Monday, May 02, 2011

Rules Can Get in the Way of Good Customer Service

The research shows that 90% of all customer service issues are managerially-related. The system or company creates rules and procedures that interfere with the ability of the employees to provide great customer service. Note I did not say manager-related though there are certainly cases in which a manager creates the problems. I have had such managers including Boards of Trustees that caused the problems in being able to really make student number on in the school. One reason I don’t president any more. But the research does indicate the rules and policies are often the real problem.

Here’s an example. A student had been in a car accident and was laid up for over two weeks. She simply was not able to get to school or even pout of the hospital bed to get to a computer. The hospital did not allow wireless computers to be used either. Neither  she nor her family were really concerned about the classes she was missing at the time. During the first few days, the concern was would she come out of the coma b not English 112 nor calculus etc. She did come out of the coma after three days and progressed quite nicely everyone is pleased to say but she would not return to school for three weeks. She did finally get in touch with most of her faculty though one did not return her call. They all agreed to help her make up the work if she chose to do so. She decided to drop calculus. Then one the faculty member was not calling back from. She had an F on her first and only test in the class and decided she could not catch up. She was having trouble while she was in class.

When she returned to school she went to the registrar’s office and tried to drop the course. The woman who was behind the counter told here the add/drop date had passed so she could not drop the course. The student explained about the car accident, the come and the recuperation period but the woman would not budge. (A side not. Does anyone know why the people in registrar’s office are almost invariably some of the worst customer service deliverers? I can go to most any campus and find complaints from students and even collages about the registrar’s office. I have some theories on the issue but would love to hear yours.)

“Rules are rules. They are there for good reasons and If I do this for you I’d have to do it for everyone.”

Though the student was thinking in two short common words, she did not say them. She instead asked to see the person’s supervisor.  She next met with the assistant registrar who said she understood her situation but could do nothing about it. The rule said “Students may withdraw from a course while failing through the last day of classes for the term with the written permission of the instructor, the student's faculty advisor, and the dean of the departnment in which the course resides.  A grade of WF is recorded on the student's record and appears in the grade-point averages as an F grade.”

"But I was in the hospital”

“Should have called the faculty member and made arrangements or gone on-line to drop the course.”

“I was in a coma for three days and the hospital did not have wireless. I had no access to a computer. My parents and I thought the university would understand and help me out.”

“I’d like to help but I can’t. My hands are tied. I have to follow the university rules in these cases.”

When the issue was brought to the president’s office by the parents, she said she would look into it. After a week went by the student’s mother called the president’s office again and was referred to the Provost’s office. The provost had referred the issue to the dean’s office who went to the department head who in turn went to the faculty member who wanted a note from the doctor before he would consider any changes to the record. The letter was obtained and brought to the faculty member who agreed to allow he to just be dropped from the course. She then went to her faculty advisor but she could not find him so she bypassed the advisor to go to the dean’s office. She said she could and would do nothing until she obtained the signature of the advisor. That was school policy and the process that had to be followed.

When she went home that day she told her parents of the university’s policies and the horrible service she was getting. They were appalled that she was being shuffled around the campus after what should have been an open and shut case. Her father called the president’s office again and left a message on the answering phone. He waited for an answer. The one he got was the one about the how the president could not talk to him about this because his daughter did not have a FERPA waiver on file. The school’s policy did not allow her to talk with him. “Have the daughter come in to the office and the Provost would help her.”

When the lawyer called she had filed a FERPA waiver and had given the lawyer permission to speak for her.  Then they would not talk with the family because the university’s policy was to not discuss any issue that could move to litigation.  The lawyer filed suit to have the course dropped and the university counsel agreed to have that done to avoid a law suit. The daughter transferred to another university over the summer.

Managerial not management but in this case some poor people management as well. And some quite poor managers.
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N.Raisman & Associates has been providing customer service, retention, enrollment and research training and solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits, workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. N.Raisman & Associates prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 
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Matt said...

Actually at Pratt Institute, where you came to speak, I think the Registrar's Office gives the best level of customer service on campus. Of course I'm biased when I say that but it's also borne out by the results from the most recent student satisfaction survey.

I like the attention to detail part of the job but I also like being help to assist the students with solving the problems that they are faced with.

Personally I think if more Registrar's Offices took a more pro-active approach to their duties and responsibilities I think more college and universities would have fewer student service problems, ours included.

Anonymous said...

I happen to work in a Registrar's Office with very high customer service satisfaction according to year end surveys, but I'll concede that we may be an outlier.

However, while I agree that this particular student's case was handled appallingly, she is also an outlier. Most students wanting to add or drop classes past the deadlines aren't held up in hospital beds--they just aren't paying attention. There was an article just the other day on this blog about how and why students blithely ignore the add/drop deadlines, and the author laid the blame right where it belongs, squarely on the shoulders of the students.

What a lot of people don't realize--even other employees of the institution--is that the Registrar's Office has to enforce the academic policies on record in order for the institute to keep its accreditation. There are federal deadlines we have to meet in terms of reporting the number of students in classes and the amount of financial aid that we get. If the institute gets audited and the auditors find a bunch of students who were added or dropped from classes after the deadline, the auditors have grounds to remove the institute's accreditation. Then everyone is sunk.

Frequently the other departments on campus want to know why we can't just do x, y, and z for students. They don't realize that the buck stops here, in the Registrar's Office. What we do affects every other department--Bursar's, Financial Aid, on-campus employment, and even international students' visa requirements. And yet, most faculty members and advisers regard the Registrar's Office as unnecessary, hardass bureaucrats who just give the rest of the institute a hard time for the hell of it.

I think the author has displayed a huge amount of ignorance about the Registrar's Office and what we do. We were howling with laughter the other day when we read about bad students and their add/drop troubles. We thought, Finally, someone gets it!

Apparently not.