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How One School Miscommunication Made Me Think I Lost My Daughter

The other day I thought I lost my daughter. She was supposed to come home from school with her friend. After being told the bus would be late and waiting for an hour, we were told, by the bus driver, that someone else had taken her home, and he didn’t know who. My daughter Palamee is 4-and-a-half, and her friend is 4-years-old.

If you’re a parent you can imagine the kinds of things that were going through my head. None of them were best case scenarios. My wife Kookkai and I freaked out. She started calling the bus driver, the school, and other parents. She couldn’t get through to the teacher. We didn’t know where our daughter was.

I hopped on our motorcycle and made it to the school in record time. I rushed to the window of her classroom and asked Palamee’s teacher where Palamee was. She said rather calmly that Palamee was there, along with her friend. I immediately called my wife to let her know that both children were safe. Much to my surprise the teacher had no idea the kids were supposed to go home on the bus.

What went wrong?

Earlier in the day the power went out at the school. Because temperatures that day were 100F+ and the AC was no longer on, they called off school. My wife got a call from the school saying all the kids needed to be picked up. As Palamee takes a bus to and from school she would get a ride back and her friend would come with her.

The teachers were not informed of how any of the kids would be getting home. I have no idea what happened with the bus driver, and why he told my wife that the kids were picked up by someone else.

This serious miscommunication between school administration and the teachers, along with who-knows-what-happened with the bus driver, led us to believe our daughter was with some stranger. It was no wonder her teacher was surprised by my question when I came rushing up to the window.

Palamee and her friend were picked up by her friend’s mother and shuttled back to our condo. As I was driving the motorcycle back home I thought about how one miscommunication and the inability to communicate with the one person who could provide a definitive answer, the teacher, led to what is now a complete loss of trust.

This kind of thing happens everyday at companies large and small.

Jack Welch, a former CEO of GE and one of the most famous and respected businessmen of our time, believed that it was the front-line people who knew the most about what was going on in a company, and that management needed to tap them for insights and information. It’s a very true statement. Yet here we have an example of (effectively) a business who is responsible children – our most precious asset – not communicating with their front-line people – the teachers.

What’s the fallout from this incident? Well I’m writing this blog post, though I’m not naming the school. And they would be losing our daughter anyhow since we’re heading back to the United States soon. So the impact in this instance is minimal. Your company might not be so lucky.

I remember being told many years ago that if a person visits a restaurant (I used to work in food service) if they have a great experience they’ll tell a few people. If on the other hand they have a horrible experience they’ll tell anyone that will listen. Of course today it’s even easier to tell tens of thousands of people with a tweet, Facebook status update, a blog post or a Yelp review. It’s simply good business practice to be monitoring the Internet for incidents like this one.

It’s even better business practice to communicate internally with your employees, let the know what’s going on, and find out from them what’s going on.

Ensure you’re communicating internally with the people who have the information.

Comments

  1. I read the entire story. That was a breathtaking one, Robert. Something similar happened to a friend of mine. I’m glad it didn’t happen to my son. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Neicolec says:

    I can relate to your story, Robert. With four kids and four times the play dates, there have been a couple of times where I thought a child was supposed to be one place and he or she wasn’t. It ALWAYS makes my heart race and gets me panicky. Even though I know it’s most likely that my child is fine. I’m so glad that everything is alright with your beautiful daughter.
     
    I think you’re right on with your analogy to social media, too. It’s a challenge when a company is doing their own social media–and even more of a challenge when they are outsourcing it. In fact, it’s a good argument against outsourcing. It’s even harder to get the quick, accurate communication or answer to a customer’s issue when the people responding don’t work at the company, don’t know the products and systems inside and out, and have to work through their interfaces at the company to get answers and respond to customers. 

    •  @Neicolec you are quite a busy lady Neicole :)
       
      As for companies outsourcing their social media, frankly I don’t think that’s a great idea. The biggest reason I don’t “do social media” for my clients is that I don’t sound anything like them. People are smart and they can tell. To qualify that though my clients are service providers and typically 1-2 person operations, so they’re high touch with their customers. For a large business it could be different, but still…
       
      What I do do though is the research aspects. Seeking out their ideal customers on social networks and connecting the two parties. That works out very well. And I don’t have to pretend I’m someone I’m not.

  3. Kelly Lester says:

    My heart STOPPED while reading your story Robert. That’s utterly frightening (an understatement) and thank god it had a happy ending. 

    •  @Kelly Lester the level of freaked out can’t be described in words. Very terrifying. We were very happy that it had a great ending too. Thanks Kelly!

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