Are all complaints really equal? No.
The reality is that while all complaints are not a service failure, complaints do reflect a wide range of perceived failures.
At the catastrophic failure level, each industry has its own mission-critical crises.
For example, if the entrance lobby of a high-profile corporate headquarters building is scattered with litter and "dust bunnies," there could be an important failure (or at least an image-sensitive failure).
Disagreeable odors, or single-ply paper or no paper products at all in restrooms, does not affect the ability of the institution to conduct its business; however, the company''s image of success is clearly affected and might be considered an urgent complaint.
A failure rate of three out of 10,000 might be considered a great success in many environments.
Yet, if one of those three failures is a failure to empty the waste container, it may still cause a complaint.
This failure does not prevent the company from doing business and, with a few exceptions, the image of the company is not substantially affected.
Nonetheless, this type of service failure is aggravating and inconvenient.
How do you distinguish the important complaints among the different kinds and levels of all complaints?
The CRUMIE complaint model allows both the buyer and the service provider to understand the seriousness of the complaint and its cause.
This is important for a number of reasons.
First, contractor response to complaints can be tailored to the nature of the failure.
For example, mission-critical complaints will have dire economic consequences for the company and potentially a swift cancellation of the contract for the service provider.
As a result, mission-critical failures require an immediate, comprehensive response.
Image-sensitive failures undermine the pride and reputation of building.
For this reason, image-sensitive failures require a reasonable and timely response.
Urgent complaints are important to the complainer and a high priority to the contractor. They trigger a timely but perhaps less than immediate response.
Convenience-related failures frustrate everyone and should be resolved.
Repeat complaints undermine the entire working relationship between the buyer and the service provider.
Complaints about cleaning employees can also undermine an otherwise good working relationship.
Secondly, the CRUMIE complaint model can be used to set customer expectations about service failure and complaints, sometimes related to service level agreements.
Some service failures at the convenience level could be expected early in the project (about 15 percent of the time).
Convenience failures should decrease over time to about the 1 percent level.
When repeat failure for the same complaint exceeds about 5 percent, the consequences could potentially result in the replacement of the service contractor.
When service failure consistently exceeds its acceptable range or time frame, penalties should become increasingly severe, sometimes to the point of contract cancellation.
It is important to note that the level of service failure is often, but not necessarily, related to budget allocations.
It should be clear that a service cost of 35 cents per square foot would likely produce more failure and complaints than a service cost of $2 per square foot.
Nonetheless, mission-critical failure complaints resulting from the service delivery system should remain unacceptable at any level of funding.
Let''s start to examine the CRUMIE complaint model more closely.
Convenience complaints are probably the most common type of complaint received.
This type of complaint often occurs when an occupant perceives that the result they got was short of what they expected to get.
For example, if the occupant expected their waste container to be empty in the morning, and it was not empty, a complaint might ensue.
What are the consequences of this complaint to the business capability of the buyer?
Well, aside from a disappointed occupant, there is little, if any, impact on the ability of the company to function effectively.
There may be some inconvenience to the occupant, but that''s about it.
This type of failure can occur up to 2 percent of the time, even after a successful startup.
While some service providers respond to this type of complaint immediately, a response within 24 hours can be acceptable.
Remember, this type of complaint is about inconvenience, not catastrophic failure.
Next month, we look closer at the following complaints: Repeat; urgent; mission-critical; image; and employee.
Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and CEO of Elliott Affiliates, Ltd. of Hunt Valley, MD, www.ealtd.com. He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management.