How to handle complaints likeapro

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					        CHARTING            YOUR     PERSONAL        AND       PROFESSIONAL                 ADVANCEMENT

        How to handle
        complaints like a pro
        Stock your tool kit with a few 'complaint tamers:

        Kathy Simmons

                                              Brian, a new superintendent, was a          unusual to hear him deliver sharp
                                          hard worker with impressive knowledge           retorts such as, "There's nothing wrong
                                          and plenty of enthusiasm. He demon-             with our greens - it's the way you are
                                          strated consistently every skill necessary      driving the ball." This did not endear
                                          to be hugely successful - except for            him to members. In fact, he offended
                                          one. This glaring weakness continued            them so much that soon they were com-
                                          to rear its ugly head, eventually leading       plaining about "the superintendent with
                                          to his career demise.                           the bad attitude."
                                              Rather than smoothly handling                   Eventually, the board of directors
                                          member complaints, Brian reacted in             determined that they simply could not
                                          an argumentative and impulsive man-             afford such an explosive employee. Sure,
                                          ner. He took great pride in his course,         Brian did a lot of things right, but the
                                          and did not appreciate anyone suggest-          future business he jeopardized more
                                          ing it was less than perfect. It was not        than offset his positive attributes. To

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   •   Listen carefully to com-
       plaints and follow through
   •   Train your entire staff
       in customer service
       techniques .
   •   Even if it makes you feel
       more vulnerable, be totally
       honest, admit to your
       mistakes and ask for the
       customer's help in solving
       a problem.
                                          When golfers register complaints with you, they are going against the odds and casting a vote
                                          of confidence in your direction. It's up to you to handle the opportunity well.

70 GeM • August 2002
ensure that you don't suffer a similar
fate, why not become a pro at handling
complaints? Like most skills, it just takes   Conducting a golf course satisfaction survey
a little practice and a well-stocked tool     Barry Adams
kit of "complaint tamers." Consider the
following:                                          Customer service at a public golf course is often seen as the job of the pro shop. At a private
                                               course, the distinction may not always be clear, but serving member needs remains important. The
                                               "customer" will always have the choice of where to be a member and how often to play golf.
When you hear a complaint,
                                              Sometimes, when you see the same faces day after day, you can forget the Disney attitude or the
think of it as a compliment                   Wal-Mart approach, where employees bend over backwards to serve the customer.
    Compliments make us smile and feel              The GCSAAGolf Course Satisfaction Survey is a valuable tool for our membership to effectively
valued - and complaints certainly             communicate their desires with the leadership at Roseburg Country Club. Everyone has an opinion, and
don't. So how can a complaint be a            when the Golf Course Satisfaction Surveys get mailed out, the membership has our undivided attention.
compliment? It all depends on your                  I began using the survey two years ago to help the leadership evaluate member concerns more
frame of reference. You must consider         objectively and keep focused on issues that benefit the majority of the membership and not just a
yourself fortunate when you hear the          few individuals. It is also important to keep emotions from distorting the facts.
complaint. It's no secret that people talk          Here is a description of how I have conducted the Golf Course Satisfaction Survey and used, the
when they are upset. The problem is           results at Roseburg Country Club:
                                              • We send out the survey, printed on bright paper, by inserting it with the monthly club statement
that they don't always select the appro-
                                                  in September. The members' opinions from the golf season are still fresh in their minds and it
priate person with whom to air their
                                                  is early enough in the fall to modify the upcoming year's budget.
grievances. Studies show that unhappy         • It can take two to three months for the surveys to come back in before we begin looking at the
customers are likely to tell seven to nine        results. The variety of responses is interesting. Some members fill in only their names; others
people about their bad experience.                add pages to the original survey in order to write out all of their comments.
However, only about one in 20 will            • The results are tabulated, generalizing the numbers into percentages. These are translated into
sound off to someone in a position of             "grades" on different areas of the golf course and a write-up and summary are distributed by
authority at the offending company.               the end of the year. GCSAAmembers may obtain detailed examples and instructions for tabu-
Considering     these statistics, when            lating results from the career development department. Contact lyne Tumlinson at (800) 472-
members register complaints, they are             7878, ext. 655, or
going against the odds and casting a          • Based on the outcomes of the survey, I take note of weaknesses from the previous season and
                                                  target key projects to be included in the coming year's budget. Member satisfaction can then be
vote of confidence in your direction.
                                                  tracked through improvement in these specific areas on upcoming surveys. This demonstrates
That's commendable. Now, it's up to
                                                  the results of new equipment, for example, and how that impacts survey results.
you to handle the opportunity well.           • For future use, I plan to tailor the broad questions on the GCSAAsurvey to target individualized
Would you rather the members' friends             needs of our course. For example, here is a hypothetical question for a future survey: "Would
(who can do nothing to resolve the sit-           you support rebuilding the greens on No. 7 and No. 12 if they were taken out of commission
uation) hear their gripes?                        next season?"
   Your first response to a complaint         • Finally, I create the summary report form, showing the trend from the first to the current year.
should be a sincere "Thank you."
                                                    By using the survey each year, a cycle is created to pull members into the process. The surveys
Listen carefully -                            provide an outlet for members to express changes they'd like to see in the course. From this feed-
even to what's not being said                 back, I show them how we can meet those goals through specific projects added to the budget pro-
                                              posal. The survey can be used as an educational tool to convey that member concerns con be met
    According to Susan Campbell, Ph.D.,
                                              with the right budgetary means. I give credit to the people who give me the resources to reach my
author of "Prom Chaos to Confidence:
                                              goals, as proper acknowledgment will perpetuate my supporters.
Survival     Strategies for the New                 My experience has changed over time. At first, I was really nervous to view critical or negative
Workplace," displaying poor listening         comments. Then I realized the questions were written in such a way that the members are evalu-
ability is the most common mistake            ating the golf course conditions, and not me as a person. Now my objectives are clear, and I can
made when dealing with complaints.            turn the weaknesses into strengths.
    "When people are upset, the best               The first year we used the satisfaction survey, the survey showed common complaints of unre-
way for them to get over it is by being       paired divots and ball marks. Instead of critically addressing golfers who should be following golf
sincerely and openly listened to,"            course etiquette by doing their own repairs, I worked with the golf pro to place GCSAAetiquette
Campbell explains. Your goal is not just      stickers on all club golf cars, in addition to writing newsletter articles and having personal conver-
to solve the customer's problem; it is to     sations with influential golfers regarding proper golf course etiquette. Now the members complain
                                              because they run out of sand and seed with the golf cars!
allow them to vent their frustrations so
they can let them go. Campbell, an
                                              Barry Adams is superintendent at Roseburg (Ore.) Country Club and a seven-year member of GCSAA.
internationally respected authority on
human relations, advises that people

                                                                                                                                  August 2002 •        GeM 71
                                                         more quickly reconcile injustices (so           Rick Brinkman,          co-author    of
                                                         they can forgive and forget) by fully       "Dealing With People You Can't Stand,"
                                                         expressing themselves. Your job is to       suggests that there is a "moment of
                                                         help them do that by listening with         truth" in every customer complaint sit-
                                                         your heart.                                 uation.     Brinkman      explains,   "The
                                                             When Don Pieper, general manager        moment of truth is an exceptionally
                                                         at the Merit Club in Gurnee, Ill.,          important one because it is an opportu-
                                                         receives a complaint, he quickly assesses   nity to create a happier customer than
                                                         which category it belongs in: emotional     you would have had if you had done it
                                                         or factual. Pieper suggests that emo-       right the first time. In that first moment
                                                         tional complaints are due to other          you must show that you care a problem
                                                         forces. A customer could simply need to     occurred in the first place, then you
                                                         blow off some steam due to stress they      must exceed their expectations in what
                                                         are facing at home or work. In these sit-   you do about it."
                                                         uations, Pieper has discovered that the         The longer you delay, the more time
                                                         best response is to listen empathetically   you allow the angry member to advise
                                                         and let them talk. Invariably, they feel    others of their dissatisfaction. You also
                                                         better   after simply being heard.          reduce the chance of achieving a suc-
                                                         Listening is not enough, however.           cessful outcome. If you don't jump on
                                                         Action must follow.                         the complaint right away, the member
                                                             "I use the 'Rule of 24' by allowing     may conclude that your course has
                                                         myself a day to think about the com-        more service issues than it can handle.
                                                         plaint and the best course of action,"          It is also wise to proactively prevent
                                                         Pieper says. "That way, I am sure not to    "small" complaints from becoming big-
                                                         fall into the trap of making an emo-        ger issues. Michael Paff, assistant super-
                                                         tionally based decision in response to      intendent at Woodstone Golf Club in
                                                         an emotional complaint." If the com-        Danielsville, Pa., and a two-year mem-
                                                         plaint is factual, Pieper shrewdly          ber of GCSAA, believes the only way to
                                                         assesses the content. If a matter that      meet expectations and maintain job
                                                         genuinely needs improvement is high-        security is to, "take care of any minor
                                                         lighted, he contemplates what must          complaints ASAP, maintain good com-
                                                         change objectively. Pieper then lets the    munication with the pro shop and ask
                                                         customer know what will be done and         the members how the course is playing
  Coming up                                               (most importantly)      follows through    on a daily basis."
                                                                                                     Cultivate the right mindset
        For more information on this topic for super-
                                                         Don't underestimate                         with your staff
  intendents, don't miss the Career Development
                                                         the value of a sense of urgency                 You can't do it alone. To truly suc-
  General Session at the GCSAA conference and
  show in Atlanta, "The Art and Science of Customer          The worst thing you can do to agi-      ceed in managing customer complaints
  Service: How You Can Make an Impact at Your Golf       tated members is put them on hold.          effectively, your entire staff needs to be
  Course," 1:30-3:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14.               Most people are not able to easily com-     "singing from the same hymn book."
        Golf course superintendents have not been        partmentalize frustrations and effort-      How do you ensure this happens? Bruce
  traditionally thought of as being in the customer      1essly move on to other things. Rather,     Tulgan, author of "Winning the Talent
  service business. All in golf course management        they stew over offending events and         Wars;' suggests there are three basic
  will learn in this presentation how to create a        become more frustrated.                     ingredients:
  superior service atmosphere in their facilities and        Don't make the situation worse by       • "Your organizational mission must
  empower employees to go beyond members'                taking your time to act. Call the mem-         be about the customer: We deliver
  expectations of service. Keynote and panel pre-        ber back promptly. Once alerted of the         smarter, faster, better. That's what we
  sentations will offer leading customer service prac-   situation, avoid strangling him or her         do around here - dazzle customers."
  tices, along with specific ways to develop a strong    with red tape. Solve the problem! If you    • "Your workplace culture must focus
  customer service culture within your organization.     must involve someone else, such as the         on performance."
                                                         board of directors, make sure that they     • "You've got to select the best people,
                                                         are aware of the matter's urgency.             make sure they understand the mis-

72 GeM •        August 2002
   sion and the culture, train them very        correct the situation.                       someone cares what they have to say.
   well - teach them customer service                                                        Never brush off a comment-on   even
   techniques, coach employees to per-          Involve the complainer in the solution       the most trivial of concerns."
   form every day, reward the high per-             You can move members into a more
   formers, manage the mediocre per-            constructive frame of mind by putting        Avoid common complaint
   formers to a higher level, and remove        them to work. Involve them in helping        management mistakes
   low performers from the workplace."          you find the win-win solution to the             According to author Brinkman,
                                                problem. You'll find that members are        there are two avoidable mistakes:
Swallow your pride                              more reasonable than you might expect            "Dextifying." This is when we get
and say, 'I'm sorry'                            when asked, "What can we do to keep          caught up in defending, explaining and
     Do you want to know a foolproof            you as a satisfied customer?" You'll also    justifying. "The intent is good, the
way to make complaining members                 help them get in a more constructive         result is terrible," says Brinkman. "The
more irate? Make excuses. People with           frame of mind to be part of the solu-        customer simply thinks you are making
a gripe will calm down considerably             tion by being totally honest - even if it    excuses."
when someone has the courage and                makes you feel a bit vulnerable.                 Neglecting emotions. It's easy to get
confidence to simply take responsibility.           According to Russell Taylor, super-      in a rush to fix the problem, thus short-
If you made an error, say so. Don't             intendent at Lake Sweetwater (Texas)         changing the emotional side of the
stop there. Communicate          how you        Municipal Golf Course, "Listen to            complaint.       Brinkman      encourages
intend to resolve it and prevent future         (golfers) carefully and use complete         superintendents to deal with the emo-
occurrences.                                    honesty in addressing your reply. False      tional content first. "Let them know you
     Paul Bevan, superintendent            at   promises hurt more than anything!"           are upset that they are not happy, that
Doylestown (Pa.) Country Club and a                 Most people don't want to stay           you 'feel their pain.' You must exceed
one-year member of GCSAA, explains,             upset-it's a bad feeling for them. As a      their expectations on how much you
"The best way to avoid complaints is to         result, they will likely respond posi-       care, then exceed their expectations on
listen to your membership and take in           tively when given an opportunity to          how you can correct the problem."
all their requests respectfully. When           change the situation. Focus on what
there are problems, don't hide. Talk to         you can do to rectify the situation,         View the complaint as a challenge
the members and tell them what you              rather than what is not possible. Give          You've settled the issue at hand -
are going to do to correct the situation.       the member options, such as "I can           great job. But don't stop there. A follow-
Everyone makes mistakes; it's the peo-          either give you a full refund, or a gift     up call or written contact communicates
ple who don't take blame and commu-             certificate for a free dinner to help you    a powerful message: "We don't get many
nicate effectively that lose their jobs."       give us another chance." Better yet,         complaints - and when we do, they are
    Bevan tells of a recent situation           exceed their expectations and give them      taken seriously." Your follow up will
when he used a pre-emergence product            both.                                        probably pleasantly surprise the mem-
(Tupersan) on his tees and fairways.                                                         ber. It will also reinforce the value you
    "We wound up getting some goose             Resist the temptation                        place on keeping him or her satisfied.
grass on a couple of tees and fairways.         to 'win the argument'                           With the right mindset, you can
My board asked why this was because                 Realize there will be times when a       reconstruct a negative situation into a
complaints were coming in. I eXplained          member is flat-out, 100 percent wrong.       positive one for your company.
how Tupersan worked, and that with all          Resist the need to "be right" and prove      Members will tell their friends about
the seeding we were doing it was the            how ridiculous their complaint is. Be        how impressive or inadequate your
only option available to us. I explained        careful. You may win in the short run,       response was. It's up to you. Employees
that it did not prevent goose grass and         but humiliating a member is never wise.      who handle complaints like pros are
that we were in the process of removing             Vince Henderson, superintendent at       hard to find -         and high-quality
it from these few areas."                       Brandermill      Country      Club      in   courses consider them to be worth their
    By the next board meeting everyone          Midlothian, Va., and an eight-year           weight in gold .•
was satisfied because the goose grass           member of GCSAA, explains, "It's like
had all been removed by hand. Bevan             any other type of business, really; 99.9
attributes    this happy ending           to    percent of the time you treat a concern      Kathy Simmons writes on management topics and
addressing the problem head on,                 as if the customer is right. Whether the     is a frequent contributor to several business publi-
explaining what happened and what               concern is real or not, you basically take   cations. She has 12 years of management experience
                                                                                             and is currently director of claims and administra-
was going to be done and, above all,            your lumps. But it is always critical that   tion for Canada Life Assurance Co. in Atlanta,
focusing on what would be done to               you leave them with the feeling that         where she manages 95 employees.

                                                                                                                    August 2002 •      GeM 73

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