Monday, February 04, 2013

The Caring Effect in Customer Service

Ted Kaptchuk is a unique Harvard medical professor. He has neither an MA or PhD. He instead has a degree in Chinese medicine from an institute in Macao where he became an acupuncturist. He is also a director of the Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS), headquartered at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA which was opened last year largely due to Kaptchuk’s innovative work in placebo research. Research that can tell us a lot about some aspects of customer service.

According to an article in Harvard Magazine, Kaptchuk"in a collaboration with gastroenterologists studying irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic gastrointestinal disorder accompanied by pain and constipation. The experiment split 262 adults with IBS into three groups: a no-treatment control group, told they were on a waiting list for treatment; a second group who received sham acupuncture without much interaction with the practitioner; and a third group who received sham acupuncture with great attention lavished upon them—at least 20 minutes of what Kaptchuk describes as “very schmaltzy” care (“I’m so glad to meet you”; “I know how difficult this is for you”; “This treatment has excellent results”). Practitioners were also required to touch the hands or shoulders of members of the third group and spend at least 20 seconds lost in thoughtful silence.

The results were not surprising: the patients who experienced the greatest relief were those who received the most care.”

That is, none of the patients received any real treatment. Of the two groups who thought they were given some treatment, the group that was not given treatment but was given the touchy-feely, had the best medical results. Their IBS was relieved by the care they received. They thought and felt that they were receiving actual treatment and responded well but it was the human caring that they were really responding to. The human interaction of showing compassion, empathy care is what made them feel better. There was no medical treatment after all.

The same would be true for students who come to someone at a university or college for “treatment” such as a solution to a problem. They are there as much to obtain a caring response as a real solution to the issue. In fact, as we work with universities and colleges, we do more and more observation of students interacting with the university’s personnel. We watch students bring problems to these people and receive service much of the time but not as much care as would really solve the problem.
For example, in a university we are working with, there are two primary greeters in the financial aid office. They sit at desks about four feet apart. One woman is a very perfunctory service provider. “Fill out this form and bring it back” type. No chatting. No real caring shown. Never does she says she’s sorry that they may have been not treated well by someone who sent them there as they were shuffled from office to office seeking a solution. The other is a caring person who always engages students in some brief discussion and often tells students she is sorry they are having a problem.  

I observed the two of them as they told students that they had to have a seat and wait to see a financial aid officer. The non-caring person just told then to “take a seat and someone will be with you.” The students invariably looked irritated as they were coldly told to sit and wait. The other woman would almost always apologize and say she was sorry she could not help them but she would get someone to come out and help if they would just sit down and wait a couple of minutes. These students would sit down and most all of them would have a slight smile on their face as if they knew they would be taken care of.

They would all be served by the same financial aid counselors but the ones who were given the extra caring service and hospitality up front would all report that they felt their problem was resolved or in process and they were happy with the service. The students who were given the cold service all had their problems resolved but they left feeling slightly nervous that they would still have problems. They also did not feel they were well served and were not all that happy with the service.

In short, they did not feel cared for. They did not feel as if they were treated well and they carried that feeling with them. Their “symptoms” were not relieved as well as those who were given the caring service.

There is a caring effect in customer service. It is the hospitality, we create for our students whether we finally serve their issues or not. The thoughtfulness we give to our students is a caring effect that puts them into a good state of mind and makes them happy with the school.  This effect is in everything we do for or to our students from the objective correlative of the campus all the way through to the particular services we provide.So we need to pay attention to not just what services we provide but how we provide them. After all, the major reason why students leave a college is they feel the school does not care about them. That is the lack of caring effect which should not exist.

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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