A new ISO standard offers a solution for organizations on those occasions when the customer is dissatisfied with a product or service - guidelines for handling complaints in a manner that gives optimal results for both the organization and unhappy customer.

Complaints occur when the delivery of a product or service by a supplier somehow does not meet the expectations of a customer. The complaints may relate to fitness for purpose, delivery deadlines, product information, conditions of sale, use of personal data, after-sales service and guarantees. National laws and regulations may not provide a framework adequate to deal with the problem when, for example, the supplier and customer are located in different countries.

When the ISO 10002 complaints-handling process is implemented, the customer will benefit from responsive treatment of his or her complaint, while the organization will benefit from the focus on problem areas pointing to opportunities for improvements and savings.

ISO 10002, Quality management - Customer Satisfaction - Guidelines for complaints handling in organizations, synergizes the best thinking of international experts from two domains: quality management and consumer issues.

It details a complaints-handling process that can easily be integrated with the implementation of a quality management system based on ISO 9001:2000, which requires the top management of the organization to focus on customer satisfaction and continual improvement.

"At the same time, the standard is complete enough for stand-alone implementation, or in support of other quality management and customer satisfaction tools, including Customer Relation Management, Six Sigma and the EFQM Model," commented Bill Dee, the expert leading the ISO working group that has developed ISO 10002. "The standard gives complete guidance - including principles, issues for consideration and structural aspects - for the management of the overall complaints-handling process, with numerous checklists, sample forms and practical examples."

Annemarie de Jong, secretary of the technical subcommittee to which the working group belongs, explained that ISO 10002 and two other standards currently under development by ISO together form a comprehensive system for all phases of managing customer complaints.

"The trio distil international best practice in codes of conduct (ISO 10001), complaints handling (ISO 10002) and external customer disputes resolution systems (ISO 10003)," she said. "ISO 10001 and ISO 10003 are currently working drafts. They are expected to be published as International Standards in 2006."

ISO 10002, Quality management - Customer Satisfaction - Guidelines for complaints handling in organizations, costs 97 Swiss francs and is available from ISO national member institutes (see complete list with contact details) and from ISO Central Secretariat. It was developed by Subcommittee 3 of ISO/TC 176, the same ISO technical committee that is responsible for the well known ISO 9000 family of quality management standards after ground-clearing work by the "Consumer protection in the global market" working group of ISO/COPOLCO, Committee on consumer policy.