Getting Past “If they only knew”
Recently I’ve been hearing phrases like “If they only knew how difficult” or “If they only knew how complicated”. Usually, the phrase is spoken in reference to some demand for service that someone is having trouble meeting and is used almost as an excuse for not being able to live up to expectations.
Typically, explaining how busy you are, how short staffed you are, or how complicated the task is, is perceived as an excuse. Modern customers don’t want to hear it. Barring some major “catastrophe” like a flu epidemic they don’t care that your organization didn’t hire enough people to get the job done. In their mind, that’s your problem and they’re not willing to make your problem their problem. There are almost always constraints or obstacles to performing any worthwhile task. Whether they are legal, political, procedural, fiscal, or even psychological, there are factors that make what would otherwise be a simple task, more difficult. Any dispatcher worth his or her salt can list at least 10 constraints off the top of their head.
Customers assume that you have been trained adequately, are compensated appropriately, and are more than able to perform the task. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be assigned to do it. These assumptions may not be true but, from the customer’s perspective, they are totally reasonable.
It’s management’s job to manage expectations by publicizing relevant constraints in advance. This publicity is most effective when it comes across as neither complaining nor defending actions that have already been taken. In the student transportation business effective organizations distribute written service guidelines, post them on the internet, and reference them frequently in service conversations. Instead of saying “we have to go through a 20 step process for each student we assign to a route” those with the P.R. knack might spin it like “we perform 20,000 student safety checks per week.” They tout the virtues of the additional steps in helping them achieve quality service. In so doing, they turn what would otherwise be considered excuses into explanations. If people understand in advance the extent to which you will go to ensure safe efficient service, they are far more likely to tolerate the time involved in achieving that service.
Among the many leadership responsibilities in effective organizations is the duty of providing appropriate but persistent publicity. The job doesn’t end with reviewing/revising procedures, allocating resources, and providing training. Unfortunately, the P.R. charge is usually overlooked by service departments despite the fact that it is so essential to the department’s success.
Have you been getting ahead of problems by publicizing your processes and constraints? If you haven’t, you’ve been missing out on a big opportunity to help things run better by reducing complaints and supporting your people.