Friday, February 17, 2012

Collegiate Hospitality and Service Excellence

In his book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business,  Danny Meyer makes an important distinction between services and hospitality that should be considered and employed. On page 65 he wrote “Understanding the difference between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of the product. Hospitality is how the delivery of the product makes the recipient feel. …Hospitality which most distinguishes our restaurants – and ultimately any business – is the sum of the thoughtful, caring, gracious things of staff does to make you feel we are on your side when you are dining with us.”

Granted he is talking about running a restaurant but the same distinction applies to running a successful school. Danny Meyers is looking to have his clients come back to his restaurant again and again and tell others about what great service and hospitality they received to get others to come. And we are working to keep our students coming back to our classes and school until the graduate and become active donors.
Some schools do a good job of delivering services in the classroom and in the offices but they do not always do so with hospitality. Meyers refers to service as a monologue in which the restaurant decides what and how it will deliver the technical services such as the menu, preparing the meals and even serving them to the table. But he says that hospitality is a dialogue that includes the customer. “Hospitality on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on the guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense and following up with a gracious, appropriate response.”

Schools focus so very much on the service side that they often forget about their need to be hospitable as well. They forget to listen to their clients and hear what they need to be able to provide hospitality. This is in part because schools do not focus on the difference between being service providers and being hospitable to their students. They perceive what they think is a problem but do not check with the students to see how to solve it if they even see the problem in service delivery at all. They go about readjusting the service without regard to whether or not the solution is one that the clients feel will work or even with the input of the client students. They leave out the hospitality part.

An example. We recently completed a campus service excellence audit for a large university in which we checked every aspect of service and hospitality on campus which included talking with hundreds of students. We discovered that the school felt it had a problem with its billing process. Students had to wait in long lines to make payments and they were none too happy about it. So the school decided to change its service in a way that really backfired. They closed the office and made all students do their bill paying on line.

Theoretically this could have improved the service but the school did not talk to the students to see how closing the office would change the feeling of hospitality that the students would feel with the closure bed not being able to see a person on such an important matter as making sure their bills were processed correctly. The students hated the closing of the office. Even if the service could have been made better and with no lines by payments ion line, they did not like losing the person to person contact in such an important activity. They felt they were closed out of the office rather than being helped with an improved service. They felt as if their needs were not being met and the new service was anything but hospitable especially since the door was blocked with a large wooden drop of box where they were to leave paper checks if they did not want to do on line bill pay.

When the school made the decision to improve the service they did not talk with the students at all and the result was not good.  Here is an excerpt from our executive summary from our customer excellence audit and report that further explains the misjudgment in service that led to a real feeling of a loss of hospitality too.

The Treasurer’s Office (which is the current name for the Bursar’s Office) elicited many negative comments from students. They uniformly do not like the fact that the entrance to the office has been shut off to them by a unit in which they are asked to just drop off payments by check. They do not like having to just drop off a payment with no way of verifying that the check has been received and no receipt provided. They want to be able to get a receipt for their payments since there have also been problems with the posting of payments in time to avoid late fees. They also want to be able to interact with someone when they have to discuss payments and late fees which they feel are excessive and set up in a manner to cause extra payments to the University as a result of late fees which they believe are caused by the University’s approaches to billing and some bill paying issues online.

“They want to interact with someone.” That is the essence of hospitality. The ability to have that dialogue even when doing a mundane activity as paying a bill is a simple act of hospitality and not just a delivery of a service. Hospitality is a two way street and the students need to have that two way if they are to feel as if the college cares about them and their needs. Simple delivery of service is not enough.

Another example is in the classroom. The teacher may deliver the information and get through the material and thus provide a service to the students. In fact this is one of the most important services as school provides. But if the students do not feel as if they have an opportunity to have a dialogue about the material and to be recognized as people and not just numbers in a classroom hospitality is not exercised. In fact, when we provide customer excellence and hospitality seminars for faculty we go over the issue and provide the following scenario to start a class to improve in-class hospitality.

·         The professor greets the students
·         Asks how they are and listens for response
·         Reviews past class highlights and asks if there is any need to clarify any
·         Asks for questions or issues from the last class
·         Introduces the topics for the day and
·         After the class ends is the last one out the door to make sure that if any students have
·         questions or look confused she can help them right then and now.
·         We also teach the faculty how to get the students’ names since hospitality does call on developing a name to name rapport with the students. They are not just “whatshisname:” after all.
·         Finally we assure that office hours are actually being met. That is where the dialogues from the classroom really take place and if the office hours are not met, hospitality between faculty and student is lost.

But key to all of developing hospitality is actually entering into a dialogue with students and listening to their issues and concerns. Very few schools so this. They just go ahead and focus on services and forget that hospitality is the key to developing a long range engagement and relationship with their students. It is important to listen to students; to encourage them to enter into that dialogue on what makes them feel wanted on campus and what does not.  This is what we do as part of the campus service audits we perform for schools but it is something you can do also. To not just provide services but real hospitality.


The author of the article is Dr. Neal Raisman the president of NRaisman & Associates, 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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