Sunday, November 25, 2012

Preparing Students for Work is Good Customer Service

Though it may be disappointing to some to read the following, the truth is that students don't go to college to learn. They go to gain the credentials they need to get a job and earn money. Learning is something that just takes place during the process of gaining the credentials. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that we have required courses. They are required because if we did not require them students wouldn't take them. These are courses that we feel are so important to the base competencies of our graduates that we make students enroll in them. Further evidence can be seen in the fact that we set up curriculum require students to take specific courses in order to be able to complete a major or a minor. We do this to make certain that students get the courses that they need to be able to succeed in a job that relates to the major. We may say that we are not going to be cognizant of the fact that students are going to be seeking jobs, but we really know better.

Further evidence can be seen in the 2012 National Survey of Student Engagement which states the following.

Job opportunities were among the top factors that influenced students’ choice of major. For example, a majority of seniors (55%–59%) said “ability to find a job” or “career mobility or advancement” had a substantial influence on choosing their major”. 

The National Survey of Student Engagement cites this as a major finding though I am surprised that this was a revelation to them at all. Consider that the annual CIRP survey of student attitudes has consistently found that getting a job to be able to live a better life has always been a major reason students attending college. Are all you need to do just ask the student why you she is going to college. They will tell you. To get a job, started a career.

Once we realize that student attend college to get a job, one of the customer services that we need to provide them is teaching them how to become an employee. Now this may strike many as heresy. The idea that part of our role is to teach students how to become good employees would be a antithetical to what many of us see as the role of higher education. And perhaps it is if we look past student needs and expectations and just focus on our own concepts of the world. But then again we went to college to get a job. That job is to be a faculty member in a college or a university. We did the exact same thing that students do now. So it should not surprise us role and take classes in order to get a job. 
Realizing that makes it clear that one of the things we need to do is to recognize what drive students to attend a university and build on that as part of the service that we provide to our student. They are coming to us to get a job, we need to teach them how to do that as we do in the classes but we also need to teach them how to become successful on the job.

Simply put we need to teach them how to become successful in their lives after the University or college and that means teaching them how to be successful in the world of work. Their expectation is that if they take the courses that they need to be able to complete a major that will lead to a job. They further believe that these courses will prepare them to be successful in their work. Implicit in that expectation is yet a further one that we will do what we need to do to prepare them to be successful and that includes beyond the specific study they do for tests quizzes and papers to prove they have learned the material. When they end we do not think about is that being successful will work means more than just being capable and competent in the specific area that you have prepared in. It means learning to be a good important. It means learning how to act in the workplace.

Whether we want to accept it and not one of the things that we must do is teach them how to become good employees. This by the way is also going to be a very helpful service to us because it is also going to transform many of our classrooms into ones that we find more acceptable and easier to teach in. Just as the rules and traditions of the workplace make it more conducive to success for all, appropriate rules, regulations, behaviors in the classroom will make work in the classroom more effective and even more pleasant. What we need to do is to put forward how we want them to behave in the classroom and that means controlling classroom decorum. Not only will this make the classroom a better place to teach it will prepare them better for the world outside of the classroom as well. Simply put we must demand that they act as if this work in the classroom in the university is the job that they have now to get them ready for the career that they will have in the future. We must maintain the to: that we want to see in our classrooms order to serve the students appropriately for their future.

For example, one of the complaints our students’ future employees have for new hires is that they don't know how to show up to work on time and sometimes not at all. We are certainly partially to blame for that attitude because too many of us do not require that students show up on time and attend all of our classes. Too many faculty allow students to come into the class late with no penalty for doing so. Believe it or not this begins teach students it's okay not to show up on time. Not only does a student coming into class late interrupt the class and disrupt what has been going on in it, it has consequences for the individual student as well. He or she has missed the material that had already been taught prior to his arrival.

If a student were to show up to work late that could very well have consequences. If a student were to be habitually late he or she will not lose a letter grade on the job, he or she will lose the job. It is simply good customer service to make students show up to class on time in order to learn how to become a good employee in the future. It is bad customer service to allow a student to engage in precarious behavior that could lead that student into problems on the job. Just as we will not pass a student who does not know the material well enough to be able to do it on the job we should not allow a student behaviors that are inappropriate to the workplace.

For some bizarre reason, faculty also allow students to not show up to class at all with no penalty. Attendance seems to be a hit or miss situation depending upon whether or not faculty believes that what he or she has to teach us is of value. If a faculty member believes that he or she really doesn't have that much to offer a student in the classroom then he can allow students to miss class. The student will not be missing much under that situation. When a faculty member believes that he or she actually has something to tribute to the student that faculty member should require students to attend all classes unless there is a valid reason to count that as an excused absence.

I have written about attendance before but let me focus on how this is teaching students bad workplace behavior. If an employee doesn't show up to work he or she will lose that job. Consider that showing up to your class is the job the student has at this moment. If he doesn't show up he should be penalized. Not do so is to teach them and acceptance of a negative behavior that can limit their success in the work place.

Another example is allowing the student to take a phone call in class. Faculty members can plain to me that students take on make phone calls during class. My question is who's fault is that? If a faculty member does one students to take personal phone calls or make calls in class that faculty member is the one who should set the do not allow do so in fact students simply should not be allowed to make any phone calls or take any phone calls once a class has begun. Not only is this teaching them bad behavior in the classroom, this is teaching them bad behavior that could cause them repercussions later at work. Personal calls are generally not allowed in most work situations. They certainly are not allowed if employees are at a meeting which is what a class is anyhow. A class is a meeting of faculty member and students to do the work of the day. To break away from work or a meeting to answer personal phone call would get an employee in trouble yet spme do not do anything to teach them that taking phone calls during their work, their work in the classroom in this case, is not allowed.

Most every workplace has rules that the employees are to follow. Some of those rules we would not enforce in most colleges and universities such as dress codes. We would not and probably could not require students to dress in a particular way such as jackets and ties for men in business attire for women as would be required either by written rules or by the folkways of the workplace. But as I have argued elsewhere we should be the ones to set the standards by the way that we dress. We should be dressed as if we are at work in the standard business workplace. I realize that would cause some real discomfort for some faculty who believe that a T-shirt and jeans are appropriate for teaching students. They can be appropriate for teaching students material of the course but they are not going to be teaching them what they need to know about the workplace they are going to enter.

We need to get students to understand that attending class is their job at this time. Yes they are paying to do so but this is the work that they are engaged in and they must follow rules that we set for them. They should be set out carefully, completely, and clearly in the syllabus. The syllabus is a contract between the institution, the particular class and the student. If in the syllabus you set down your specific rules of decorum in the classroom then the student has to follow them as long as you are really willing to enforce them. For example student should be required to attend every class that you teach. This should be spelled out in the syllabus. Attendance rules should not be necessary of course if the institution were intelligent enough to have an across-the-board attendance policy which requires students to attend their classes. Not only would this teach students how to become successful and in their future work, it would also increase retention at the institution. If you don't want students to search the web in the classroom put that in the syllabus and also put the penalty in the syllabus. The syllabus should have all of the aspects of decorum that you expect in the current workplace, the classroom.

We need to accept that one of our roles is to prepare students to succeed in work. Good customer service is not just making the client feel good but doing what is necessary to prepare that client to succeed in the future. To do otherwise is to short change the customer. To not do so would be as a doctor who finds that a patient has a very serious illness but decides not to tell her that because it would upset her. Our students have an illness in their lack of preparation to do well in the world outside of college, the world of work. It is our obligation to serve our students fully by making them to conform to rules, regulations and decorum. This will prepare them to succeed once they leave college. Keep in mind that good customer service does not mean always making the customer happy, but making certain that we need all of their needs and expectations. To do less is to cheat students of good customer service.

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. 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

The University of Toledo was able to really get its customer excellence focused after Dr. Raisman and his team performed a full campus service excellence audit of the University. Dr. Raisman’s team came on campus for a week and identified every area we could improve and where we are doing well. The extensive and detailed report will form a blueprint for greater customer service excellence at the University that will make us an even better place for students to attend, study and succeed. Thank you, Dr. Raisman, for doing a great job. We unreservedly recommend his customer service audits to any school looking to improve customer service, retention and graduation rates.    Iaon Duca, University of Toledo
The report generated from the full campus customer service audit that N.Raisman & Associates did for our college provided information from an external reviewer that raised awareness toward customer service and front end processes.  From this audit and report, Broward College has included in its strategic plan strategies that include process mapping.  Since financial aid was designed as the department with the most customer service challenges that department has undergone process mapping related to how these process serve or do not serve students optimally.  It has been transformational and has prompted a process remap of how aid is processed for new and continuing students.                            Angelia Millender, Broward College (FL)

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