Straight Talk – What BART Can Teach Us About Managing Complaints


Whether you’re contending with disgruntled employees or an irate public, fielding complaints is no task for the faint of heart. Just ask Taylor Huckaby, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) spokesman, who gained media attention for handling a Twitterstorm of rider complaints about the transit system’s issues.

Huckaby, who describes himself as a “professional apologist for America’s crumbling infrastructure,” handled the barrage of irate customer tweets with transparency, intelligence and good grace. Here are seven lessons we can learn from his example:

  1. Just listen: Let the employee state his or her case. Having the opportunity to vent will usually put the employee in a calmer frame of mind so you can have a productive conversation.
  2. Acknowledge the complaint: Have empathy. Validate the employee’s right to be heard. While you don’t have to agree with the individual, you do need to be respectful and listen to the issue. And if the employee has made a good point, say so.
  3. Apologize: Even if the employee isn’t in the right, apologize for his or her inconvenience.
  4. Keep your cool: Don’t take the complaint personally. Even if the complaint is unfair, keep your feelings in check to avoid escalating a bad situation.
  5. Ask questions: After listening to the initial complaint, ask for more details, if needed, so you can respond appropriately to the issue.
  6. Provide additional information: Offer clarifying details to educate the individual and provide more context about the situation.
  7. Stick to facts when outlining a solution: When discussing a resolution to the matter, be clear about what can and cannot be done — and state realistic deadlines for those actions.

Keep in mind that many employee complaints are a sincere desire for your department or company to operate with excellence. Having the patience and professionalism to take in, and respond productively to, this input will better engage employees and strengthen your business.