Monday, July 11, 2011

Creating a Campus Culture of Customer Service 2

The second step in creating a customer service culture (for step one click here) is to actually monitor all points of contact with students and other customers. It is important to know what levels of service are, or are not provided at every point that interacts with the primary customers. If you don’t know what is taking place you will be proceeding under ignorance, false impressions or even rumors all of which will not help to create a cure for poor or weak service that will account for up to 84% of your attrition.

The areas to be monitored include but are not limited to:
  • The University website
  • Collateral materials
  • Telephone system and protocols 
  • Receptionists and areas
  • Catalog
  • Signage provided to orient and direct on the campus
  • Entrance signage
  • Interior directional signs
  • Entrances
  • Decompression zones
  • Lobbies
  • Parking lots
  • Walkways
  • Halls
  • Colors
  • Open spaces
  • Lighting
  • Landscape
  • Paths
  • Appearance of building exteriors
  • Appearance of building interiors
  • Observable safety concerns
  • Cleanliness and general appearance including paint
  • Campus tour presentation including tour guide appearance, presentation, and interactions with guests.
  • Housing
  • Campus appearance
  • Landscaping and appearance
  • Campus flow
  • Pathways
  • All buildings
  • Building exteriors
  • Building interiors
  • Bathrooms
  • Common areas
  • Cafeteria
  • Entrances and entrance areas
  • Handicap compliance
  • Lobbies
  • Bookstore
  • Office appearance and physical services
  • Functional flow
  • Student space and its utilization
  • Observable safety concerns
  • Cleanliness and general appearance including paint
  • Utilization of areas

The customer service audit you should conduct or have conducted includes parts of the above with specific focus on primary active service providers and functions such as
  • Reception Areas 
  • Admissions
  • Counseling
  • Financial Aid
  • Registration
  • Bursars
  • Cafeteria 
  • Departmental reception areas
  • Administrative offices

Monitoring can be done in a number of ways from academic shopping (mystery shoppers) that can be trained students or colleagues or professionals, to observations and user surveys of customers.  We don’t recommend using internal shoppers however because that can lead to some allegations of bias some of which could even be true. In too many cases. on most campuses there are rumors or street knowledge that one group of another provides bad customer service. (What? Rumors in an academic community dedicated to truth and knowledge? Imagine!) When a school uses in-house shoppers they can bring these biases to the work and “find” validity to the allegations. That does not mean the assertions might not be true just that they can be challenged. The result could be an area that provides poor service getting a “bye” from charging bias. I am aware of this happening too often though it also seems to be that the department or location that challenges the results often is in real need of help. Easier to challenge and play campus politics than accept the reality that the area needs work. This is especially so when the challenge comes from the supervisor who is involved in a big game of CYA rather than helping the customers. This also creates ill-will on campus.

The other reason that in-house shoppers may not be as good as they could be is that they receive inadequate training. This can also be true of some “professional” shoppers too. We have run into too many “professionals who were out of work actors who were hired to play the role of a shopper only to miss major issues simply because they did not know what they were looking for. Or they were just following a checklist they had to get through without any feeling for the reasons for the issues being investigated.

But if the school can neither afford to hire external shoppers or finds that the politics of spending money for anyone to come and “spy” on the campus will not play on campus, it is better to use internal shoppers than none at all. Though whenever possible, it is best to use external auditors with the training, expertise and ability to stay out of any campus politics to ensure valid results.

Perhaps, rather than shoppers which is seen by some on campus as deceitful, the school can hire people to observe offices and operations. The observers can see how long people are kept waiting to get help. Can see how the interactions go and can talk to some of the customers as they leave the area to see if their questions and issues were resolved. Unless the observations are being used to develop criteria, the school should develop, communicate and train to some standards for service such as “a customer should be recognized within x seconds of entering an office”: the customer should be waited in within x seconds of being recognized” The customer should be greeted with a warm welcome”; “have his/her problem solved before leaving the office” and so on. These should be standardized for every office.

Emails and phone calls can be observed and tested the same way. “How many rings before being answered?” “Emails returned within x minutes or hours”. "Voicemails responded to by the end of the day”. And so on.

Another way to test and monitor customer service on campus is through surveys. These are done but some schools but are often not done well or are rendered pointless due to the committee structures that precede agreement on the tool. There are some are simple tools and some very complicated tools but we tend to tell schools to go with the simpler ones. We tend to recommend a modified open ended quality dimensions approach which asks just five questions.

1)     If you could change one thing today to make being a student better at the school what would it be?
2)     What office or area on campus has given you the best service?
3)     Why do you say this and can you give an example?
4)     What office or area on campus has given you the best service?
5)     Why do you say this and can you give an example?
We also suggest that you ask the survey completers to just identify themselves by group on campus (student, employee), academic major for students or major work groups (staff, administrator, faculty) how long they have been at the school, and male or female.

The responses to these five questions will keep whoever is analyzing the results busy for quite some time. The results need to be clustered around common quality indicators to be made into useful tools for moving forward. Then resorted to further redact the results for better targeting.

We recommend that the top five issues that could be changed to make life better be communicated to everyone along with how these will be resolved to improve customer service on campus. The communication should also say how the issues will be resolved and provide a target date.  That shows responsiveness which says the administration, training office or whomever is running the survey has actually read them and will be guided by them. This provides validity to the surveys and says someone is actually listening.

The results on the best providers and the worst need to then be used to develop some training sessions for employees. The best groups could get some kudos from the president or even the Board of Trustees but needs to be done in a way that is quite noticeable to tell a tale to everyone about the value of customer service on campus.

The results of the worst groups on campus will not just identify the weaker players but will generate clusters of bad behaviors that everyone can be trained on to replace the bad with good behaviors. They will indicate some of the quality indicators your customers use to identify what they do not want nor accept. You can then design the product to remove them while incorporating in some of the good behaviors.


The author of the article is Dr. Neal Raisman the president of AcademicMAPS, the leader in training, workshops and research on increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that seek to work with them.
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Neal is a pleasure to work with – his depth of knowledge and engaging, approachable style creates a strong connection with attendees. He goes beyond the typical, “show up, talk, and leave” experience that some professional speakers use. He “walks the talk” with his passion for customer service. We exchanged multiple emails prior to the event, with his focus being on meeting our needs, understanding our organization and creating a customized presentation. Neal also attended and actively participated in our evening-before team-building event, forging positive relationships with attendees – truly getting to know them. Personable, knowledgeable, down-to-earth and inspiring…. " Jean Wolfe, Training Manager, Davenport University

“Neal led a retreat that initiated customer service and retention as a real focus for us and gave us a clear plan. Then he followed up with presentations and workshops that kicked us all into high gear. We recommend with no reservations; just success.”
Susan Mesheau, Executive Director U First: Integrated Recruitment & Retention University of New Brunswick, CA

“Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop at Lincoln Technical Institute. It served to re-center ideas in a great way. I perceived it to be a morale booster, breath of fresh air, and a burst of passion.”
Shelly S, Faculty Member, Lincoln Technical Institute

“We had hoped we’d improve our retention with Neal's help by 3% but with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%
Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Fort Kent

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