Closing the Loop

Categories: Campus community, Communication, Staffing

To shed some light on the ins and outs of internal communication, I asked the directors of two of the biggest operations on campus to explain how their departments manage the communication process.  This is what they had to say.

From Norm Cushman, Director of Facilities Services

At Facilities Services, the pursuit of exemplary customer service is a continual goal. With many details to keep track of in our business, there is always the chance that we will fail or disappoint a customer.  Over time, we’ve come to subscribe to the philosophy that if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.  Consequently, we believe that taking care of the little things is what matters most.  And in order to take care of the little things, we try to “close the communication loop” in our interactions with others.  Simply stated, if I know something that you don’t know, the communication loop is open.  For email, a response of “thanks,” “I agree,” “let’s discuss,” or “understood” lets the other party know that you have read their message and that they have been acknowledged. Similarly, returning phone messages lets the caller know that you take their call seriously. Closing the loop requires little effort and even when the news does not satisfy the other party, it helps avoid the “they never get back to me,” black-hole of communication.  People almost always wish to know that their message has been received and understood, even if they don’t like the reply.  By the way, this philosophy applies to communications within Facilities Services as well communications with the rest of the campus.

From Mike Roy, Dean of Library and Information Services

People frequently contact LIS when something is wrong, something is broken, or they need something quickly in order to get their work done. And because many of our services require coordination among the various parts of LIS, we often need to communicate internally before we can respond with a complete answer and follow up on a request.  This communication loop can be a challenge to manage. We receive requests through multiple channels—email, web forms, phone calls, faxes, walk-ins, paper forms—and we respond in variety of ways.  We strive to blend the friendliness of a hotel concierge and the efficiency of FedEX.com, and avoid the soulless bureaucracy of governmental agencies.  Over the years, we’ve found that the use of queues (like sending email to helpdesk@middlebury.edu) and allowing patrons to track their requests via the web is the most robust way to manage requests, with the caveat that the best forum for handling a more complicated request is a face-to-face meeting, a phone call, or a series of email.  But the problem with email is that it is fragile. It is usually a one-on-one transaction, and if the thread gets lost, or the person on the other end happens to be on vacation, your request can be forgotten or delayed. More robust systems that allow requests to be routed, managed by multiple people, and allow the requester to check on the status of things are, in principle, far superior to email. That said, such systems are more cumbersome for all involved, and feel much less personal than the phone, face-to-face conversation, and even email.

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