Sunday, October 20, 2013

Better Customer Service is Needed for Our Staff Colleagues

customer service, retention, college customer service, service excellence, university service

When we work with colleges and universities on improving student retention through better customer service excellence we too often find that they do not
seem to recognize that there is also a problem with their customer service to their internal community. Too many colleges and universities do not pay enough attention to serving their staff and non-supervisory employees to the deficit of good service and retention.  Their senior administrators seem to see two major important groups on campus – faculty and administrators.
It is quite common when we are doing a campus service review for example to hear from staff that they feel left out of the institution. They especially complain that they do not know what is going on to their and the students’ deficit. They feel as if they are not considered as an integral part of the college community to the point that they are not communicated with about the school they work in and serve. At one school for example, staff complained that the administrators decided to extend registration because of a glitch in the system but did not tell them they were doing so. As a result when students came to the registrar’s office to register for classes, they were turned away. Students were infuriated when the registrar’s staff said they could not register because registration had ended. Students were angry not just because they were told they could not register but because they had been told that registration had been extended. They were also upset because the people in the registrar’s office did not seem to know what they were doing. And in this case, they were right. Not because the registration people were not professional; they were just not kept in the information loop by the administrators. As a result, students took out their frustration on the staff in the registrar’s office where there were a number of angry confrontations.

The staff in the registrar’s office were equally frustrated. They had been yelled out, cursed at and told they were idiots simply because the college did not recognize them enough to communicate with them.  This was not simply an isolated event either. Similar situations had occurred throughout that campus and at others where the staff were not provided basic customer service such as communicating directly to them.

This did not have to happen at all. If the administration had made sure that the staff were informed of the change in registration time. Communication is a basic service that is owed to the staff and others on campus if they are to do their job properly and not take the heat for the administration’s failures to provide basic services to its own.

The staff could not provide good service to the students at all because they had not been served. Students who wanted to register for courses could not do so. Staff who wanted to serve students properly could not do so. It was a general breakdown in service.

It is amazing that administrators take so little regard for the staff that they do not communicate with them directly putting them at a disadvantage and in so doing telling them that they are not important enough to be in the loop. And it is a more or less common occurrence at most campuses. For example, just think about the committees at the college or university you are at.  College wide committees are formed but they are not really college wide because in most cases they do not have anyone from the non-supervisory staff on them.

This is wrong in so many ways but two will suffice right now. It is wrong because the college is losing an important voice which often knows more about the school than most of the faculty and administrators. The staff are the people who do some of the real work at the school after all. They are meeting with students and getting work done to keep the school going. They have an intimate knowledge that cannot be overstated but is too often overlooked. Their voice and ideas can be invaluable when it comes to thinking about how to implement change since they are the ones who deal with most of the changes and know how the past ones have gone. They are also most often able to know that if A occurs it will change B which means that C is also needed to be looked at. Yet most colleges do not ask to have their thoughts involved in the school.

Excluding staff also tells them they are not really an important part of the school. It is so very common for us on a campus to hear from staff who say that they feel as if they are relegated to the lowest position of the school. That they do not feel they are fully a part of the community; just servants to administrators faculty and students. They feel like the servants in some British upstairs downstairs type of TV show. They are to do all the work but remain invisible. They are demoralized on too many campuses and a once-a-year staff of the year award will not do it.

Communication on a campus needs to include the staff members. They not only need to be given information as soon as is possible but consistently communicated with. If a change is being contemplated, the staff should know about it before it is made and be asked for their thoughts.

The best form of communication is involvement. Staff at too many schools feel strongly that their voices and expertise are not asked for in making decisions in areas they work in and affect them. Supervisors should be meeting with their staffs but that may not be happening as well as it could thereby not bringing enough voices and expertise to the table. Members of the college need to recognize that they have an obligation to communicate with their staff colleagues with decisions that have been made but also deliberations that are to take place to get the staff ideas in the discussions. Often the people in the offices have great ideas and expertise that could be used. Furthermore, by involving everyone in communications to and from administrators to staff and staff  to administrators, people will feel a greater involvement leading to greater buy-in and morale. This in turn will lead to even stronger customer service.

Staff also need to be recognized for what they do and do well every day it is possible to do so. Supervisors need to reach out to staff members personally.  The administrators and supervisors need to provide them with some basic customer service and recognition. We suggest that supervisors and administrators do something as simple as say thank you to staff for the work that they do.  A simple “I just want you to know how much you are appreciated” goes a long way to build morale.  Also write short letters or notecards to staff members at times telling them of their good work and even sending them directly to their homes where they will be received with stronger effect.

We have found that if administrators engage in random acts of support and recognition through sending notecards home, these can go a long way to making the recipient feel valued. All these cards need to say is something such as “just wanted to tell you I thought you did a great job on….” Or for someone who may not deserve direct praise “just want to let you know I appreciate having you as a colleague.”( The wording can be checked with the Human Resources officer to make sure it would not be problematic in the case of a staff member whose work might need improvement.) This is something that other supervisors should be doing as well. In fact, anytime someone goes beyond the call that person should receive praise and a card home is an effective way of doing that.

We suggest that a college could create a College-wide Quality of Work Council to involve more voices. This Council would be formed by three representatives of every major work group on campus such as faculty, staff, supervisory personnel and one administrator preferably the President as liaison to show college support. The members would be elected from and by the work groups to represent that group in discussions on how it could be made even better to work at the college. This group would meet once a month and discuss work quality at the school but it has been our experience that it will also move into areas related to customer service to make the experience better not just for the internal community but for the students.  It will be important that some of the suggestions the group makes be implemented to show that their voice is being heard.

One of the first things a school could also do to involve the staff and hear their voices for the betterment of the school would be to send out a survey to staff and faculty with just one question on it. “If there were one thing the College could do to make working here even better, what would that be?” Then tabulate the results. Order them by number of times the suggestion came up and communicate the results to the internal community at the College. Following that, the Council should decide which one to implement first and communicate that to people. Then do it and let the College know it has been done. This will start to shift the dynamics quite quickly when people see that they had a voice in change and that it has been acted upon.

Staff are a valuable part of the college community and deserve better service than they usually receive at most schools. They are not servants to the school but they certainly serve the school well. Recognize that and provide them better customer service to strengthen the school and its retention. Remember, a demoralized or belittled staff person will treat people in the way he or she has been treated. That can and will lead to weak or poor customer service for everyone the staff member comes in contact with.

NRaisman & 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. NRaisman & Associates prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 


Monday, October 07, 2013

PREACHing Customer Service in Colleges

We need to PREACH customer service in our schools. That’s right PREACH. 

PREACH is an acronym for the six major elements of any good customer service vision statement and program to rally people around. 
If we can get people to PREACH customer service, all will be well.

Professionalism providing expertise with the ability to know what to do and to doing it
Responsiveness responding to student needs and providing assistance right then and there
Empathy seeing things from a student’s perspective, connecting with students and displaying friendliness
Accessibility being open to students and reaching out to them
Confidentiality treating students and their issues with respect, trust and discretion
Hospitality welcoming students and showing them that they are valuable and important.

Professionalism - To be a full professional means you know what you are doing and can provide expert assistance to a student or a client of your office or functional area such as registration or financial aid, admissions, teaching and the like areas of activity in which we are involved. People need to know their jobs and those of offices and areas that intersect with them. For example, people in admissions should know about the financial aid area as should people in registration. Faculty should know aspects of registrar’s function like add drops to be able to help students. Advisors should know all the areas to be able to do their job professionally.

To make sure this happens people need to have regular training and updating to keep them informed and at their peak of service. We all know that faculty teaching a subject need to stay up-to-date on any changes and shifts in their areas and need time to keep up. Well, other professionals throughout the school also need time for training to keep up their skills and be assured their ability to be fully professional is kept current.

This also calls on people to serve the internal community well by making certain that there are good and transparent communications. There are too many colleges and universities that we work with in which less than professional communications harms the entire customer service effort. Supervisors in particular need to realize that part of their professional activity is making certain that all the people under his or her purview are kept informed about procedures or any changes to policies so they in turn can serve students well.

Responsiveness This calls on people in the college community to respond to student needs when they arise and not make them wait. This does not mean always doing things to meet needs that should not be met such as students who complain that they are smokers and have nowhere to smoke on campus if yours is a non-smoking school. It does not mean they are always right or you need to meet their every wish. What responsiveness refers to is reacting to student when he or she comes into the office.  Stop what you are doing and wait on him or her. If you cannot be interrupted, explain why and set up a time to help the student before he or she leaves the office without being helped at all

It can also mean for faculty to respond to students in the classroom who have questions or who look as if they are not getting it. Stop and make sure that students are indeed following the lecture or discussion. Check in with them and see if there are any confused looks and then respond to them. If the need cannot be met for a student who for example is having trouble with an aspect of a calculus class right in class, then set up a time to tutor that student.

Make sure that students are tended to when they need help. Do not make them wait or be ignored. That is being responsive.

Empathy Look at issues and things from a student’s point of view. Get into their shoes and try to feel what they feel and need. Reach out to them.  Do the Hillel thing. Do unto students as you would want done for your so, or daughter, mother or father. Following this rule will make you identify more with students and meet their personal and emotional needs which helps with their feeling of an emotional ROI as well.

Accessibility Be available to help students at all times. Remember they really do come before other things at the school. Nothing is more important than servicing a student so when one comes to the office stop what you are doing and wait on him or her. Do not make them wait. If you must finish something, at least let the student know what you are doing and will be with them as soon as possible.  
Accessibility also means that you can be accessed by telephone and email. When the phone rings, answer it. In fact, the phone should be answered witho9in three rings. Do not make the person leave a voice mail which you will likely not ever get back to you as our experience at most schools shows.

Emails needed to be responded to within 24 hours at the very most and really should be cleared by the end of the workday. If you cannot answer emails right away, set up an automated resposne on the computer to at least let the sender know you have received the email and will be back to him within 24 hours. Then make sure you do so.

Confidentiality. Provide the student with the confidence that the information she is sharing will stay between the two of you. If you need to involve someone else, make sure the student knows that another person will be brought into the communication. Treat the student with respect and discretion just as you would want to be treated.

Hospitality  Realize that you are the official welcome for the college or university and need to treat all students and others withy cordiality. Everyone should receive a warm smile and welcome in your words, tone of voice and actions. You are the greeter for the school after all in every single situation, Keep in mind that the students  want to feel as if they are important and valued. Little shows that than a welcoming attitude that says I am happy to see you. How may I help you?

There is little that is more important to good customer service than the welcoming and hospitable attitude that lets students know they are the most important people on campus. If anyone ever feels that students are an imposition, unwelcome or an interruption, that person is in the wrong job and ought to be replaced.

If a vision statement and a customer service program PREACHes these elements, it will succeed.

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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.