Advice for Dealing with Complaints

Yearbook editor standing in the archives, trying to figure out how to respond to an angry parent's complaint

When a parent, staff member, or student approaches with a complaint about the yearbook, it can be challenging not to react or take it personally. Common yearbook complaints range from missed order deadlines to incomplete coverage (e.g., “I’m not in the yearbook enough”), and typos. Taking the right approach will help you validate the concern and move to a proactive solution for your yearbook program.

Listen to the Complaint

“Take a deep breath, remain calm, and remember it’s not personal,” Abby Oxendine, Treering’s Community Advocate Team (CAT) Director, said. “The person is angry with the product, policy, or process, not you.”

Give the person making the complaint your full attention and listen carefully to what they have to say. Allow them to express their concerns without interruption and empathize with their situation.

“The reality of their concern is real to them,” Yearbook Hero Chris Frost said. “It is important to understand that while your world includes every student, to the parent their kid is their world.”

Ask for Specific Details

Ask the person to provide specific details about what they’re unhappy with in the yearbook. This will help you to better understand the issue and to determine the best course of action. Oxendine suggests summarizing their main points in a confident, positive tone to show you are listening. This also ensures you know exactly what the complaint entails.

Sample starter sentences include

  • “I understand your concerns…”
  • “Thank you for sharing your concerns with me…”
  • “We will do all we can to fix these issues…” (Only use if you can fix the issue, e.g., ship a yearbook home to someone who missed the original deadline.)

Offer a Solution

Frost said, “Sometimes just being able to express the frustration is resolution enough. They may not want your solutions, just to voice their concerns.”

In the case a solution is warranted—and feasible—commit to what is possible. If you set a follow-up action, make sure you call or email back by the scheduled time. It’s important at this stage you never overpromise.

Document the Complaint

Recording the complaint and the steps you took to address it will help you to track patterns and improve future yearbooks for future editions.

Follow Up

Send a follow-up email detailing the resolution. You might even consider offering the student or parent a position to help the yearbook team to help avoid issues in the future. This will show that you care about their opinion and are committed to improving the yearbook.

Personal anecdote: I had a teacher complain once about the portrait section who became the official portrait proofer for the yearbook.

Avoiding the Top 3 Yearbook Complaints

When your hard work is on display and is a lasting keepsake, you want it to be the best reflection of your school community and your yearbook team. Here are ways to avoid the big three.

1. Missed Order Deadlines

We know: you sent emails, used a school-wide robocall, posted on social media, made a viral video with your principal, and someone still didn’t know when, where, or how to order the yearbook.

How Treering Can Help

“Volunteering to create my kids’ yearbook is a lot of work, but with Treering I never worry about the outcome. I know Treering will help me anytime a problem arises.”

Erin M., Treering Yearbook Specialist and elementary school yearbook coordinator
  • The integrated marketing suite in each Treering account allows editors to send purchase and customization reminder emails, order free flyers, download social graphics, and share purchase links.
  • Never tell a parent or student no again: your storefront is always open, and they can purchase an old yearbook, even years later.
  • Mix up your marketing campaigns with our social calendar.

2. Incomplete Coverage

Some parents and students may feel that the yearbook did not adequately cover certain students, events, or activities. To ensure that all events and activities are adequately covered in the yearbook, you can create a detailed coverage plan when drafting your ladder at the beginning of the year and assign staff members to cover each event. 

Consider adding a note to acknowledge those who did take advantage of the opportunities to submit content and photos. (This is also a subtle reminder parents and students had opportunities throughout the year to be more involved in coverage.) A simple “Thank you parents and students who shared their photos and completed our surveys. We love telling your stories.” will go far.

How Treering Can Help

  • Shared folders provide your stakeholders with opportunities to share their photos. Yearbook Hero Lauren Casteen uses these photos that the yearbook staff may have missed, such as a band event hours away.
  • Community portraits allow parents the opportunity to upload a portrait of a student who may have missed picture day or joined in the second semester.
  • Tag your photos and monitor coverage with the index report, a real-time listing of who is in the book.
  • Parents and students can tell the story of their year with custom pages, two free pages that appear only in their copy of the yearbook.

2. Missing or Incorrect Information

One of the most common complaints is when a student’s name, photo, or information is missing or incorrect in the yearbook. 

When applicable, remind parents that this is a student-published item, while you do your best to facilitate the book, students have creative control and lead how the book is done. It’s their homework that is on display for a lifetime. 

If it’s a volunteer job to create this living, breathing historical document of life for hundreds of kids at a moment in time. That is a heavy burden to carry alone. (Most professional journalists work in a team!) 

“Parent volunteers have enough on their plates with being good parents, spouses, employees of their jobs, and volunteers to boot! Having to field phone calls from confused parents shouldn’t be another feather in their cap—unless they want it.”

Katie P., Customer Success Manager and elementary school yearbook coordinator

Yearbook Disclaimer

Even the New York Times has a disclaimer. The yearbook colophon is a great place to add yours, whether you are a volunteer army putting together the book or a group of student journalists. It can be as simple as “We have done our best to ensure the accuracy of the information in the yearbook and apologize for any errors.”

Tips for Next Year

To proactively combat errors, you can check your records and the student’s school records to ensure all the information is correct. Another resource is the ever-changing school calendar. 

Treering’s Customer Success Team recommends having a second set of eyes proof your book. If that’s not possible (we know a lot of yearbook heroes who do it solo), walk away for a few days then come back fresh. It’s hard to see these little mistakes when you have been staring at the book for days.

How Treering Can Help

Remember, the key to handling complaints about the yearbook is to remain calm, professional, and focused on finding a solution that works for everyone. By addressing complaints positively and constructively, you can improve the yearbook and build trust with your yearbook stakeholders. Remember, in the end, you cannot please 100% of people 100% of the time.

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