Anticipation is the best complaint-handling policy: Try this 10-point ethical challenge

Anticipation is the best complaint-handling policy: Try this 10-point ethical challenge

April 4, 2019 Uncategorized 0

An effective policy for handling editorial complaints is always based on two related elements:

  1. A swift complaint-response procedure
  2. Anticipating and reducing the opportunities for complaints

When you pay sufficient attention to the second category, of course, the need to employ the first category will decrease.

How prepared are you for dealing with complaints about editorial? To find out, take the following quiz. As you’ll see, both of these key elements are covered. The first four items deal with responding to complaints. The six remaining ones address policies and procedures for avoiding complaints to begin with.

Answer yes or no for each of the 10 factors,  based on an honest assessment of your editorial practices. Note that to pass this quiz, you must score 100%!


Congratulations! You are an expert complaint handler!

Your complaint handling practices may need some work. Note where you answered NO above and consider how you might change your procedures.

#1. I respond to all complaints within 24 hours.

#2. When a complaint comes by phone, I take careful notes and read them back to the complaining party. Then I inquire if any other problem exists.

#3. I inform top management of all complaints immediately.

#4. I always obtain all available legal documentation before writing about lawsuits or related matters.

#5. I make sure all advertorial content is identified as such.

#6. I delete unsubstantiated claims of superiority in new product releases.

#7. I obtain vendor approval before excerpting content from its website.

#8. If interviewing vendors for round-up articles, I keep accurate records of attempts to reach parties who may later complain they were left out.

#9. In my initial response to complaints, I provide a deadline by which resolution will be reached. I always abide by that deadline.

#10. When working with freelance writers, I take special care to explain payment policies. I always advise freelancers in writing about both the deadline for a specific assignment and the amount to be paid.


How did you do? If you scored 100%, you clearly are well prepared for handling a wide variety of complaints. If you fell short, focus on those areas where you couldn’t answer yes.

Whatever else you do, don’t bury complaints assuming they will go away. Trust me—they don’t.

If you have already documented your complaint-handling policies and procedures, make sure you provide a copy to all editorial staff members. And if you don’t have documented guidelines, start writing them now!

A good reference for complaint handling can be found in B2B Journalist Ethics: An ASBPE Guide to Best Practices. This helpful guide includes several suggestions on how to respond to complaints and how to publicize their resolutions. Here, for instance, is the guide’s advice on how to handle published corrections:

Corrections, clarifications, and retractions should be noted online and printed in the next available issue, in a regular, consistent space that is easy for the reader to find in the front of the publication or, in the case of a Web site, the home page.
While it is best to place these corrections, clarifications and retractions in the same area of the publication in each issue, in the case of a major correction it may be appropriate to place it at least as prominently as the original material containing the error.
In the case of confirmed errors in an online posting, such as from a non-contract blogger, the posting should be immediately corrected, or deleted with an editor’s explanation of the action taken.

The ASBPE Guide also suggests how best to manage internal complaints:

Staff and other internal suggestions and complaints about a publication’s operations, ethics, or quality should be taken to the editor of the magazine or online operations. If the issue is not resolved through discussion with the editor, the publisher should be informed.

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