Friday, January 18, 2013

Patience is a Customer Service Virtue

While at a university last week I overheard a conversation. One staff member turned to another after a student left and she said “If I hear that question one more time I am going to scream. They should know that stuff.”

I was quite bothered by this comment because it indicated a lack of understanding that would negatively affect the service that staff member would provide.

The basic rule is this. You might have heard that question 25 times that day but it is the first time that the student is asking it. It is a new question for him or her and deserves full and hospitable assistance.  It does not matter if that issue is one that you deal with over and over. Yes that can get aggravating and bothersome but you need to realize that for the student asking it, it is a new experience. So patience with the question and the student is absolutely necessary.

Each and every experience has to be treated with kindness and full assistance even if you are sick of going over the same information time after time.

I don’t mean to be insensitive to you but it is not your feelings that really count in working with students. It is theirs. So each and every time you work with a student you need to begin the interchange with the real belief that this is a new encounter no matter what the question.

And as to the idea that they should know "that stuff" let’s remember that they have not been taught that stuff. They are not fully informed users of the institution. They do not know how to navigate the college and its many, perhaps too many forms, rules and procedures. Nor should we expect that they know.

College is a learning experience and one of the things that takes time to learn is how the college works.  We do not do very much to teach them how the college functions so why should we expect that they would know how to do many of the things that are required. We need to teach them to do. We should all consider creating user manuals for students for example that would tell them what each office does and has FAQs with information on how to respond to their questions themselves as a start. But until we do things such as that we will get the questions over and over but need to act as if it is the first time we have been asked that.

It would be good is we realize that just because a student is in college that does not make that person a ”college student” with all the beliefs we put into that concept. They are young people who are in college and learning how to be a college student. It is our job to help teach them that.

Remember the Tinkerbell theory. We have this crazy belief that as a high school student walks across the stage at graduation, Tinkerbell flies over head and sprinkles that high school student with maturity dust making him or her a “college student” Then we give them ten weeks to seemingly forget most of what they learned about school before throwing them into an entirely new environment with new rules, folkways and regulations. They are not college students as they enter the university. They are people with the potential to become college students and that generally does not take place until, sometime in the junior year or later after they have asked all those questions that can drive you mad.

So we need to be patient with these young, developing college students and treat them kindly as if their question is the very first time you heard it that day. We need to smile, use the “give a name-get a name process” and engage that student as if he or she is the most important person in the college at that moment.
 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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