Sunday, February 18, 2007

Customer Friendly - The College-Way

I often get calls or emails asking about good books to read on customer service. Many people ask about ones by or about Disney, Nordstrom’s, Starbucks, Southwest, and some by Ken Blanchard and company. These are all good to interesting books. You can pick up some ideas from any of them. I have read most of them as I look for new knowledge I can apply to our unique world.

But they do not really talk to our issues in higher education or post-secondary. These are all focused on retail and commercial services usually in entertainment or food areas. They are all part of the company’s branding control campaign as well. They are promoting the image that the company is great on customer service which is true for some, may have been true for others and just a marketing illusion well sold for others. Keep in mind that if you tell customers we are customer friendly, they may believe it and buy from you.

Isn’t that the basic marketing approach of most schools by the way? No, not customer service. Schools do not talk about that. They just claim things like “small classes, caring faculty”. By the way, small can run anywhere from maybe 25 to 250 in the small amphitheater and no student is over 7 feet tall. If the school can make the language part of its language, can present it often enough in its marketing, the view book and admission presentations, they believe they can create an image that will “sell” the school best. Just like businesses try to manage their impression.

A quick example. I was in a Starbucks the other day. One of my favorite places for coffee and nosh plus observing our students in their natural habitat. College is an unnatural environment really. I was standing in line so I could order and stand in another line. Always seems to be a line. Hmmm, people hate lines yet we all know Starbucks is high on the customer service list. Oh well, the people there are invariably friendly and the coffee usually good. In any case, the young woman behind the counter announced she could help the next “guest”. Me. So I stepped forward and asked if I were a guest. She assured me I was so I ordered and then she asked for money. “You want me to pay? But I am a guest. I never ask my guests to pay for their drinks or meals at my place. That’s what you ask of a customer. To pay.”

She was bewildered of course but I helped her out. “Okay, here is my credit card but I am not a guest. Guests don’t pay. I don’t mind being a customer by the way so why. I came in here expecting to pay. Why do you have to call me a guest?”

She explained that it was a new company initiative to improve customer service and improve branding of the image of Starbucks as being customer friendly. Not that they actually need to do that. I would suggest they seem to have figured out that if they can please customers with good coffee and make-believe drinks plus friendly servers, they will keep customers and build their business. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if this approach works for them.

Could it work in higher education? Outside of the fact that they are notoriously cheap with coffee, it could. If schools actually provide good service and not just lip service.

Let me give you a suggestion to try to put all the stuff above into action. Not with words, but action. And an action that will not just put action to words but make students believe you on day one, or maybe two.

During registration, or anytime when students new students stand in that long line have a coffee station there. Let students get out of line to get a cup of coffee and then take it back with them. Better still, build off of what I found at North Georgia Technical College as students waited to meet with financial aid advisors. There, students took a number to meet with an advisor. They could wait in one of number of rows of chairs set up for them to wait for their number to be called. What if the school had a coffee bar for them to get a cup of coffee, tea, soda or juice students could get up and grab to keep them company while they wait. Better yet, what if they had tables, couches and comfortable chairs? Now, that’d say guest. (Cue the Beauty and the Beast.)

Actually, as you can see the solution is simple. The school is your home. You’ve invited these guests in. Just show them the treatment you would provide to any invited guest. And don’t get all hung up over the small amount of cost involved. It is absolutely insignificant. Simply place the cost of some beverages and snacks against lost tuition when a student gets fed up waiting in lines and being ignored. I mean a couple hundred dollars against what…anywhere from a few thousand to $25,000-plus when just one student gives up. Do not overlook the reality that that having to wait for anything is in the top ten “things I hate” of students. Students will actually walk out if they feel they are waiting too long. Or they may not leave right then and there, but the “this place does not give a damn about me” can certainly start in a slow moving line.

Think about where you can make students feel like real guests who wish to stay?

1 comment:

Gails14 said...

I love the thought of treating students as guests. I sent two e-mails to my daughter's university over the summer. It took Residential Life 8 weeks to respond; it took the Office of Student Life 4 weeks to respond. The first was a question regarding how to request early move-in; the second was a request for the name of the faculty advisor for a student group.

If they were a business they wouldn't be in business very long. At least the Office of Student Life apologized for how long it took them to get back to me - but how long does it take to look up the name of a faculty advisor?