Sunday, May 08, 2011

Embedding Customer Service in the Campus Culture through Rewards

Rewards are very important to developing a culture of good customer service. Simply put, people need to know there is a value in changing and adapting to a real student first culture. So any cultural change needs to be reinforced with rewards. They tell people they are doing the right thing and make people feel good when they do them.

Rewards can be as simple as “great job” as profound as a “Thank you” or as materialistic as you wish to be. But they should almost always be contemporaneous with the event. Timing is important.

There is little as powerful as someone saying “well done” when someone does something that delivered good customer service. If for example, you observe an employee walking a student from one office to another to get her the service and help she needs at the correct office, That’s when you should tell the walker “well done. That was just great.” That is a reward that comes right at the event and is strong and positive. The walker gets the satisfaction of someone having observed and giving a reward. And that’ll come with a smile so it is a double reward. An “attagirl”is always a good thing to give. It recognizes the person, the event and good customer service. When someone provides good customer service, recognize and reward.

One of the strongest rewards a manager can give is a simple, powerful “thank you.”  People in general seek both attention and recognition. Little provides both as well as a thank you from the boss. If a supervisor sees someone doing anything to help another, student or colleague, the supervisor should go up to the provider and say something like “I just want to say thank you Elizabeth for the great way you helped that student. That was just wonderful. Thank you.” That is recognition and reinforcement of the value of good service to the culture of the school that will be remembered for quite a while. It also reinforced the value of the service provided and odds are very good, it will be given to numerous others in the future. Thank you is just such a powerful communication and reward.

Another very strong reinforcement that good service is valued is through communicating a bit more formally with the person. Supervisors and administrators should have small engraved single fold cards like those used to write thank you’s for gifts. The cards should be engraved on a good stock too since the card will then state a value to the recipient if it seems “expensive” even though these cards really are not. A person should take one out and write a note to someone who has provided some good customer service to another at the school, especially students. A short note stating the service provided along with an appreciation for the person plus a written thank you is mailed to the person’s home. Getting it at home makes the thank you even more effective. This is because few things from the school, especially the administrators are mailed home. Moreover it says you have taken the time and effort to write it by hand and mail it rather than the usual email which just does not have the impact of a note mailed home.  Furthermore, it can be, and will be shown to everyone in the house and even beyond.

There can also be formal programs set up to recognize and reward customer service all year long with a big payoff at the end.  At one school I was Chancellor of, I created a system called the bucks. We printed up college dollars in various point denominations. One of them is above. We customized them to have photos of people and places at the school on the point bills. Senior administrators (who could not get bucks) had the bucks to give out on the spot. When someone provided good customer service they were given a buck with as point domination that seemed appropriate. The bucks were an immediate reward.

We also had a form that could be used by colleagues to nominate another colleague for bucks for good service. They could also indicate the level of the service and what demonization they felt could be appropriate. The nominations went to the presidents’ office for review. Then at the monthly all-college update meetings where we not only told the campus what was going on and what would be going on, we gave out the bucks from colleagues. The minor ceremony was greatly anticipated as we read the name of the recipient, the nominee and the rational and gave out the appropriate bucks. The winners were also noted in an email that went out to the entire college following the monthly all-college meeting. People put great stock in the bucks and even had a competition going to compare total point totals. Others taped them across the wall or tacked them up in their offices or work area. And since the bucks were for good customer service to students (an automatic ten bucks) and to colleagues (one to five bucks) we were constantly rewarding good service and making that part of the culture.

The bucks would be used in an auction of things like cameras, palm pilots, and a lap top as the bigger prizes and lots of smaller goods as well as services like hotel weekends and dinners. Some would be donated others we bought for the auction which took place the afternoon of graduation.  We set aside a fund of two thousand dollars or a dollar a student for the event whichever number would be greater. If there were more than 2000 student retained into the week just before graduation, we would put more money into the fund. This also put the focus on retention as a value for the school and the people who worked there. The only money that could be used to bid on the auction items were the bucks. So the more bucks a person earned, the more he or she would have to bid for items for services at the auction. This of course encouraged people to provide good customer service so they could get more bucks to buy more things through bidding. 

The good service bucks provided immediate rewards when they would be given to a person immediately upon providing good service. They also became part of the culture as they were given out every week and the winners of the bucks were recognized. The bucks also grew a culture that saw that providing good customer service as a goal of the school had and would support all year culminating in some really good rewards. It imbedded good customer service as part of the culture of the college and even got more people to attend graduation to be there for the auction that immediately followed.

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