How many times does a student, parent or stakeholder come to the school/district offices with a problem only to have their problem turn into a situation beyond their problem which now includes you, a teacher, another administrator or employee as the target (problem)?
Having been involved in many meetings, conferences, hearings, or complaints through the years, there are some commonalities which occur that leads school personnel down the path of them becoming the problem and the original problem now is a “train on the siding”.
I recommend the following points to consider so that when a customer brings a problem to the attention of school personnel, the original problem remains the point of focus and school personnel remain free to address it without becoming the focus of the customer’s anger, angst, or dissatisfaction.
1. Customer Service: Train everyone who may have to deal with angry/irate customers in good customer service.
a. Make the customer feel comfortable and important. (“BE” present with the customer to make sure you understand the problem.)
b. Offer assistance and other amenities (water, coffee, soda, restroom directions, tissue, etc.) to make them feel at home and comfortable
c. Be careful not to own the problem right away, but indicate “if it is as the customer says, then you are certainly going to assist them in getting resolution or understanding.
d. Check your attitude, eye contact, tone of voice, body language, and all things that could lead the customer to believe there is no interest or caring on your part in hearing or resolving the problem.
e. Direct them to the person (teacher, administrator, or other personnel) who may be able to solve the problem for them at that level.
f. Always indicate the process the customer may have to follow (for policy, contract, etc.) in order to start the resolution. This sometimes frustrates customers because they may feel they are being redirected (“passed off’) to someone who won’t have the power of “YES”, but always indicate the necessity to do this and that you will certainly follow its progress and outcome.
2. Listen: Truly listening to a customer lets them know you are interested and care about their problem.
a. Check out the stage for the meeting. (office, meeting room, etc.)
b. Sitting behind a desk or across from them at a table puts up a barrier that may be read as confrontational. (Consider a more open posture like side by side at a table or in front of the desk without a table or barrier present).
c. Direct the meeting but don’t dominate the conversation. (You may have to redirect it back to the problem at times, but that is a matter of you carefully doing it without judgment or saying things like, “Well that doesn’t sound like something Mr. Jones would do.” Mr. Jones may have done it after fully reviewing the problem and investigation.
d. Check your attitude, caring and interest! Customers can become very angry when they feel that the listener doesn’t care or have time to deal with a concern. (Things like checking your watch, looking at your email, interruptions by other staff, not taking notes, etc. may let a customer perceive whether you truly are there for them.)
3. Outcome of Problem Introduction Meeting:
a. This first introduction to the “Problem Meeting” is to help the customer feel comfortable in meeting with you and presenting the problem.
b. Permit them to deliver their problem in a non-confrontational, non judgmental way and atmosphere.
c. Collect information, take notes and restate what they have said and what you have heard them say the problem really is.
d. Review your problem-solving process, and how you are going to proceed in assisting them to get resolution or understanding.
e. Provide (as nearly possible) a time frame for investigation, review and a meeting time in the future to discuss your findings. (Indicate the customer can call any time to check on the progress. Keep them informed as you go with progress, not necessarily details or information - - - that will be discussed during the in-person meeting).
f. Ask the customer for his/her patience in order that you may thoroughly investigate the problem and examine all information in order to provide them with a complete report and information during the next conference with them to reveal the findings.
g. Make sure you keep your “WORD” in everything you said you would do for them and with them to complete this process.
The three suggestions above are just the beginning of the “Problem Process” and doesn’t usually involve a great deal of time. However, if not considered and not used, the remainder of the process will probably take an inordinate amount of time, and…..CUSTOMER TRUST MAY BE ERODED TO THE POINT OF NO RETURN!
These three points and accompanying suggestions puts you on the path that can lead to a successful “Problem Solving Experience” and keeps you or any of your staff/personnel from “BECOMING THE PROBLEM”!