Let’s get bet­ter at han­dling cus­tomer com­plaints and stop the blame game

Australasian Timber - - NEWS - By Eric Siegers Prin­ci­paL, The Tim­ber Hub

IT IS a re­ally amaz­ing time to be in the tim­ber in­dus­try. Re­view af­ter re­view af­firms that tim­ber is the best ma­te­rial for con­struc­tion not only be­cause of its in­her­ent per­for­mance cri­te­ria, but be­cause en­vi­ron­men­tally it pro­vides so­lu­tions on so many fronts.

There is a big BUT…

And it is this.

This in­dus­try con­tin­ues to see the cus­tomer as its en­emy, and rather than build a truce the in­dus­try con­tin­ues to let old be­hav­iours win the day which con­se­quently pushes our good story to the fringes while it lets dis­sat­is­fied cus­tomers con­trol in­dus­try’s mes­sage.

Lets talk specifics.

Deck­ing: We have had deck­ing com­plaints in­crease from 2% of deck­ing calls to 35%.

While there are def­i­nitely some is­sues with in­stal­la­tion, the rise in com­plaints re­gard­ing tim­ber per­for­mance is now over­tak­ing in­stal­la­tion chal­lenges. Prod­ucts such as Treated Pine, Cy­press, Spot­ted Gum, Black Butt and Sil­ver Top Ash are all part of the com­plaints. Lack of at­ten­tion to mois­ture con­tent, and sur­face check­ing seem to be the source of most com­plaints. Most con­sumers are spend­ing around $18, 000, on a hard­wood deck or $8,000 on a soft­wood deck but the con­sumers are treated with a con­sis­tent line of “it’s not my prob­lem” all down the sup­ply chain. I’ve heard the com­ment “it’s just not worth us fol­low­ing up on”.

If any of us would be treated with this re­sponse by a lawn mower sup­plier, or an au­to­mo­bile provider we would be sur­prised, but in our in­dus­try….the first ac­tion is to con­sis­tently deny re­spon­si­bil­ity.

We get over 600 calls just on deck­ing, and if we are get­ting that level of com­plaint then what is the rest of in­dus­try re­ally ex­posed to? This is im­por­tant. Why? Be­cause how we treat cus­tomers af­fects our over­all so­cial li­cense.

Floor­ing: in a sim­i­lar man­ner to deck­ing, floor­ing com­plaints have in­creased a mas­sive

42% for us at the Tim­ber­hub. Yes, in­stal­la­tion is a ma­jor cul­prit, es­pe­cially with builders that don’t un­der­stand tim­ber (and a lot don’t), how­ever, the rise in poor tim­ber qual­ity is ev­i­dent and the blame game won’t cut it with cus­tomers. When a con­sumer is be­ing charged $40,000 for floor­ing they ex­pect to be treated in the same way an au­to­mo­tive com­pany re­sponds to a fault. Iden­tify the source of the prob­lem then de­liver a so­lu­tion. Yes, there are usu­ally mul­ti­ple links in the chain that led to the de­fect, but the cus­tomer doesn’t see it that way. They see a floor that has failed and want the res­o­lu­tion to be de­liv­ered quickly and ef­fi­ciently. The prob­lem is very few com­pa­nies stand up and take own­er­ship. At over 1500 calls a year on floor­ing the rate of com­plaints is again a sig­nif­i­cant con­cern.

All too of­ten we see the end cus­tomer be­ing held up as the en­emy and not the one that paid our bills. As an in­dus­try, we can learn a lot from how the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try deals with dif­fi­cul­ties and how to sup­port the sup­ply chain rather than the game of bul­ly­ing and de­nial that goes on even to­day.

While I am aware of the im­por­tance of mak­ing a profit, there is no ex­cuse in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket for the kind of bul­ly­ing and chastis­ing of cus­tomers that goes on. I have per­son­ally wit­nessed tim­ber com­pa­nies be in­cred­i­bly com­bat­ive with cus­tomers and even the con­sumers, and used their size and cor­po­rate sta­tus as a club. All I can say is “re­ally? You needed to go there?”.

To gain and hold your so­cial li­cense it is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant for the tim­ber in­dus­try, let’s get bet­ter at han­dling cus­tomer com­plaints and stop the blame game and learn to lis­ten so we can al­ways im­prove (but that’s the mes­sage for an­other ar­ti­cle).

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