Customer service expert Janelle Barlow cites research indicating that positive emotions encourage more wide-ranging and creative thinking than do negative emotions. She says that we can be more effective with our customers if we remain positive. That seems obvious, she admits, but think how seldom the advice is followed.
Like all customers, students and parents are not always right. They make mistakes. They forget things. They get confused. Usually they are emotional and often it is the front-line staff person who takes the brunt of the emotion.
It helps to have some practical strategies to rely on when dealing with an upset student, parent, alum - or any customer. Consider the following:
- Focus on problem solving rather than the original stressor. Ask, "What can we do to fix this?"
- Develop rapport. If you have made a mistake, admit it. Apologize if appropriate. Thank the person for their feedback. In the right situations humor can be a powerful tool in developing rapport.
- Try to see the situation through the student's point of view. Imagine that whatever the student is complaining about has just happened to your son or daughter. What would you expect from the university?
- After a difficult encounter, such as dealing with an angry student, walk away from your desk or work area for a while.
- Ouch! - It is natural to take complaints personally. Mentally recognize this and quickly move on to problem solving.
- Be aware of your body language. Smile, take a deep breath or relax the shoulders.
- Be student-oriented. When receiving a student complaint, do you see a tired student who has been up all night studying for finals or do you see a whiny, overbearing teenager? Is this student an interruption to you or is he or she the reason you are here?
In Barlow's book, A Complaint is a Gift, she writes, "Some individuals lack gracious social skills and may appear inappropriate when they complain. They get nervous and may seem harsh, angry, or even stupid. The service provider must learn to focus on the content of the complaint and on the way the complaint is delivered."
Self-awareness is the first step to ensuring positive interactions. Be introspective and ask yourself, "What can I do to improve this situation?" "How am I contributing to this problem?" "What can I do so that this does not happen again?"
The customer service team is interested in your reactions to this article and welcomes any suggestions (specific or general) that you may have to continually improve customer service. Please contact Maureen Sheehan Massaro or a member of the team: