“They are my patients, not customers. We aren’t a Target store!”
I heard that comment, or some variation, hundreds of times when I was working in health care. Physicians, nurses, providers, technicians, clinic staff all went into their roles to help people and thinking of their patients as “mere” customers was hard. Yet when we actually talked to our patients and asked them what was important in their health care they highlighted issues like:
- later office hours
- making it easier to get a hold of you
- clear and easy to understand information
- clear billing statements
They assumed we were good medical practitioners and wanted us to be better service providers. Leaders in higher education face the same issue. Students and their families count on us to provide a high quality education but what determines their loyalty and engagement with our schools is how they are treated day-to-day in all of their interactions with us. Certainly in the classroom, but also online, on the phone, through the mail and in person at the registrar, the advising office, the dorm, the student center, the billing office, the gym, the library, and on and on. We need to show we care and understand what is important to them.
Adam Toperek, in his book Be Your Customer’s Hero, describes “Seven Service Triggers” that you can use to examine your interactions with students, or any other customers, to identify where improvements are needed.
- Being ignored.
- Being abandoned.
- Being hassled.
- Being faced with incompetence.
- Being shuffled.
- Being powerless.
- Being disrespected.
Making a difference with the education and the service we provide can make us all heroes!
Give up your landline phone, stop wearing a watch, drive a car from the back seat, travel across the country without a map, buy a car without seeing it–these are all things we were told you can’t do. Yet today people do them routinely. By ignoring assumptions and the status quo, people designed solutions and created new ways of doing things to meet the needs of customers today.
Cathy N. Davidson in her new book, The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux, suggests that in order to succeed leaders must be aware of their legacy assumptions and challenge them. By examining and giving up assumptions, leaders can leverage new models and develop new solutions based on different assumptions that are relevant today.
Some assumptions in higher education that she believes need to be challenged include:
- Lectures are an effective learning method
- High-stakes, end of semester, summative testing accurately measures and promotes learning
- Cost of higher education delivers value
- Traditional faculty, professorial, tenure and apprentice models develop effective faculty members
- Discipline majors prepare students for success
Challenging our assumptions is hard but necessary to find solutions to the complex problems leaders face today.
What assumptions are holding you back?
What can leaders learn from college faculty about customer service? I was pondering this question as I participated in our annual Academic and Student Affairs/Equity and Inclusion conference two weeks ago. After listening to LuAnn Wood, Student Success Coordinator at Century College, describe the work she is doing at their Institute for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (ICRP) my answer is yes! Similar to faculty needing to change how they teach to ensure the success of students from all cultures, leaders need to change how they lead to support the success of the ever increasing diverse population of employees.
In the book, Culturally Responsive Leadership in Higher Education, leaders are challenged to change their leadership practice to meet the needs of all their employees, regardless of their diverse cultural backgrounds. They identify nine key activities that leaders can use to examine and develop their leadership to be more culturally responsive.
- Initiate and engage in critical conversations with individuals from different cultures and who have a different point-of view.
- Choose to use a critical lens and examine multiple cultural perspectives when making decisions.
- Use consensus building decision-making and consciously acknowledge stereotypes.
- Use research-based information to better understand differences between cultural groups and outcomes.
- Honor all members of your constituencies.
- Lead by example to meet the needs of different cultures.
- Take on the responsibility to bring cultural issues to your stakeholders to get resolution.
- Build trust with stakeholders who are not yet culturally responsive.
- Lead for the greater good of all cultures.
Where do you have an opportunity to be more culturally responsive?
Posted in common good, customer service, higher education, Leadership, leadership development, self awareness, Uncategorized
Tagged blind spots, cultural competency, culture, diversity, equity, higher education, Leadership, leadership development, trust
Consultant Neal Raisman publishes a periodic study on why students leave college. Here’s his findings after interviewing 618 students who left a college or university in 2016.
I was quite surprised by the results. 23% of the students cited poor service as a reason to leave their college or university, and 25% cited a belief that the college didn’t care. That means ALMOST HALF of the students left because they hadn’t built a strong relationship with the institution. Finances, scheduling, and grades all scored much lower.
Academic Impressions recently published an interview with three academic leaders – What does customer service in higher ed actually look like? They pointed out that the Raisman article means that higher education needs to look at the issue in new ways. Here are some take-aways:
- It’s important to set standards and hold people accountable. If you don’t measure your service, you can’t make it better.
- Make customer service work in our context. While the customer is not always right, we need to ask ourselves how we can make the situation right.
- Make sure everyone knows your history and traditions; building institutional pride is a great way to generate positive interactions.
- Make time to put yourself in a position to observe or experience what your students and other customers experience. It will enhance your credibility and help you identify needed changes.
When I worked at the University of Minnesota, I had a colleague who frequently said, “we might not call them customers, but whoever they are, Stanford is stealing them!” His point was that we have to address needs and expectations of our stakeholder groups or they will take their tuition dollars and grant money somewhere else. What has worked for you to keep students engaged and moving forward at your institution?
Dee Anne Bonebright
The church where I worship runs a neighborhood-based nonprofit. We recently hired a consultant to help with some strategic planning. The first thing she asked us to do is spend the summer talking to community members. We’re asking business owners, local residents, other service agencies, and the guys who spend time in the vacant lot down the street what they actually need.
The consultant said that very often, agencies assume they know what their clients need. When they actually talk to people and get them involved in decision-making, very different results can happen. For example, one organization wanted to set up a food shelf. After talking to potential clients, it turned out that there were already enough pantries in the neighborhood. What was missing was a source for perishable items, especially milk. Turning the project from creating another food pantry into a reliable source where families could get milk made a huge difference.
We in higher education are prone to the same mistake. We can assume we know what our “customers” need – whether it’s students, coworkers, peer institutions, or the whole system. By taking time to talk to each other and build real relationships we’re in a better position to create strategies and processes that address the real needs.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Last week the Harvard Business Review blog included a case study that is a good summary to our discussion on building trust. It focused on the tech company Nokia and how it dealt with major industry changes and the resulting need to completely overhaul their business strategy.
The article described three important practices the company’s newly-appointed board followed to address the emotional side of strategic change. In order to move ahead, they focused on building trusting relationships among the leadership team and across the company.
#1 Increase trust by defining new conversational norms. The previous leadership made it uncomfortable for people to express their opinions and voice concerns. In contrast, the new board identified “Golden Rules” for board discussions that included showing respect to each other and assuming that people are speaking with good intentions. Following these rules created a culture where people felt free to express alternative viewpoints and generate more options.
#2 Reduce emotional attachment to the prevailing strategy by generating many new options, not just one alternative. People are more willing to express concerns and identify weaknesses in organizational strategy when alternatives are available. As the board created a culture in which multiple options are considered, they were able to make more thoughtful decisions.
#3 Nudge top managers to pay attention to data that conflicts with their gut feelings. It’s easy to get caught up in wishful thinking. Paying attention to data helped the leadership to make better decisions and deal with their current reality.
Similar to the tech industry, higher education is in the midst of disruptive changes. I found these actions applicable to the work I do as a leader. What do you think?
Dee Anne Bonebright
One of your employees made a major mistake. It cost time, money, and stakeholder goodwill. You made a major effort and repaired the damage. So what happens next?
Many of us like to think that we would expect the person to learn from the mistake and continue to be a high-performing part of the team. But it can be hard to trust that person with similar projects in the future.
Several years ago I read a book called The Set Up to Fail Syndrome. The authors made the argument that an employee’s poor performance is often directly related to the behavior of his or her boss.
As they explained in this blog post, the pattern is the opposite of the Pygmalion effect. Rather than helping an individual live up to great expectations, the set-up-to-fail syndrome encourages people to live down to low expectations.
- An employee makes some kind of mistake at work.
- The manager decides to take a more hands-on approach in managing performance by providing extra feedback, adding approval steps, and watching the employee more closely.
- Even though the manager is well meaning, the employee interprets this behavior as lack of confidence and trust. This leads to second-guessing themselves, withdrawing, and making fewer autonomous decisions.
- The boss perceives this behavior as further demonstration that the person is not a strong contributor, and the cycle continues.
This can become a self-reinforcing cycle in which even high-performing employees are no longer able to bring their best to the work. And it’s not unusual. What stuck with me about the book was this quote:
Up to 90% of all bosses treat some subordinates as though they were part of an in-group, while they consign others to an out-group.
Some years ago I worked with a colleague that had very different personality preferences than our manager. She made several choices that were different from what the manager would have done. The manager interpreted her work style as problematic and quit including her in planning meetings or seeking her feedback about programs she worked on. The employee began to feel like she couldn’t do anything right. She quit trying, thereby making the manager believe that he was correct to doubt her abilities.
Eventually the employee transferred to a different department and immediately began to thrive. She was put in charge of increasingly complex tasks and earned at least one promotion. Her basic work performance and style didn’t change. What did change was her relationship with her manager and her resulting self-confidence.
Re-building trust after a mistake, or even a difference of opinion, can be hard. Not doing it means that some employees are given assignments and flexibility while others are not. The consequences can be costly for the employee, the work unit, and the organization.
What do you do after someone makes a mistake to ensure you are re-building trust instead of setting them up to fail?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Photo: Untitled photograph (Broken red vase) by Sarah Charlesworth