When we work with colleges and universities on improving student retention through better customer service excellence we too often find that they do notseem 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. www.GreatServiceMatters.com info@GreatServiceMatters.com