Customer Justice – A New Way to Look at Complaints Handling


Rebecca Grey-Smart explains why it is dangerous to assume all customers are the same when trying to nip a complaint in the bud.

We know what is going through your mind when you read that heading: ‘Justice’. What has that got to do with complaints, and isn’t that a serious word to be using for a simple service conversation?

There is a growing need for companies to have the courage to empower more of their people to have service conversations – to get things back on an even keel before they become unmanageable and need to be counted as a complaint statistic. Too many organisations unwittingly let dissatisfaction snowball into a complaint without really seeing if it could have been nipped in the bud.

What really frustrates us as customers is that time and time again we get passed to a complaints department who think they have it all figured out – who listen to what we have to say, then offer us some kind of compensation to make us go away ‘happy’. The trouble is, this doesn’t take into account one of the principal tenets of customer service: that customers are happiest when they are treated as individuals.

It is dangerous to assume customers are all the same. They aren’t. They have different expectations and motivations when dealing with an organisation.

Where one customer might want that goodwill gesture to make them feel their concern matters, another might just want to know what went wrong and that it won’t happen again. Organisations have to understand what the customer really wants as their individual resolution – or ‘justice’.

This concept of customer justice originated with Clemmer and Schnieder, and the three types of justice they identified are easy to remember as VIP:

  • Value justice – the customer who wants you to admit when you are wrong and provide a solution with the right value
  • Interaction justice – this customer focuses on how well you have listened to, understood and resolved the issue
  • Process justice – a customer who wants to be sure of the root cause of the problem and how it can be prevented from happening in the future
Rebecca Grey-Smart

Rebecca Grey-Smart

It’s easy to see from these examples that offering ‘compensation’ too freely before you understand the customer’s preferred justice can create a feeling that you care less – that organisations expect to let down some customers and budget accordingly. Surely we would all prefer to believe that mistakes are rare and everything will be done to understand and prevent them.

Service conversations with dissatisfied customers don’t always need to be turned into complaints. By providing all of your customer-facing teams with the capability to be able to identify the ‘VIP justice’ that a customer is looking for, you can be perfectly placed to have a real conversation with them exactly when they need you to be able to take control and guide them.

With thanks to Rebecca Grey-Smart, Head of Client Services at Procter (an Imparta Company)

Published On: 4th Aug 2016 - Last modified: 22nd Mar 2017
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1 Comment
  1. Absolutely agree. We are all different and one size will not fit all. In the watch business some customers will look to see what we can do on cost. Some will see if we can prioritise. Others are looking for that apology that some find hard to say. Yes we are all different. Sometimes people do forget that. The old saying was treat people how you want to be treated. It’s now treat people how they want to be treated

    Gina McLeod 5 Aug at 9:32 pm
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