Not so Mickey Mouse: Dealing with complaints the Disney way!

First posted on Tales From The Reach on 15 June 2018.

None of us are immune from complaints and we are all occasionally subject to them regardless of our experience, position and professionalism. Pupils, parents, members of the public or colleagues may complain about us in some way; this could be small scale verbal complaints made directly to yourself, written complaints to senior leaders or even complaints made formally to governors. Sometimes these are completely groundless, but there are times when we make mistakes and the complainant may have a point. Although serious complaints will be dealt with at a senior level, we should all recap on how we react to complaints from time to time in order to deal with them effectively.

Essentially, the first response when receiving a complaint is to remember that they may escalate rapidly unless they are well managed and dealt with promptly.

Below are some tips on how to react and deal with complaints.

Firstly, be organised. We are extraordinarily busy people, so we need to set timings, adhere to deadlines and keep records when receiving complaints. Some basic rules include:

  1. responding to the initial communication within 48 hours;
  2. ensuring that you have the information that you/ we need, including:
    • what happened
    • when it happened
    • who was involved
    • what they would like us to do to resolve the situation;
  3. keeping a record on Arbor;
  4. informing your line manager as appropriate;
  5. resolving the complaint within 10 days;
  6. confirming the complainant is happy with the outcome;
  7. if not, referring the complaint to your line manager or a similarly equipped member of staff.

Secondly, although some complainants can be emotional, challenging or even unfair, you should try to be:

  • courteous and friendly when they make contact;
  • sympathetic to their views and needs;
  • serious in the way you treat them;
  • interested in their views;
  • responsive to criticism;
  • understanding about their problems.

Importantly, let them be HEARD.… and here’s how! Borrowing an acronym that is apparently used by the Walt Disney Company when training their staff, we should:

  • Hear: Listen to the entire story. Don’t interrupt. Ask “is there anything else?”
  • Empathise: Use phrases that convey that you understand how they feel.
  • Apologise: And do so effusively! (It is not an admission of guilt).
  • Resolve: Fix the issue, and if you don’t know how ask, “How can I make this right?”
  • Diagnose: Get to the bottom of the issue so you can make sure it won’t happen again.

In conclusion, when someone is upset or angry, it may not always be our fault, but it is our problem. Using the Disney HEARD technique ensures that we handle all complaints effectively and in a consistent way. Although following this might feel a bit clumsy and awkward at first, with repeated practice it will become natural for us to respond to complaints in this way. Give it a try and see how it helps you.

Although I am not a big fan of Disney (for many reasons), this idea is extremely useful.

This blog is based on a presentation by Anthony Smith, Deputy Headteacher at the Reach Free School.

Featured image from Max Pixel and is used under a Creative Commons Licence. 

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