Above & Beyond

Man using smartphone.

Great customer service experiences are few and far between these days. When you have a good one, it makes an impression. Today, hearing a live voice on the other end of the phone can be a rarity, but it is often the first step toward the provider being able to hear the customer’s issue, however unpleasant.

For companies or organizations that do it right, that personal contact makes a difference. It creates the kind of impact you want when team members communicate effectively.

Imagine you receive a call from an angry parent who wants to know why their child wasn’t dropped off at their bus stop at the time they expected. How does the person who receives the call react, and what do they say?

“Are you sure your kid got on the bus today?” Or, “I understand your frustration. Let me get my transportation supervisor on the phone to discuss your concern.”

Which is a more appropriate response to the caller? Clearly the latter, but you might be surprised by your staff members’ responses to an angry parent in an emotionally charged situation.

Your employees must resist the urge to inject personal commentary or dialogue into the conversation, which will likely create additional frustration or anger, according to Greg Jackson, executive director of transportation and fleet services at Jeffco Public Schools in Colorado.

Jackson, who was named the School Transportation News Transportation Director of the Year for 2019, is an ideal person to comment on what customer service should look like. He recommends investigating first and then providing a thorough response to the caller that follows the policies in place from the district. It is vital to bring the facts forward and remove personal emotions.

Jackson reminds his team that when parents call in angry, they aren’t attacking them personally. When emotions are heightened, the goal is to listen. He recommends taking notes on key points and concerns a parent might have, and then sharing that back with them, so the issue is clearly defined. Parents want to be heard, and it is transportation’s job to listen.

Don’t give an immediate response or resolution without all the facts. Give the parent a timeframe for an appropriate answer. You want to bring integrity and build trust with the parent, to reach a mutual understanding and to communicate that you did all you could to address the concern. Also, any corrective action that you plan on executing does everything possible to resolve the parent’s issue.

Some of the most common parent complaints are about child disciplinary issues, missed drop-offs or weather delays with the school bus.

“One weather delay caused us to receive over 180 phone calls from unhappy parents in one morning. It is stressful on staff and yet virtually unavoidable in some situations, but we do our best to listen,” added Jackson.

If I have an issue as a customer, I want to be heard and understood by the company I’m having the challenge with. I want the person I’m speaking with to care or at least show an effort to address my request. I want them to listen and acknowledge my concern and hopefully empathize, too.

In the end, I’d like to be presented a reasonable solution to my issue or concern that I’m satisfied with. I believe it’s especially important to get a follow-up phone call or email. In this day and age, digital comments online can be helpful or damaging so be mindful of the importance of customer service.

Go above and beyond for your kids and parents. It’s a thankless job sometimes, but I believe that life counts your good deeds when you stop talking and start doing because actions speak louder than words.

Editor’s Note: Reprinted from the January 2020 issue of School Transportation News.