Monday, April 28, 2014

From the Top Down Customer Service or Lack of It

As Pogo put it so well many years ago “We have met the enemy and they are us”. That is especially true when it comes to service excellence on college campuses. We are the enemies of good service.
Just getting some basic politeness can be a challenge. I am beginning to think that college customer service is making cable companies look responsive to clients/customers.

I am not just talking about service to students. Colleges too often seem to be equal opportunity bad service providers. This is especially true when they are dealing with anyone outside of the campus . Just ask anyone who has applied for a job at a college how they were treated. They are requested to apply through an ad perhaps. They are most normally asked to apply by email. So far so good but as soon as an application goes in, the poor service starts. 
The applicants never receive any motivation that their application has been received for example. This would be so easily done too. Just set up an auto responder to send out an email back to the applicant stating that their email and application have been received, Thank you for the interest.
Then the search goes on and if an applicant is not successful in the process, he or she never hears anything again.  No one thanks them for the application and writes that “we are sorry that though you are an excellent candidate…” (or some such polite brushoff that was the norm years ago) . There is most often no response at all leaving the applicant hanging and feeling absolutely ill-served.  The candidate took the time to write a cover letter, direct her resume to the job and apply,. The least one could do is acknowledge that. It would be so easy too. Just create an Excel  list of applicants and email address and use a mail merge to send out thanks by emails. A simple polite gesture.

The gestures are often the key to helping promote a culture of caring and service. We have found many schools that just by-pass simple politeness because “we don’t have the time to do that” or “if I were to thank everyone I wouldn’t get any work done”. Well, one of the most important jobs a person can do is to motivate and show appreciation for others. It only takes two seconds to say thank you. It takes a minute to let someone know you appreciate the good work she has done. That moment would be well spent too because that small customer service to another would be repaid mover and over.
 It amazes me that quite often the higher some people go in the system, the lower their civility and politeness to others gets. We deal with many college administrators. Many ask us to come and talk with them about helping them make the service on their campus better to increase retention. After very many of these meetings I realize that service on the campus is not good because the people at the so-called top do not know what customer service and even manners are. They are often the ones to ask for the meetings but then treat us as if we are just getting in their way or as if we are somehow an imposition. If they do this with us I am sure they do it with others. After all, we are the customer service people and others try to polish up the politeness for us.

For example, I had a meeting recently that a college president requested. I was to fly to her city and meet with her the next day. When the time arrived for the meeting, she was late of course. And when she came into the conference room she just introduced herself and started in right away with “So what can you do for us on retention?”

We spoke for over an hour with her interrupting me at every turn so I could not finish a thought. She also did not listen to the responses I was giving so she asked me the same question more than once. If I answered her questions about increasing retention in a way that she didn’t agree with she simply told me I was wrong. Maybe I was but it is bad manners to do so to a guest. And I was a guest of the president and the college. She asked me for the meeting.

After the meeting she asked me to send her a customer service proposal to do an audit for the college. I did so. That was two months ago and I never received even a simple “Fugetaboutit”.  I did email twice to ask if there were any questions pertaining to the proposal and another time to offer to come back to discuss any issues that might be there but these emails were never responded to. 

It is interesting that this college president had asked us to survey her administrators to see where they were on basic customer service issues. It was not a pretty situation by the way. The administrators ranked low on their service and also felt that service on campus was weak. No wonder why. The president set the tone and I am certain that if the customer service and lack of basic politeness she gave me were the norm as I guessed they were, the people who report to her  learn politeness and good service are not important to succeed.

It is interesting that afterwards her assistant did respond to an email I sent her asking about the proposal. “So what do you think out biggest problem might be?” she asked. I wanted to say “your boss” but politeness led me to say that likely there were no clear positive champion for customer service on campus to set the tone for providing good service and hospitality. I also mentioned that service needs to begin at the top to lead the way and I was not certain that was happening fully enough

This was not an isolated case. In many situations I have found that the president and the leaders of a college or university are central to the problem at the school. They do not show appreciation for others. They are not polite and hospitable. They treat too many people as afterthoughts at best.
At another school, I found during an audit that the president had  a habit of belittling people in public and made comments about the staff that said they were not important. As I recall, the statement was” I can replace you by just grabbing someone at a bus stop.” And he wondered why the staff did not teat students better. Because he did not treat staff well is why.

In this situation I was called on to report the problems at the school as precursor to more work to do for them. I wrote the truth as politely as I could. Oddly enough I did not get any more work from that school after writing that the problem starts at the top and works its way down.

N. Raisman & Associates is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through workshops, presentations, research, training and academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that work with them 
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