• Bill Greider

Football Officials Know How to Handle Customer Complaints

This past season was my 33rd year officiating 23rd working college football. Being the humble sort, I don't think I consider myself an expert at anything really.....except maybe customer complaints. This fall I will deal with thousands of customers, and probably thousands of customer complaints. Might as well face the facts....every call (and non-call) will probably result in 50% of my customers complaining. From experience, I have learned how to NOT pour gasoline on a fire.  I have learned how to avoid making an emotional situation a riot. I offer you 5 tips on how to effectively handle your customer complaints.

1. Don't take it personal (no rabbit ears)-let them vent-I don't care how good your company is. At some point, you will find yourself with an unhappy customer. They haven't been delighted, haven't been satisfied, in fact, they feel like they've gotten the short end of the stick. Instead of feeling attacked, recognize a complaint for what it opportunity to go above and beyond and an opportunity to get better. In football officiating, the fact that a coach or a fan is calling you stupid is an attack on the uniform, not you personally.. In most cases, given the opportunity to "vent", life will return to normal. Unless you have what we call "rabbit ears", and decide you need to argue every point with a counterpoint. There is no winning and losing here....he is the customer and you're not.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate (scale of 1-10)-when emotions run high, 99% of the time things will calm down once the customer knows he/she has been heard. Blow him off and watch frustration elevate. In football, it could be as simple as letting the coach know you will get him an answer and explanation at the next stoppage of play. He may not love the answer and explanation, but will often cool off and move on once he knows he was heard. The longer the delay, the more upset your customer gets. As officials we are taught a technique where we put a number to the level of irritation we see. "1" means very mildly irritated, "10" means his hair is on fire and there is smoke coming out of his ears. Let's pretend a customer is a "5". My only job is to make sure I don't get him to a "6". This is done by speaking in a lower volume of voice, and by making sure my body language is not confrontational (face-to-face is confrontational), standing beside him is not. By meeting fire with fire, it is very easy to move a "5" to a "10" and then all hell breaks loose.

3. Don't pass the buck-often you find yourself getting yelled at for a call someone else on your crew made or didn't make. Rookies will tell the coach that it wasn't their call, or wasn't their key. When dealing with anger levels >7, the customer is really not all the interested in getting a lesson in who is responsible and who isn't. He is looking for an explanation and some accountability. Your customer doesn't want to hear that she didn't get her order on time because a raw material supplier was late. Not her problem. All she wants to know is "how will you make it right" and "what assurances can you give me that it won't happen again?" Isn't it great doing business where people have ownership and don't have to check with their supervisor to make things right? (This is one reason I love to use A3 to address complaints....the countermeasures are so much better thought out).

4. Admit when you're wrong-nobody is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Officiating is one of the only vocations where you are expected to be perfect 100% of the time. There have been occasions where the only thing to say is...."Coach, you're right,  I am so sorry, I missed it, it won't happen again". Your customer might rant for a minute or two, probably something along the lines of "you aren't being paid to miss it", then he will usually go back to coaching. Don't get me wrong, you don't want to find yourself saying this too often, or you might find yourself officiating Pee-Wee football. 

5. Work as a team, no silos-think of your customer complaint process as yet another of your hundreds of processes to apply lean thinking. Don't make your customer do a lot of work when they aren't 100% satisfied. Hand offs and silos make your customers work by having to navigate from department to department to get answers. Let your competitors do that. 

In officiating, we win as a crew and we lose as a crew. (Same with our businesses). For football, our goal is to show up at a game, work the game, and go unnoticed for 3 1/2 hours. Complaints are considered learning opportunities, and will be discussed as a crew when we get the game film the next day. In your business, complaints are the best type of learning opportunity to help us get better and better.

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