Editorial Complaints Are Here to Stay! Are You Prepared to Make a Friend or an Enemy?

By Howard Rauch

Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems to be getting tougher to resolve complaints with the business world. Many times, people who claim to be “managers” are ill-prepared to settle disputes in a customer-friendly way.

Recently, I ran into a wave of incredible dumbness, which prompted me to think about spats arising in my own business. Some of the experiences have been no less than remarkable. The prize case, arising shortly after I started Editorial Solutions, involved a row with a well-known restaurant chain. Somehow, a genius in that organization managed to have my fax number printed on all purchase order forms. Suddenly, every Wednesday and Thursday, my phone delivered a slew of fax screeching. Ultimately, I realized this was no fluke, switched my fax and phone jacks, and discovered the problem. What was happening was twice a week, every store in my region was faxing in to Editorial Solutions orders for uniforms, paper towels, food, checks and everything else. Yes, I eventually solved the problem. But a member of the brass at the chain was hardly apologetic. He was angry at me for creating a problem. This was all my fault!!?

I’m sure anyone reading this column can recall battles with so-called customer-service types. But let’s think: how good are we when it comes to complaint-handling? Does your company have a policy covering all the bases? Do you view complaints — no matter how outrageous — as an opportunity to make friends? Try the accompanying self-scoring profile. Be tough on yourself. Assign a score of one to ten for the 12 factors described, ten being best. Maximum score achievable is 120 points. If the total score for your operation falls below 90, your complaint-handling policy needs adjustment.

  • I respond to all complaints within 24 hours. SCORE: _____
  • When a complaint is received via telephone, I take careful notes and read them back to the complaining party. SCORE: _____
  • I inform management of all major complaints immediately. SCORE: _____
  • I confirm in writing all assignments to outside authors. Special emphasis is placed on payment terms and deadlines. SCORE: _____
  • I always obtain all available legal documentation before writing about lawsuits and other related matters. Articles are not published until a judgment has been issued. SCORE: _____
  • I try to make amends to advertisers as readily as I would to other complaining parties. In anticipation of possible advertiser editorial gripes, my staff keeps logs of all attempts made to contact sources for roundup articles. SCORE: _____
  • During my initial response to a complaint, I give a deadline by which I will have further information; I then stick to that deadline. SCORE: _____
  • I save all notes and other source material related to each editorial item for at least six months. SCORE: _____
  • I have a system for checking carefully the spelling of names and titles of executives and all quantitative data provided during an interview. SCORE: _____
  • In the event of an error that is clearly our fault, I have a policy pertaining to retractions or scheduling of compensatory editorial. SCORE: _____
  • I take care not to lift material wholesale from website sources unless permission to do so has been granted. SCORE: _____
  • All policies pertaining to complaint-handling are included in a memo that has been Bulleted Listcirculated to my editorial staff. SCORE: _____

At some point, I foresee a separate self-scoring profile on complaints stemming from e-news snafus. Please incorporate some alerts into your own policy if one already exists.

Howard Rauch is president of Editorial Solutions Inc., a consultancy focusing on B2B magazines. Rauch is the 2002 recipient of ASBPE’s Lifetime Achievement Award. You can contact him directly at howard@editsol.com.

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