Thursday, June 06, 2013

Customer Service and Academic Hospitality

Chapter two of the new book Collegiate Customer Service from A to G: Admissions to Retention

A serious misunderstanding that exists on campuses is that customer service is somehow an evil thing. It is not. Another false impression is that it means we need to coddle students and give them high grades whether they deserve them or not. That is not what is under discussion Academic customer service is simply a fact of daily life whether it is delivered well or poorly. It exists whether we want to recognize it or not.

We provide customer service every day in the classroom, in offices, across the campus and even the campus facilities themselves. These are the services we provide to make sure that the basic needs of students are met. An obvious example is the cafeteria where we actually do serve and provide food services. Even the classroom is also a cafeteria off sorts with a defined menu and set of portions of knowledge that must be presented in an intellectually tasty and healthy manner. The major service on a classroom in instruction and that is a service after all.

There is no way around the fact that a college is a collection of services though there are certainly ways to do them better.

And these are all required services that must be provided to the customers, our students, in the best way possible. We must make sure that whatever we do we do well. We need to provide them with a strong customer service excellence. Whether that excellence be in an office when a worker stops what he or she is doing to welcome a student and help solve an issue.  Or a faculty member who makes certain that she is the last one out of the classroom so she can check with every student to make sure he understood the lesson for the day and make arrangements to help those that may be a bit confused. Or an administrator who interrupts her work to meet with a student and try and see what she needs to do to make his stay better and keep him in school through graduation. Or even the all-important maintenance crew that makes certain the campus is neat, clean and all bathrooms are sanitary, stocked with supplies and functioning. Everyone on campus is responsible for providing the basic services to our customers, hence – customer services.

These and many more are services we do provide. And we should strive to provide them with excellence. We cannot deny that we have to do them so let’s work at making sure that what we do them our customers are satisfied with the services just as we work hard to  make sure they are happy with the food in the cafeteria. (Or at least should be doing that. Doesn’t always happen we find on an audit of a school’s services.)

So let’s agree that we do provide services and we should strive to make them as excellent as is possible for our students, our clients after all who do have many choices in where to go to spend their educational money nowadays. And one way you can check to see if you are providing good services is just to ask the students.. Or you can hire a professional to audit the services and see what needs to make them better. This is something that should be done since poor service and another word/concept hospitality account for 76% of all attrition on a campus and that means a major revenue loss too.

There are no excuses for weak services. If people cannot provide good service they need to be retrained or moved. Colleges hire the most knowledgeable faculty they can to try and assure that they will be able to provided good educational service in the classroom but again that is only part of what needs to be considered. It is not just expertise that is key to customer service excellence. It is an attitude that needs to be taken into consideration when hiring.

What we are of the really talking about is academic hospitality. Just as at a restaurant, if the food is great but the service is sloppy, indifferent, even hostile, the food is just not going to taste as good. A waiter who just takes orders is not giving good, enthusiastic service. Note how each starts by giving his or her name and tries to engage the guest in conversation before the orders are taken if he or she is a good hospitable waiter.  Yes it increases tips and that is what the waiter wants of course because if you enjoy your experience you will enjoy the foods more and will tip better. And the goal of the restaurant owner is to have the waiters receive the best tips they can because that means the diners did enjoy themselves and will return to the restaurant. Success is built on building a returning clientele after all.

The goal of good customer service and hospitality on campus is not all that different in some ways. It is to have the students enjoy their learning and co-curricular experiences.  In turn that will increase retention and graduation rates. To accomplish that, a school needs not just to offer good services which are the actions we need to rake to meet basic needs of students; we need to provide them with great campus hospitality as well. We need to welcome them to the school everyday by making them believe we care about them and are happy to see them in an office or in class.

A great researcher does not always make a great teacher. A fully competent financial person does not always wait on students well in a bursar’s office. An excellent administrator who can get things done does not always work well with students. An advisor who may be one of the few who knows her stuff but does not make hours to meet with students is not being hospitable to them.

It is hospitality on campus that we are often really concerned with. How often do people stop and just talk with students to see how they are doing or feel about the place? Does the school evaluate people to see how hospitable they are to students and helping them? Does the school even have a code of conduct of the sort that states what is expected of each member of the college? Does it say things like “say hello to every student you meet or pass on the campus” and when possible do give a name-get a name to establish closer ties and more hospitable attitudes. Does the campus promote the student as if he or she were some sort of guest that can decide to leave this educational hotel and got to another?
That is not at all saying coddle students. We must demand from their best them too because that is what they expect if they are to learn and succeed. What I am suggesting is that we need to check to make sure that all our services are excellent and meet students needed. And be sure our campus is hospitable to our students. Do we make them feel welcome? Do we give them decent parking locations or do we save them for ourselves? Do we make sure that faculty keep and meet students in office hours when they say they will and make them at times that students can actually come by? (Our audits find that this is often rarely the case). Do advisors meet with and really help students? Do administrators have an open door policy to students so they can meet with them and hear the complaints or solve problems? Are employees trusted to make decisions to help students?

It is not just customer service though that is extremely important and must be checked on to make sure it is really happening as you think it may be. Or as customer service rule number 1 says “Make your campus into Cheers University” providing academic hospitality in which “everyone knows your name and everyone’s glad you came.”

In his book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business,  Danny Meyer makes an important distinction between services and hospitality that should be considered and employed. On page 65 he wrote “Understanding the difference between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of the product. Hospitality is how the delivery of the product makes the recipient feel. …Hospitality which most distinguishes our restaurants – and ultimately any business – is the sum of the thoughtful, caring, gracious things of staff does to make you feel we are on your side when you are dining with us.”

Granted he is talking about running a restaurant but the same distinction applies to running a successful school. Danny Meyers is looking to have his clients come back to his restaurant again and again and tell others about what great service and hospitality they received to get others to come. And we are working to keep our students coming back to our classes and school until they graduate and become active donors.

Some schools do a good job of delivering services in the classroom and in the offices but they do not always do so with hospitality. Meyers refers to service as a monologue in which the restaurant decides what and how it will deliver the technical services such as the menu, preparing the meals and even serving them to the table. But he says that “Hospitality on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on the guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense and following up with a gracious, appropriate response.”

Schools focus so very much on the service side that they often forget about their need to be hospitable as well. They forget to listen to their clients and hear what they need to be able to do to provide hospitality. This is in part because schools do not focus on the difference between being service providers and being hospitable to their students. They perceive what they think is a problem but do not check with the students to see how to solve it if they even see the problem in service delivery at all. They go about readjusting the service without regard to whether or not the solution is one that the clients feel will work or even with the input of the client students. They leave out the hospitality part.

An example. We recently completed a campus service excellence audit for a large university in which we checked every aspect of service and hospitality which included talking with hundreds of students. We discovered that recently the school felt it had a problem with its billing process. Students had to wait in long lines to make payments and they were none too happy about it. So the school decided to change its service in a way that really backfired. They closed the office and made all students do their bill paying on line.

Theoretically this could have improved the service. But the school did not talk to the students to see how closing the office would change the feeling of hospitality that the students would feel. They did not conceive that with the closure students would not be able to see a person on such an important matter as making sure their bills were processed correctly. Many students hated the closing of the office. Even if the service could have been made better and there would be no lines by payments on line, they did not like losing the person to person contact in such an important activity. They felt they were closed out of the office rather than being helped with an improved service. They felt as if their needs were not being met and the new service was anything but hospitable especially since the door was completely blocked with a large wooden drop off box and counter. This  wooden behemoth is where they were to leave paper checks if they did not want to do on line bill pay.

When the school made the decision to improve the service they did not talk with the students at all and the result was not good.  Here is an excerpt from our executive summary from our customer excellence audit and report that further explains the misjudgment in service that led to a real feeling of a loss of hospitality too.

“The Treasurer’s Office (which is the current name for the Bursar’s Office) elicited many negative comments from students. They uniformly do not like the fact that the entrance to the office has been shut off to them by a unit in which they are asked to just drop off payments by check. They do not like having to just drop off a payment with no way of verifying that the check has been received and no receipt provided. They want to be able to get a receipt for their payments since there have also been problems with the posting of payments in time to avoid late fees. They also want to be able to interact with someone when they have to discuss payments and late fees which they feel are excessive and set up in a manner to cause extra payments to the University as a result of late fees which they believe are caused by the University’s approaches to billing and some bill paying issues online.

They want to interact with someone. That is the essence of hospitality. The ability to have that dialogue even when doing a mundane activity as paying a bill is a simple act of cordiality and not just a delivery of a service. Hospitality is a two way street and the students need to have that two way if they are to feel as if the college cares about them and their needs. Simple delivery of service is not enough.

Another example is in the classroom. The teacher may deliver the information and get through the material and thus provide a service to the students. In fact this is one of the most important services a school provides. But if the students do not feel as if they have an opportunity to have a dialogue about the material and to be recognized as people and not just numbers in classroom hospitality is not exercised. This is one of the reasons why students drop out of free MOOC courses for example. They feel no connectedness to the professor. It is also why students drop out of any class if they do not appreciate a connection with the faculty member. They want to believe they are an individual recognized by the teacher.

When we provide customer excellence and hospitality seminars for faculty we go over the issue of making a connection with students and provide the following scenario to start a class to improve in-class hospitality.

·         The professor greets the students
·         Asks how they are and listens for response
·         Reviews past class highlights and asks if there is any need to clarify any issues
·         Asks for questions or issues from the last class
·         Introduces the topics for the day and
·         After the class ends is the last one out the door to make sure that if any students have
          questions or look confused she can help them rightthen and now.
·         We also teach the faculty how to get the students’names since hospitality 
       does call on developing a person to person rapport with the students.
        They are not just  “whatshisname:” after all.
·         Finally we assure that office hours are actually being met. That is where the dialogues from the classroom really take place. If office hours are not met, hospitality between faculty and student is lost.

But key to all of developing hospitality is actually entering into a dialogue with students and listening to their issues and concerns. Very few schools so this. They just go ahead and focus on services and forget that hospitality is the key to developing a long range engagement and relationship with their students. It is important to listen to students; to encourage them to enter into that dialogue on what makes them feel wanted on campus and what does not.  This is what we do as part of the campus service audits we perform for schools but it is something you can do also. To not just provide services but real hospitality.

Here is a list of some items to check the hospilaity level at a school.
  1.   Are students made to feel as if they are really important
  2.  Are they said hello to as they walk across campus?
  3. If they look confused does someone stop to help them out?
  4. Do people in offices treat them as important clients and not just as an imposition? Are students made to feel as if someone cares about them and their welfare? 
  5.  Do you ask students how the service has been in an office?
  6. Is there communication in which students are asked how are things going?
  7.  Is everyone open to students and their needs?
  8.  Do people seek out students who may need help?
  9.  Do they act as if the students are guests who can switch academic restaurants at any    time?
  10. Are students and employees made to feel this is a hospitable campus? After all that is the goal along with providing excellent services which is what must be done every day?
  11.  Are the employees treated with respect and warmth too? They are customers of the college too and if they aren’t treated with hospitality they will not pass that on to your students.
  12. Simply put, is the campus friendly to students and one another?

If this article has value for you, you'll want to get a copy of the best-selling book The Power of Retention by clicking here.
N.Raisman & Associates has been providing customer service, retention, enrollment and research training and solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits, workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. N.Raisman & Associates prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 

1 comment:

Customer Care Contact Number said...

Nice Blog ,Thanks for Sharing the information.Customer Satisfaction is very important to grow up the business.