Friday, November 30, 2012

Backroom Professionals are Customer Service Providers Too

Woman taking notesAn area of academic customer service that is too little commented upon has to be backroom operations. Customer service almost always focuses on the front line people. These are the ones who are most obvious since they have direct interaction with customers and clients, or so it would appear. They're the ones who welcome the customers, who are directly serving the customers face-to-face and thus get the most attention. It is wrong however to not recognize and think about the amount of customer service that is done behind the scenes.

It is clear that without the assistance and support of the people in the backroom operations, a great deal of front line customer service would not necessarily take place. Just think about all the work that is done by financial aid packagers who are never seen by students. They do most all of the work that provides financial aid services to the customers. They are the ones really doing the customer service. If they did not process all of the information that was collected there would be no real financially customer service,.

Or consider the people who run transcripts for students in a registrar's office. Granted the front-line people receive the request if it's not done online but the service would not take place if the back room service providers did not process the request and print and stamp the transcripts. It certainly can be argued perhaps that this service should be completely automated and is at some institutions. But at most schools it is the people in the back room who generate the actual transcripts to meet the needs and expectations of the students.

The people who work in the back room operations deserve a great deal of credit, recognition and praise. When they do the job properly and accurately they deserve our thanks for doing so. Unfortunately as we do customer service campus audits we hear too often from students that many of the people who work in the back room not accomplish tasks as rapidly as is necessary and often without the accuracy that is required.

Why is that? One of the reasons may be that expectations are higher than can be provided. Students are used to things being provided to them immediately online and thus assume when they send in a request online, it will be processed within an hour. This simply is not the way things actually work in a university. Perhaps it should be the way things work but it just simply isn't. We may use computers but cling to time intensive ways of producing materials too often. That slows down processing in the backroom operations and can make them appear less than responsive.

Perhaps a lot of the routine tasks that are done by individuals should be automated and therefore become able to be accomplished quickly enough to meet student expectations such as printing transcripts by computer. It should be an easy enough task to program a computer to be able to take a student record, turn it into a transcript and have it printed with the school watermark over it. But again this is not the way things are usually done in most institutions. Usually a request is received.  It is given to an individual to check the record and then create a transcript. That transcript is then printed out and hand stamped or embossed. It is done this way because people do not recognize that those who are doing the work could be doing more important work that is done in backroom operations.

I believe one of the reasons backroom operations may not work as well as they could is that they are not given the attention or importance they deserve as customer service providers. The people who work in the back rooms are not fully enough recognized for what they do get done and the important work they do. In fact quite often people are working in backroom operations because supervisors don't know where else to put them after they have not achieved well in other positions. I often hear the comment that we put so-and-so into the backroom operations because she just couldn't get along well with others or could not get her work done well. This is not a good reason for putting someone into the backroom operations. Nor does it recognize the important work that is done by the people who are working in processing. In fact it tends to denigrate the good and hard work that they do by assuming it can be done by anyone even if that person is a weak employee.

The fact is that backroom operations are often very technical and demanding and the people who work in them are professionals who if they are appropriately placed and hired can do their job extremely well. Yet we simply do not recognize the value of these people and the service that they provide students enough. That is a major reason why people in the backroom operations may not succeed as well as they could. They simply are not given the importance and value they deserve and can be made to feel under-valued.

Just think about the last few times your institution handed out an employee of the year award. Who did it go to? More than likely someone who worked in the frontline and was recognized by others who work on the frontline. Seldom does anyone get a reward or recognition of great processing of financial aid packages yet these are so essential not only to the students but to the success of the institution. Yet the people who do the hard work of financial aid packaging are seldom recognized. They are most often the lowest paid individuals within as well.

It is time for us to realize that backroom operations are an essential part of customer service, of meeting the expectations and needs of our students. It is also time for us to recognize the people who day after day complete their functions without the recognition they deserve. They perform extremely valuable service to our primary customers as well as all of the other front line customers who depend on them to provide the paperwork and information they need to be able to serve students on a face-to-face basis.

Managers and supervisors should make sure that they go and thank each and every one of the back room people for the service they provide. Colleges and universities should also do something more formal to recognize those who work to complete all the forms and reports required to keep the institution going but do not get the recognition they deserve because they're not frontline service providers. We need to recognize that these are very important customer service providers and we should start doing that now.

 The author of the above article is Dr. Neal A. Raisman the leading researcher, consultant and presenter on academic customer service. His firm NRaisman & Associates provides colleges, universities and schools as well as the business that wish to work with them. The audits, training, workshops and presentation they provide have assisted over 400 colleges, universities and career schools in the US, Canada and Europe improve and increase student success and retention to graduate more alumni.

His latest book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education is the
best-selling book on collegiate customer service and retention and is available from The Administrator's Bookshelf. Get your copy NOW

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