Many large organizations have a complaint system in addition to a customer service organization. It is designed to handle the situations where the customer is dissatisfied with the service he received and wants to take the problem to a higher level of management.

The complaint department’s responsibility is to listen carefully to the customer’s service complaint, resolve it or explain why it cannot be resolved in a way that leaves the customer ‘less dissatisfied’.

A closed complaint does not mean the customer is satisfied, even if the customer’s request was granted.

Here’s an example.

My son drives a Honda Civic.  Just before my son’s 3 year warranty was about to expire, he took his car in to a dealer to fix an intermittent noise coming from the door when the radio played. The dealer  repaired it but after my son took the car home, the noise reappeared.

A second visit to the dealer with the same complaint resulted in the dealer opening up the door panel, revealing that the speaker connections within the door were corroding. The dealer recommended replacing the speaker. They refused to cover the speaker replacement under warranty, even though the original problem was reported during the warranty period. My son questioned why the dealer did not notice the corroding speaker connections when they did the first repair, that was under warranty. He did not agree to the extra charge and took the car back with the problem unresolved.

My son sent a letter to Honda’s head office to complain about the dealership and the disagreement with the service department. He asked to have the speaker replaced under warranty.

Honda spoke with my son and agreed to the request, as a customer accommodation.

After the speaker was replaced under warranty, the noise in the door reappeared. So now, it appeared that the corroded speaker connections were not the problem.

My son brought the car back in to the dealership and they made another adjustment to the door panel and accessories, which appeared to fix the problem. But they would not cover the repair work under the warranty and my son was forced to pay for the third repair.

He escalated to the complaint department in Honda, again, to the same person who provided him with the first ‘accommodation’ but was told he would have to pay for this repair. My son was very angry and threatened to take his story about Honda to a consumer advocate that writes for the local newspaper and publicize his dissatisfaction with Honda through social media.

He also checked with  the owner of  dealership (of another brand of automobile) to see if his expectation was reasonable: that a problem identified during warranty should be fixed under warranty, even if it takes several repair attempts to fix it. The dealership owner confirmed that, normally, a dealer would honor the warranty until the problem is fixed.

About an hour after my son’s argument with the complaint department, they phoned back to say that Honda would repay him for the  third repair and cover the cost of the repair under his warranty.

So my son was ‘satisfied’  in the eyes of the complaint department.

But, in reality, even though his requests were ultimately granted, he was left with a bad feeling about Honda in general. Why did he have to go to such lengths to get his problem fixed?

Why didn’t the dealership recognize the principle that a problem identified during warranty should be covered by warranty. If it wasn’t up to the individual dealership to make that decision, and they had to get approval from a warranty department, why didn’t they follow industry practices?

Lessons to Learn from this Situation.

If your customer service department’s job is to stall and refuse customers requests and then give in to the few that persist, then your customer service policies need a major overhaul.

A complaint department that acquiesces to a customer as an ‘accommodation’ (or as I like to call it, a favor) when industry standards say that the request would have been granted under generally accepted business practices, is a failure. Why should the customer have to take the problem to a complaint department at all?

Look at the complaints coming into your organization. Are you begrudgingly agreeing to follow common business best practices in your industry? Are you calling the resolution a ‘customer accommodation’ instead of a customer’s right?

A customer who has to go to great lengths to get satisfied with your organization for normal business practices, will look for someone easier to deal with in the future.


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

2 Responses to “Does a Closed Complaint indicate a Satisfied Customer? A Honda Story”

  1. Erin Petruk Says:

    I agree Adele! Best practices are called best practices for a reason! A successful company cannot simply skate by doing the bare minimum for their customers. They desperately need to recognize the importance of tracking customer satisfaction. Just as in this instance with Honda, had they been more “accommodating,” they would have not only enhanced your son’s experience and possibly strengthened his relationship with them, but they would have also improved their operational efficiencies. Think about how satisfied your son would have been if Honda had fixed the door panel and accessories without any fuss…

    It’s imperative for companies to close the loop with their customers! This can be done by collecting customer feedback and integrating that data into the service system and analyzing it. Then, they should fix immediate customer issues along with short and long-term operational issues. Finally, they need to make sure they communicate any changes both internally to employees and externally to customers. Insight and communication go a long way…so long, that they leads to higher service revenue growth and margins, uniting customer intelligence, service intelligence, and business intelligence that will undoubtedly have a positive impact on your company’s bottom line. (You can read more about closed-loop customer feedback here:

    It’s never too late to start changing the way companies interact with their customers, so why are some companies so hesitant to get on board when there are other companies who will do anything to keep their customer satisfied?

  2. Adele Berenstein Says:


    Thank you for your excellent comment about the need to address the root cause of the complaint in addition to the complaint itself and then having fixed the root causes, advise customers and employees about the improvement.

    I like the term – closed loop customer feedback.

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