It is human nature to communicate more when we are unhappy than when we are happy. Part of this tendency relates to a common perception that failing to meet expectations breaches some implicit agreement between the parties providing and receiving the service while producing the intended outcome forms the baseline or minimum of our standards. Consequently, most of us contact an organization to give feedback when we are unhappy to lodge a complaint, but forget to let people know the good things about our experience. Think about the last time you had a good meal at a restaurant. If you are like me, you might have told the wait staff that you enjoyed it or even the host or hostess on the way out. However, if the food turned out bad, then the manager typically comes into play. We want someone responsible to understand that we paid for a service and product and it failed to meet our expectations. We want a solution to gap between our mental image of the experience and reality.
Although we might assume no real linkages exists between the plight of the waiter with the unhappy customer and those of us that are human resource professionals, there are three lessons important to those of us providing human resource services:
- Bad service simply results in a stronger and different emotional reaction
- One bad experience characterizes the bunch
- Proactive resolution meets the emotional demand
As human resource professionals, our customers operate with similar emotions to the unhappy restaurant patron. If the service provided meets or even exceeds expectations, then little occurs as follow-up. The employee goes away happy and equates the assistance as someone completed his or her job satisfactorily. However, when something even minor goes wrong, the employee feels compelled to “right the wrong.” The rational for taking action varies, but typically pertains to a sense of fixing an issue or preventing the continuation of poor service, ensuring that the role of the customer receives the necessary weight, or balancing the lack of service by creating trouble for the offending party. A common statement I have encountered with employee groups is that the participant “works hard at his or her job and wants the same effort from the human resource staff.”
One Bad Experience
Another important facet of poor service relates to the human tendency to equate all experiences with the worst occurrence. Most people bases an organization’s perceived level of service with the poorest experience to date. In other words, the least common denominator becomes the perception we have of the organization and its services. The worst meal, shirt, store, movie, or event becomes a mental baseline. Consequently, how we view service is not as simple as how are we doing overall or on average. Consistency and negative variation become central to customer perceptions. If human resources misspells my name in a personal communication or makes another minor clerical error, the tendency is to assume that mistakes are typical.
Over the last several decades, organizations shifted their approach from defending their actions to acknowledging a customer’s concern and devising a specific corrective action when possible. The simple act of listening then acting reduces much of the negative emotion that drives the complaint and demonstrates to the concerned party that the human resource staff takes them seriously. When the complaint pertains to the restrictiveness of legal requirements or complying with best practices that safeguard the organization, listening and presenting alternative solutions to better addresses the negative emotion can goes a long way.