or less to the details of storing complaints. That said, a shared spreadsheet/database with access limited to the recorder and the relevant managers is the best place to start keeping complaints. Please don’t collect scraps of paper and post-it notes in a shoebox somewhere under your desk.
- Build a Process — Sit down and ask yourself questions about your product, manufacturing process, and components. A good starting point is, “What do we typically get feedback about?” (Or we can talk about it.) As you answer these questions, build a process for taking in feedback and make some rules for who, what, when, and how product feedback gets escalated through your organization.
- Script the Call — Now that you have a process and rules for escalating, rough out a script for your frontline employee(s) to use when receiving product feedback. Do this and then start role-playing complaint calls. Make notes on where the script is clunky, doesn’t address the customer’s needs, or fails to get you the quality information you need. Revise until comfortable.
- Make a document (small, one-to-two pages) detailing your process, script, and key data. I like calling it “Must Collect” data. And circulate this to anyone who might receive customer feedback. Also put in a brief policy on intra-office sharing about customer feedback. Roster emails about a happy customer are great, but a poorly managed all-staff email about a single occurrence of a minor issue creates all sorts of extra fire for you to put out.
The Common Thread (aka Collect This or Else!)
When you call me in to help clear up a non-conformance issue, plan and execute a product market withdrawal, or find alternatives to a recurring materials performance issue, we need to answer the following questions:
- What product lines, brands, and SKUs are we seeing this in?
- What are the lot codes, date codes, batch codes, etc. this issue touches?
- What customers and sales regions are experiencing/reporting this issue?
- When was the first time we’ve heard about this?
- How frequently are we receiving feedback about this?
Understanding your batch and lot tracking (and how you/your manufacturer does so) is a key component to effectively tracking your product performance in the marketplace. Here, various date/lot codes on beverages are highlighted. (Not pictured: model and serial numbers more frequently included in assembled/manufactured goods.)
You need to be collecting the following meaningful data to make quality decisions:
- Feedback Date
- Customer/Consumer and contact information (phone/email) and location (city, state)
- Purchase location (if it is consumer vs. customer feedback)
- Production identifying lot/batch/date/serial code information (like those in the picture at the beginning of this post)
With a record of this key information we have a fighting chance to make good business decisions about your product, supply chain and operations needs. If you would like help with putting this collection practice together or solving the problems generating this information, let me know here.