Tag Archives: customer service

Creating a service culture

Julie Selander is a former colleague from the U of M. I recently came across a presentation she made for the Innovative Educators group, Execptional Front-Line Customer Service in Higher Education.

Selander is the Director of One Stop Student Services, and she had some very useful advice for creating a service culture. As an example, her unit has a goal of being knowledgeable, efficient, empathetic, and friendly. Their basic principles include:

  • Understanding customers and their expectations
  • Providing accurate, timely, consistent information
  • Being professional and courteous
  • Delivering what was promised
  • Being a problem-solver

Here are some questions she proposed to help you think about service principles and standards in your area:

  • Who are our customers? What are their attributes and demographics?
  • What are their perceptions and expectations?
  • What are we offering them – products, services, and/or resources?
  • Do we have the capacity to meet and exceed their expectations? If not, how can we get where we need to be?

As Selander points out, exceptional customer service leads to increased retention, improved graduation rates, a positive reputation for the institution, and more fulfilling work for staff. How can you create and maintain a positive service culture in your team?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

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Actually, they are customers

“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:

  • timeliness
  • later office hours
  • making it easier to get a hold of you
  • clear and easy to understand information
  • friendliness
  • 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.

  1. Being ignored.
  2. Being abandoned.
  3. Being hassled.
  4. Being faced with incompetence.
  5. Being shuffled.
  6. Being powerless.
  7. Being disrespected.

Making a difference with the education and the service we provide can make us all heroes!

Todd Thorsgaard

Serving each other

This week I am helping to host a group of students who are visiting from Thailand. They want to learn about US culture and practice their English skills.

I invited the students to visit my office in St. Paul. When I put out a call to my colleagues, several people stepped forward to give office tours. One of our administrative assistants put together bags of Minnesota State branded items for them to take home. Other people stopped to give a friendly welcome. The students had a great time.

Even though it wasn’t directly related to anyone’s job duties, I knew that I could count on my co-workers. We have created the sort of collaborative climate where we value providing good service to each other. Whether it’s an above-and-beyond event, or routine tasks like providing data or supporting someone’s project, we want to help each other succeed.

Our HR leadership team has worked hard to create this climate. They hold us accountable for collaboration and encourage cross-unit activities. Another practical thing that helps is our collaborative office space. We had an opportunity a couple of years ago to re-arrange the office and included a community gathering space. Rather than enter into a maze of cubicles, staff and visitors enter into a space with tables and a white board. Fairly often someone will bring in treats or start some sort of discussion on the board. A few months ago someone brought in several flavors of Oreo cookies and a pitcher of milk. We all voted on our favorite flavor. (The traditional cookies won.)

The gathering space is a fairly simple idea and it has made a difference in building a unified team across divisions. And knowing our colleagues better has helped us provide better service to each other. What have you done to promote collaboration among your team?

Dee Anne Bonebright

You can’t do that!

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?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

 

Don’t surprise your customers. Delight them!

According to Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell, authors of Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight, “Customers don’t want to be surprised, they want to be delighted!”

While I work in higher education, I am also a customer of higher education. My youngest daughter Sophie is entering college in the fall, and I can tell you that we have both been delighted by her new school.

Every communication with students and parents has been designed to welcome her and help her navigate the transition from high school to college. Her initial visit to the college wowed her with a tour of the program and demonstrations from current students in the architecture program. Upon acceptance, Sophie received a welcome package, complete with a swag bag of college-branded goodies to get her excited.

The school connects students with potential roommates and helps students register for dorm rooms online. With the help of social media, Sophie has been communicating with all the girls on her dorm floor and feels that she already knows them pretty well. Amazing, huh? I can tell you that she feels far more comfortable entering her freshman year than I did at her age when I knew no one.

As a parent, I’ve been completely informed about the admissions and orientation processes all along the way and I’ve recently been invited to join a Facebook group of parents for the class of 2022, where the current conversation among parents is “what type of computer is required for my son/daughter’s course of study?”

Just before Sophie graduated from high school, the college even sent her a branded top for her mortar board. What fun! And how delightful!

In their book, Stewart and O’Connell outline five principles of excellent service design, one of which is “Customers Want to Be Delighted.” To do that they recommend that you:

  • Meet their expectations with no guesses or surprises by providing an overall satisfying experience.
  • Define the delight you deliver to customers. Delight represents your customers’ experiences (how good were they?) multiplied by your “technical excellence” (how well did you deliver them?)
  • Ensure that customers know what to expect as they move from one touchpoint to another.

The authors say, that “such delight will “woo, wow, and win” customers.” I can certainly say that Sophie’s new college has wooed, wowed, and won me over completely through absolute delight!

What can you do to delight your customers?

Anita Rios

 

Customer service in higher education

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

 

Seeking solutions with your customer

Last week, construction finally began on our home to fix the damage that occurred with an extreme hail storm nearly a year ago. We are getting new siding, gutters, fascia, window screens, and a replacement of trim on our home’s exterior. If you’ve lived in a home while construction is going on, you know it’s both exciting and frustrating at the same time. Exciting because of the anticipation of having a fresh, clean home exterior, but frustrating with the added noise, construction debris, and traffic around your home.

Unfortunately, our frustration levels increased beyond our expectations the very first day of construction. After coming home from work, we discovered that the siding crew had drastically sheared all the mature shrubs around our home without letting us know ahead of time. Several shrubs were cut in half around the foundation and the 20-foot tall arborvitae framing the house on either side were butchered, exposing bare branches on the lower half of the trees that would never recover. It was shocking to see the devastation.

My husband Cesar called the contractor and gave him an earful. We were both frustrated that this had been done without our approval or prior knowledge. Thankfully the contractor responded gracefully and first listened to Cesar, apologized, and then told him he would make it right. Over years of working with homeowners, our contractor has honed his skills at resolving customer service problems when they arise, following these simple, but effective strategies outlined in LifeHack:

  • Listen Intently:  Listen to the customer, and do not interrupt them. They need to tell their story and feel that they have been heard.
  • Thank Them: Thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention. You can’t resolve something you aren’t completely aware of, or may be making faulty assumptions about.
  • Apologize: Sincerely convey to the customer your apology for the way the situation has made them feel. This is not the time for preachy reasons, justifications or excuses; you must apologize.
  • Seek the Best Solution: Determine what the customer is seeking as a solution. Ask them; often they’ll surprise you for asking for less than you initially thought you’d have to give—especially when they perceive your apology and intention is genuinely sincere.
  • Reach Agreement: Seek to agree on the solution that will resolve the situation to their satisfaction. Your best intentions can miss the mark completely if you still fail to deliver what the customer wants.
  • Take Quick Action: Act on the solution with a sense of urgency. Customers will often respond more positively to your focus on helping them immediately versus than on the solution itself.
  • Follow-up: Follow-up to ensure the customer is completely satisfied, especially when you have had to enlist the help of others for the solution delivery. Everything up to this point will be for naught if the customer feels that “out of sight is out of mind.”

Since the first phone call with our contractor, we’ve had several conversations with him to talk through how to fix the problem. On Thursday he came out to our house and calmly assessed the damage. He told me that he had already contacted landscapers and nurseries to get estimates on delivering 10-foot arborvitae. I told him we wouldn’t need 10-foot arborvitae and could replace them with smaller trees. I also added that we would be happy to do the landscaping work ourselves saving him extra money in the process. He was pleasantly surprised and I was happy we could arrive at an agreeable solution.

When I think about that interaction, our contractor demonstrated all 7 steps for resolving customer service problems. While they are simple (and work no matter who your customer is), it also takes humility, grace, and true concern for your customer to resolve problems to everyone’s satisfaction.

Anita Rios