One of the hallmarks of corporations is the scarcity of resources.  Corporations often face the difficulty of balancing resources among the numerous complaints received. Yet no corporation has unlimited resources to apply to any activity, especially complaint handling. A grave danger occurs when resources are channelled to complaints based on quantification and impact on today’s performance, or on probability of affecting tomorrow’s performance, rather than fully assessing the consequences of handling or ignoring the complaint.

For corporations which must maximize the employment of any resource, making wrong choices can severely affect profitability and even survivability. Likewise great damage can be done by ignoring a complaint entirely. Proper handling of complaints is possibly the best tool for “moving your fulcrum over”, as I mentioned in a previous nugget. [To learn more, use search box: “moving fulcrum”.]

The question of how best to design complaint handling systems is addressed in many ways. Too often though, systems are designed to direct resources to today’s most urgent problems rather than addressing less-urgent problems that can become tomorrow’s corporate nightmares. To use a bad analogy, it is like running on the spot instead of sprinting ahead. Somehow corporations must do a better job at managing the conundrum of applying limited resources everywhere, that is, to all complaints or problems, both today’s and those that will emerge as tomorrow’s.

One way to do that is to modify today’s systems to incorporate both scenario thinking and consequence thinking.

Today we ask questions that allow us to feel comfortable taking action based on a perceived degree of urgency, but urgency facing us today. “What is it doing today?” “How costly or dangerous is it today?” “How often does it occur today?”  “How many countries share this same complaint?” These questions assure that today’s costliest and most urgent problems get all the attention.

By changing the complaint assessment process there is a possibility of more effectively conserving or directing resources. You can best move your fulcrum over by nipping a potential major problem in the bud if you catch it early enough. Nipping tomorrow’s problem in the bud is something that ranking complaints based on probabilities and significance of occurrence often fail to do. Scenario thinking and consequence thinking can.

Scenario thinking and consequence thinking seek to answer the matter of what MIGHT EMERGE tomorrow.

Scenario thinking shifts the focus, and thereby “moves your fulcrum”, from what is happening today, to what could happen tomorrow based on today’s decisions;  from, today’s statistically significant, to tomorrow’s.

Consequence thinking shifts the focus of attention from likelihood of occurrence to damage control by acting on those of the severest potential, regardless of likelihood of occurring.

Scenario thinking begins with the question, “What if…”; consequence thinking with, “How bad could it get, given each scenario…”.

By identifying ALL POSSIBLE EVENTS and by identifying all possible CONSEQUENCES FROM EACH EVENT , and acting on the severest consequences regardless of probabilities of it occurring, you may be able to act early enough to be able to avoid tomorrow’s public relations nightmares or tomorrow’s worst competitive threats.

To be able to effectively and thoroughly translate a complaint into a list of what-if scenarios and consequences, I would argue that your most talented and most experienced people ought to be applied to the task of assessing complaints. Those talented people should not only quantify the complaint but also assess the impact of each consequence regardless of the quantification. And, as an editorial, complaints should not be weighed based on country of origin. Complaint systems and assessors ought to work hard at eliminating cultural and geographic bias which occurs, unwittingly so, because of domestic national influences.

Instead of directing resources to only those complaints that are urgent today, use scenario-, and consequence-thinking to head off tomorrow’s emergencies.