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THE GIFT OF A COMPLAINT | DR. WRIGHT L. LASSITER JR.

THE GIFT OF A COMPLAINT | DR. WRIGHT L. LASSITER JR.

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THE GIFT OF A COMPLAINT

DOUBLE D RANCH IN MESQUITE TXLast Friday I spent the entire day at the Double D ranch in Mesquite sharing with the participants in the updated leadership program  (Basic  Leadership  2008)  for  a  group  of  twenty-eight  staff  members  from  all  of  the  district  locations.    This  updated  program  replaces  what  many  of  you  know  as  Leadership  DCCCD.    My task was to share principles, lessons, and personal leadership experiences.  While it was a long day, I could not cover the entire leadership waterfront.  Was there something else that I should send the class afterwards for their further study and reflection?

The question was answered for me when I went to my office on Saturday to read the contents of my in-box and read all of the e-mail messages that were waiting for me to read and process.  There were two rather lengthy letters from students who had financial  aid  issues  that  they  felt  needed  to  be  brought  to  my  attention.    Obviously the resolution will come from the leadership of the colleges where the students are enrolled.  During my twenty-year tenure at El Centro College to receive such letters  was  a  part  of  what  I  called  the  “opening  of  school  ritual.”    When  complaints  reach  the  level  of  the  CEO  of  an  organization, you often have to ask the question – “Why did this reach me?  Could it not have been addressed at the point of contact?”

THE GIFT OF A COMPLAINTI want to share with all of my DCCCD colleagues a lesson that I did not share with the Basic Leadership 2008 participants on the subject of addressing complaints.    An  important  lesson  is  that  a  student’s  complaint  may  be  the  best  gift  you’ll  ever  receive.    I  will  use  the  term  “customer”  from  time  to  time  in  this  commentary  because  our  students  do  view  themselves  as  customers.

THE GIFT OF A COMPLAINTMost  of  our  students  (customers)  are  probably  satisfied  with  your  service,  at  least  partially.    You probably never hear them say, “Everything’s okay.  No problems.  We are happy with your service just the way it is.”  On the other hand, you may get a few calls and visits from those who are unhappy.  In most cases they come from an unhappy minority.  You must keep that in perspective and don’t become jaded and fall into the trap of thinking that customers, in general, like to complain.  Yes, there will be chronic complainers who feel that they never get good service.  Most customers don’t like to complain.  In fact, they generally go out of their way to avoid it.  For that reason we should always take our customers (students) seriously when they do have a problem.  Here’s my concept of “Ten Commandments of Good Customer Service.”

Thank the customer. 

THE GIFT OF A COMPLAINTThe  most  natural  thing  to  do  when  you  hear  about  a  student’s  problem  is  to  start  focusing  on  the  solution to the problem.  It works better, however, if you start by conveying your appreciation.  After all his complaint is a gift.  The student is giving you valuable information, and you are being given a free consulting service – telling you how you can improve your service area.    He’s  even  giving  you  a  chance  to  correct  his  problem  so  he  can  keep  on  receiving  your  service.

Explain your appreciation. 

Simply saying “thanks” is not adequate.    Try something like, “I’m happy to hear about this problem because it tells us we need to streamline our procedures.”

Listen to the student’s/customers story and complaint. 

Before you resolve the problem, the customer wants to tell you his/her story.  And she wants to tell it to a person who seems to care.  Ask questions.  Listen.  Paraphrase what you hear.  Then go a little deeper.  Ask some questions to determine the scope and nature of the problem.  And once again, repeat the information to make sure you  understand  exactly  what  the  student  perceives  as  the  problem.    Don’t be tempted to skip this little step.    The customer needs to tell her story.    If  you  don’t  listen,  she’ll  find  others  who  will  and you  can’t  afford  that  kind  of  negative  publicity.    When listening takes place, the president, chancellor, or even trustees may not hear about the problem.

Refrain from argument.

This is difficult for some.  The student may be angry and say things that are unfair or untrue.  When someone is upset, they want you to listen – not to tell him why he’s wrong.  If you let the student tell his story and get his emotions out on the table, there’s a better chance he will calm down and listen to reason.

Show you are sorry. 

Let the student know you’re sorry there is a problem, but you are glad to hear about it.  When you do this you are not admitting error, but simply letting the student know you regret the situation, no matter what the reason is or where the fault lies.

Exhibit some empathy. 

Once you have calmed the student down with your thanks, your listening and your apology let the “customer”  know  you  understand  how  he  or  she  must  feel.    Say  something  like,  “That  must  have  been  so  disappointing  for  you.”

Find out what the “customer” wants. 

Ask the student what will meet his/her needs.    In  the  book,  “A  Complaint  is  a  Gift,”  Barlow  and  Muller  say  –  “At  times  customers  only  want  to  let  you  know  something  happened  and  how  they  were  inconvenienced.  They don’t necessarily want anything extra or special from you.”  But if something is sought, find out what it is.  Don’t guess.  Don’t jump to conclusions.

Explain what you can do.

THE GIFT OF A COMPLAINTOnce  you  understand  what  your  “customer”  wants,  if  you’re  empowered  to  do  it,  do  it.    Do it immediately.  If you have to involve someone with more authority, get that person involved without delay.  If it’s not that simple, if your hands are tied in some way, if you can’t do exactly what the customer is asking, tell him you’re going to do whatever you can to make things right.  After all, there’s ALWAYS something you can do and the customer knows that.  So avoid saying, “There’s nothing we can do.”  Refrain from the “no” word.  Stay away from getting into a big explanation as to why you can’t do something.  It will only add fuel to the anger of the customer.

Take action. 

Once a resolution has been decided upon, set up a course of action that is agreeable to the customer.  Be specific as to who will do what by when.

Check back with the customer.

Most  people  are  simply  glad  when  they’ve  gotten  through  another  complaint.    But if you really want to stand out in the mind of the complaining party, check back to make sure that the problem was handled.

Some people take good service as just plain common sense.  That may be true, but when it comes to “customer” complaints, the most “common,” the most “natural” thing to do is to ignore or argue about it.  That doesn’t work.  Try following these 10 steps instead.  Look at the list and identify the 2-3 that you most need to improve.  Put them on a 3 x 5 card as a reminder.  The next time you receive a complaint, look at the card and remind yourself to practice those 2-3 steps.

A complaint may be the best gift that you will receive.

Have a good week colleagues as we all seek to be committed to excellent service.

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Another Verse of the Day

“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” — Psalm 119:18 Listen to chapter Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica. Powered by BibleGateway.com.