Saturday, January 30, 2016

Creating a Service Mission/Vision for Your School to Increase Success

It is difficult to get somewhere when you don’t know where you are going. You
may know where you want to head but you need vision to see how to get there. And in that same manner, to get to service excellence and gold standard customer service, an organization needs to have the vision of what it seeks to accomplish, to define itself and to guide the journey.

Colleges need mission and vision statements to get to who they want to be; to lead the way. A mission statement talks about how you will get to where you want to be. A mission statement defines the purpose and primary objectives of the school as well as some values the institution holds as important; the who we are. It talks about the present as a precursor to the future.

The vision statement tells people what we want to eventually become; what our vision of the future is. 

The mission and vision statement together set the tone and the cultural values for a school. They can change the school. We are aware of some schools that want their mission and vision statements to mean something more than platitudes to please an accrediting body so they actually print them up on posters or the backs of business cards and such to keep them before the college community. Some actually have aspects of their mission and/or vision built into their evaluation systems to assure that people try to live up to them. These steps are to be lauded.

But these are generalized statements quite often that do not speak to service excellence or often students and their success. Most schools know that they need a college mission and vision statement. But they have yet to define and devise what they see as their service mission or vision statement. These are the values and definitions that will guide the organization to deliver excellent customer service to its students and members of the internal community to reach its service goals.

It is all well and very good when a college or university says it wants to achieve customer service excellence or reach the gold standard of customer service but until the school defines that standard and sets out a vision for everyone to follow and understand, how does it know what it is shooting for and if it achieves it? People do not see what it is that the school expects or wants for everyone.

We may know what our mission statement says and even believe it is more than the seven steps to salvation – something to be stated and put in a brochure but not really acted upon.  We know it is not meant to be acted upon in many cases because it does not associate any actions with it. No “To achieve this we will….” They are not made functional.

There may even be a vision statement which is how we want to see ourselves and be seen but these are also not focused enough by being made functional, by being created with how we will do this. And these vision statements though they may be lofty enough are almost never focused on service to be delivered. So it is no wonder that even if a mission or vision statement might have some nice language neither usually sets out a clear defined path of how to do what is necessary to achieve the objectives, to reach the goals.

It is interesting that colleges and universities all have mission statements and most have vision statements  but though they say they want excellent customer students for students and the community, they either do not mention this at all in either nor have a service vision statement for people to follow. This makes one wonder if they really do care about customer service and treating students and employees well if they have not articulated their vision and goals; never mind making the statement functional or accountable. Moreover, in searching colleges and universities for service statements, there were none that could be found. The closest to a vision was something akin to we will meet the needs of students and the community” but this is far short of a collegiate service vision.

A service vision statement should state what the goal is, what is important to get to that goal and how we will get there in functional statements that are actionable. So for example, Providence Hospitals, Columbia, SC has a mission and visio0 statement for customer service as stated below.

Customer service, good or bad, doesn't just happen. Maintaining an effective customer service program is one of the biggest challenges facing organizations today. Developing an effective customer service plan and instilling a commitment to it within the organization is key to meeting our mission. Therefore, Providence Hospital absolutely commits to provide exceptional customer service, understands its significance, and promotes a plan to accomplish our goals and objectives. Identifying areas of concern and initiating timely recovery actions become the responsibility of every person involved at Providence Hospitals.

We want our employees to understand and deploy what makes for an excellent customer service experience, how to deliver excellent customer service in person, on the phone and how to recover when the experience has not met our customer’s expectations.

These are a good start but they do not define or make functional these objectives enough to say how they will get there. The hospital does make a start by mentioning in person, on the phone and how to recover when the experience has not met our customer’s expectations so they have defined service a little bit. But not enough to help anyone reading the statement to know what they ought to do or what needs to be done.

A better job was done by the Osceola (Osceola) Public School District when it put forward a service mission and vision statement 2007-2008 Model Customer Service Plan. It set as its mission

The Osceola School District is committed to providing the highest level of quality customer service – one stakeholder at a time.

And its vision statement was

Osceola School District employees are empowered to offer customer service with the following C.R.E.E.D. (Confidentiality, Results, Equity, Empathy and Dignity
It then went on to define each area of its CREED. For example,
I can acknowledge each customer and his/her individual differences while taking ownership in promptly assisting with questions or concerns.
And then these was further defined in functional and accountable definitions and actions to be taken.
The Osceola School District believes that a major component of ensuring high student achievement is providing excellent customer service to each and every stakeholder. When you - as a parent, school partner, or visitor - interact with an Osceola School District employee, you can expect our very best in:
Courtesy and Respect
All customers will be treated with respect and dignity.
Each staff member will be courteous and helpful during all customer interactions.
Each staff member will maintain the customer's confidentiality and privacy.
Each staff member will communicate in a friendly and professional manner.

Then these were further augmented with steps to be taken by the school district to make all this happen such as:

Customer Service Action Plans:
Customer Service Satisfaction/Comment Card boxes will be placed at all school/work locations to provide continual feedback on what kind of service we are providing. The locked boxes will be checked daily by the school secretary or designee, and the cards will be given to the school/department administrator for follow-up. An on-line customer service survey will also be posted and remain on the district’s website.
An Employee A+ Customer Service recognition program will be developed in order to recognize employees who provide excellent customer service based on feedback from co-workers or customers through comment cards/surveys…

The Osceola School District plan has all the parts of a full and workable service mission and vision; who we are; who we want to be and how we will do this. It may not have been perfect as a mission and vision statement but it certainly outpaced what colleges and universities have.

Creating your schools service mission/vision statement

A college or university can change its culture and its student success rate if it engages in and then generates a college customer service mission that it puts into functional and accountable terms. And if it actually follows them of course. If it spends time and effort to create a service mission and vision it can use that to alter the way that people think about the school and students. A service mission/vision can then be a powerful tool for even greater success. 

To create a service mission statement a school needs to consider the following questions to determine how it sees itself really. This would best be done in a day-long workshop or retreat in which as many constituencies and people as possible can attend and contribute. This would be to get the broadest view of the school possible and generate greatest buy-in for the results. The more people who create the vision the more who can articulate and support it.

These are not the only questions and issues to explore but they are certainly central to formation of a valid service vision and a great departure point.
What business are we in?
No what do we sell, actually do?
Why do people come here?
What is it they want?
What is important to them; not us?
What is their goal?
Why?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              What is it they expect?
What do we need to provide our customers?
What is our goal of services?
What is excellent customer service?
How will we do that?
How do we know if we succeed?
What is our service excellence mission/vision finally?

These questions are designed to elicit conversation and debate. They are meant to be slightly provocative and push people to reach beyond the simple answer. That is why for example the question What business are we in? is followed by No what do we sell, actually do? The easy response is that we are in no business at all. That we are an educational institution that educates students and that is not a business. The second question is meant to push people out of their comfort zone and explore what the real business of a college or university is. By discussing what we sell once getting people by the we don’t sell anything, the discussion starts to move to how students and parents view what the college does. To move people beyond the we do not sell anything, just put some marketing materials into a power point and make the suggestion that the university does advertise, market and thus sells. This will start to push people to look at the school and its customers.

If the retreat or workshop is worked well by the facilitator, the college should end up the process with a college service vision that can lead it forward. The discussion along the way should be used to inform the vision and make it functional and accountable. The discussion should define ways in which the vision can be enacted. Answering questions like What is it they (students) expect? How will we do that? and What do we need to provide our customers? will lead to specific indicators and actions that can be incorporated into the retreat report that will lay out specific actionable items to help answer the question of How will we know if we succeed?

For example, if it comes up that they expect people to answer phone calls when the phone rings, that will set forward an actionable item such as the phone needs to be answered promptly (three rings). Students expect that people will stop doing whatever it is they are doing to wait on them when they come into an office leads to an inevitable actionable item. And so on. 

If done and facilitated well, the retreat report should lay out a vision and the plan to reach it that can guide the school to greater success.

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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.