Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Technogical Based Customer Service has its Problems

More and more schools are relying on technology to provide academic customer services to students. In some cases, this works well. Students seem to like being able to find and registered for courses on line for example but in many other situations, technology is not succeeding well. Two major reasons are that technology does not provide the hospitality students carve. They often want to work with a person in getting services they feel they need. Technology does not allow for the personal touch at all. That takes away the possibility of any hospitality from the interaction. That is a major problem for students.

The second problem is that technology is not always done well on campuses as can be seen in this excerpt from a campus audit we did at a major urban university. Web sites which carry most of the technology access are quite often jumbled and have search protocols that default to Google searches rather than be coded to take students to the proper location on the school’s own website.  Type in register for classes for example and you get a list of entries that have registers in their information but one is not simply taken to where he or she can register. Or to find a page to get the information one needs, you have to go through many layers of pages to get to the appropriate one. Every college that depends on the web site to provide access to technology would have a page that simply lists all the functions that students could want with direct links to the functions. Students should not have to search for them

We have also found on too many campuses that the technology is too often implemented without enough forethought or even communication. In fact, on many campuses we have found distrust of the new technologies that are supposed to help students but were not worked through with staff who need to be able to assist students as they deal with the new on-line service.

An additional primary area of concern seems to stem from schools being in a transition in its customer service delivery model.  Schools appear to be moving from a direct person-to-person customer service approach to an online and/or person augmented online service model. And they are deep into the transition but are not communicating the reason for the shifts very well. It is unclear whether this shift to the online service model prompted a reduction in the workforce or a reduction in staff prompted the move to online service delivery. It is not clear whether the shift to on line service is because person-to-person delivery was not working well or that on line services will work better. Moreover, it is not at all made clear what the services will do to help the customer and the providers of services ion offices. This leads to a distrust of the motives of a school in a shift to technologically provide services. The end result are problems as are discussed in the audit excerpt that follows. What we found at this university is applicable to many other schools as well.

Students are being driven to the web to perform more and more of the services themselves which seems to be working in some areas such as registering for courses. Students did indicate that they may even be willing to be more individually involved in taking care of their needs for service in an online environment and many of the service actions that would have been done in a person-to-person environment appear to have been embedded in the University’s website; however, the effectiveness of that site to provide a high quality of customer service is questionable. The belief that students wish to take care of their own services online may have some validity, but it also may not be representative of many of the University’s students who are from environments that may not be as computer savvy as the University expects or wishes. When making the decision to rely heavily on technology, it is important to consider the demographics of the population being served … Students from some backgrounds may have greater problems navigating not just the online environment but the University itself. They require more person-to-person interaction to effectively understand and navigate the administrative requirements related to the University experience.

There also appears to be a segment of the student population which simply prefers person-to-person contact and will avoid the online self-service environment. Many of these will be from the populations mentioned above. Some will represent adult students who have not grown up in an online environment and do not know how to navigate (or prefer to avoid) the online services. Finally it needs to be said that the online services themselves are handicapped by the website itself. From the user’s perspective, the pages that make up the website are not intuitive and not set up for easy navigation. The search function in particular does not work well at all and frustrates many students seeking to work on the website... Although an attractive site from a visual/design perspective, the information available on the University’s website has many layers making finding specific information needed to complete transactions difficult.  For those who are not computer savvy, the website is simply very challenging to use effectively.

It was noted earlier that staffing levels may have prompted the move to online services, or the move to online services may have prompted the reduction in the workforce.  In either case the staffing levels observed during the audit is also a concern. In individual meetings and focus groups with staff, the reduction in force came up each time as well as the speed and what they saw as random implementation of new customer service technologies to replace staff. Staff felt that there was a great deal of money being invested into new but untried and unvetted technologies that were just being imposed on them without their involvement or at times even prior notification. The level of frustration among the staff was palpable. Of particular concern was the speed at which things were changing at least as much as people losing their jobs. They simply did not feel that they had enough time to adjust to changes and were afraid that if they did not adjust they could be replaced.

This leads to a certain level of resistance and distrust of the new technologies to provide service which in turn leads to a lowered morale among the staff which will cause a diminution of service quality. People who feel they are not being consulted on changes in their area and who are at least somewhat fearful about keeping a job do have lower morale and that will play out in their interactions with students. …

The overall transition may actually be a constant factor in the evolution of customer service at the University. As the University continues to move more of its services online, we believe there is also a significant segment of the population which may be resisting the online environment. It is our observation that there is a diminution of the quality of customer service delivered to students not necessarily because of the behaviors of staff who deliver the services, but more likely because of the ineffectiveness of the system.  Some staff members expressed their own frustration with not being able to assist students/visitors except to direct them to the online services. This may be an institutional directive or it may be an individual interpretation. 

If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to see how you can improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction and retention.

UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Neal Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth

If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our best selling book The Power of Retention. 

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