Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Guaranteed Customer Service Retention Increase 3: End the Shuffle

customer service,in college academic customer service, retention, attrition, student success, college customer service, enrollment
It may have different names – the shuffle, getting turfed, or just plain getting the @%$ing run around – but it is always the same and always hated by students. The shuffle occurs when a student goes to an office to get something done of to have an issue taken care off. Once at the office, someone tells the student “Oh we don’t do that. You have to go to the XYZ office. Next.” So the student moves on to then next office where he or she is again told “Not my job. Try ---“. And so on until the student find he is moving in a circle from place and getting nowhere. The negative emotional momentum builds.

The student begins to feel he is being pulled all over campus in an ever widening circle of not getting the help or service needed. He is being pushed all over campus to the point that centrifugal force is

pulling on him ,more and more telling him to just break the runaround so he just gives into it taking the first exit available. Perhaps to return later aggravated without the issue or problem being solved. And waiting for just one more run around to let him no for sure that the school just does not care enough for him to continue. Besides, the problem still exists and there does not appear a clear way to solve it. So, it will call for another run around to try and getting the issue or function completed or the student will just say the heck with it and let it defeat him later.

1. Poor customer service notions and attitudes
2. One office does not know what another does
3. Over-reliance on technology as a service substitute
People who work in offices and areas that are supposed to help students often do not get any academic or other customer service training. Yet, these are always front-line people who are the first, and sometimes last, people students go to for assistance. They seem not to like dealing with students and let them know that by not helping them. They seem to be as busy as can be working hard to get students out of the office or away from in front of them. Without training, they accept and assume the prevailing community attitudes towards students which seem to be summed up in the supposedly humorous but very telling line “this would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the students.”

So they simply either send students to another person who might be willing to help them or just send them away with the lame statement that ‘We don’t do that here” before “turfing” them off to another office. That scenario is repeated all over campus as students are shuffled from place to place.

There is also the reality that the parts of a contemporary campus do not every see the whole picture. People live in their own offices or cubbies and do not interact with those from other offices all that much. Their loyalty is not to the institution as a whole unit or to its primary and most important customers, students. The workers see their loyalty to the office they are assigned to and those within it. The result is a cluster of offices and people working in isolation from one another in what is an ideal silo community.

Since they are cut off from other areas, they do not know what the others do for students and actually for themselves. The general response collected when asked what another office does is too often “not much” or “cause me more work”. Each office or functional area working within itself in almost isolation from others develops its own arcane policies, procedure to follow. And since there is limited interaction, colleagues outside an office or area most often do not know of the changes either. This makes the employees force students to shuffle from office to office trying to find out what ones colleagues had not shared with the original office.

The isolation of offices and areas also leads to each functional group to develop its own forms to be filled out with the same information the office down the hall required from students. But no so students need to go from office to office, department to department and functional area to functional area to find out who has the form he or she needs. Then they have to obtain the particular forms from that office and the form asks for the same information the student already provided another office on its form. One would think that colleges and universities never heard of shared data bases. But considering another reason for the shuffle and poor service maybe that is not so bad.
Too many colleges and universities have substituted on-line technological, self-serve assistance, for customer service in many areas on and off-campus as well as situations. In fact, there are some schools and some offices at many, too many schools that have become dependent on technology for customer service almost to the exclusion of person-to-person contact and assistance.

Of course, if an office or people in it do not want to work with people, what better way to make sure they can avoid human contact than to shove technology in the way. And wouldn’t it be great to be able to claim that technology is a better way to let students have more control and make it easier for them.

“They won’t have to walk all the way over to the ___________ office.” Is the claim but not the reality of why technology replaces humans in service.

Emily Yellin writes on poor telephone communication by companies in her book that Your Call is Not that Important to Me (Free Press; 2009).
Self-service saves companies money, gives customers information instantly, and liberates agents from answering repetitive questions. But self-service also can fuel the perception that a company is uncaring or arrogant – not wanting its customers to talk to live human representatives. (p94)
It is interesting that the most common adjectives used to describe the functions and service in these offices by students and staff alike when we bring campus departments or offices that have become technology driven, customer indifferent service locations common descriptors of those are “arrogant”, “rude” and “uncaring”.

It has been found while doing campus service audits, there is a correlation between technology reliance and customer defiance in offices. In most every contact made with offices that are too technology-reliant to assess its customer service ended with a direction to go on-line and complete a form there. Even when we would ask for a copy of a specific form in one of these offices, we would invariably be instructed to go on line. It seems they will do most anything to avoid person-to-person service.

It needs to be understood that when people seek help from another person, they will expect that individual to provide the assistance; not send them away to go on-line. If a person makes the effort to go to an office they will want at least an equal effort coming back to them. If they make a phone call, they expect to have someone help them on the phone. And if they use email to contact an office, it does not mean they love technology and do not want human-to-human contact. These person-to-person contacts and responses are the basis of social equity which is at the core of much of customer service. This effort to help is not found when one is turfed, sent away to somewhere else, in this case to on-line.

Turfing is a term common to hospitals but fits in academia also. When a hospital patient may demand a great deal of time or attention, or may not live, he or she may be turfed – sent to another department or specialty area. This way, the originating department does not have to deal with the issues the patient presents or deal with failure. But the most common reason is that people on campus just simply do not know one another enough because they live in their own castles.

Students are often turfed from department to department in academia. This is not because they may not survive though it can happen when a department or person does not want to provide bad news. Turfing usually happens because someone does not want to put him or herself out to help or simply does not know how to. So the student is turfed on to somewhere else. Now, in academia we don’t call it turfing, just the shuffle. And the students hate it whether they have to go from office to office or from office to on-line technology.

There may well be an argument that states that college-aged students may want to solve problems themselves. There is certain validity to the argument. But when a student does come into an office, calls or wrote to a person seeking help, that student is not trying to solve an issue him or herself. The student is reaching out to a human and expects that the person will reach back; not turf, not shuffle the student to the web. Over-dependence on technology for service is harming customer service on campus.
Workflow Diagramming as a Shuffle Ending Tactic
To end the shuffle, begin by setting consistent institutional customer service standards on simple things such as proper telephone and personal greeting, time in which all emails and voice mails should be responded to, time to recognizing a visitor to an office, physical structures, reception areas, etc. Then create a functional workflow process and diagram that integrates all offices around the needs of students and one another. To generate the workflows, people from different offices and parts of the college whose areas actually interact must sit and work together. And we don’t mean the administrators but the people who really do the work itself. The ones with a vested interest. They not only will help the process reflect realities, they will interact with colleagues who depend on one another. As they interact, they will learn what others do and thus will be able to better assist students. In so doing, they will start to end the shuffle since they know who does what and can send the students to the correct area to accomplish their objectives.

For example, one diagram should follow a student from application through to showing up on first day of classes. Every step in the process should be charted and a responsibility center indicated. Dates by which the work needs to be accomplished for smooth integration with the next office should be noted. Any paperwork needed should be indicated and by whom it needs to be received as well as if information on it needs to go to another office. Review all forms to make sure they integrate material and assist not only the originating office but the next one. And be certain they are really needed or are we just making students and families do extra work so we can have our personal form?
Finally, students, the customers must always come first. Make sure that every step is streamlined to require the least amount of time and effort for the student and the family first. Second, that every step is needed and in compliance. Third, that every step is understood and integrated by all other offices and people involved. Fourth, whenever possible all material, forms, information and data should be entered into a single, integrated MIS. This could also allow for increased customer service by letting the system pre-fill all and any areas on forms such as name, address, etc that a student might have to complete. Any time we can remove additional repetitive work for a customer, the happier they will be. This can also be accomplished for colleagues if the information is in an integrative data base.
Workflow diagrams can be made for any and all processes that need to be accomplished in the administration of the school and students. Creating them will bring people together into teams. Force them to work together. Help them learn what others do. And perhaps, start taking chunks out of the walls of the silos so people can start to gain a larger integrated vision of the college.
FAQ User Sheets and School User Manuals
Schools may also wish to consider putting together FAQ sheets of the most frequent student issues or questions in each office. Ask the people who work in each office to compile a list of the most common student concerns or questions as well as the common ones that are asked but do not apply to their office. Once compiled, these can be turned into an indexed School User Manual (Our University for Non-Dummies?) that students and employees could access to find answers to their questions. These could be used also to find answers to issues or needs students have but may not be specific to the office. In turn, the manual would provide people in each office with information to know the answers to many common student questions so they could direct students to the correct location for an answer. A user manual could also be the basis for giving people the information needed to end the shuffle.

All these efforts can start to tear down walls caused by lack of communication. Interaction is the best way to get people to learn about and know who one another is and what they do. As a result, this can and will improve performance, satisfaction and service to one another and students.


The author of the above article is Dr. Neal A. Raisman the leading researcher, consultant and presenter on academic customer service. His firm AcademicMAPS provides colleges, universities and schools as well as the business that wish to work with them. The audits, training, workshops and presentation they provide have assisted over 300 colleges, universities and career schools in the US, Canada and Europe improve and increase student success and retention to graduate more alumni.

His latest book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education is the
best-selling book on collegiate customer service and retention and is available from The Administrator's Bookshelf.

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