Tag Archives: customer service

Who is your customer?

This month we’ll be focusing on the leadership competency: customer service. In higher education, we tend to focus on the complexity of our relationships in supporting student success and don’t always define students as our customers.

In reality, if you are working in higher education, no matter what your role, students ARE our customers. And depending on the situation, internal and external stakeholders such as peers, direct reports, bosses, community members, business leaders, legislators, and all tax payers in Minnesota can be our customers too.

For example, I’m currently working on a master contract that will provide a valuable service to our HR offices in each of our colleges and universities. While I often work with my HR colleagues as business partners or peers, in this instance they are also my customers.

In Minnesota State, here are the behaviors we focus on to provide excellent customer service:

  • Demonstrates a positive attitude
  • Listens attentively and respectfully
  • Responds effectively to internal and external customer needs, requests, and concerns
  • Exercises creative problem solving

We’ll be exploring these topics and more during the month of June. In the meantime, I challenge you to think about each of your relationships in your leadership role and ask: who is my customer? You might be surprised how many you actually have.

Anita Rios

 

 

Leadership and customer service

reachingDuring June we shared some thoughts and ideas about customer service. For July we’ll be looking at the next leadership competency – Building Organizational Talent.

I see a strong connection between these two competencies. As leaders, the employees that we supervise can be viewed as customers, in the sense that they are looking to us for guidance, work direction, and help with professional development.  We are also in a unique position to serve the organization itself by hiring strong team members, helping them to succeed, and in some cases, helping them to move through the pipeline and become leaders themselves.

Many years ago I talked to a leader who managed quite a few entry-level positions. She had high turnover in her unit, and she told me that she viewed it as success rather than a source of frustration. Her goal was to introduce people to the workplace, give them foundational skills, and then help them move on to other positions within the organization. Over time, she built a large network of professional colleagues who got their start in her unit.

Here are some other behaviors that are identified with building organizational talent. I hope you’ll join us in a conversation about how to implement them.

  • Makes sound hiring decisions.
  • Provides a strong orientation.
  • Sets clear expectations.
  • Provides ongoing feedback; effectively coaches both good and bad performance.
  • Partners with each employee in conducting meaningful performance evaluations.
  • Helps each individual develop professionally.
  • Holds each individual accountable for performance.
  • Takes responsibility for their own professional development.

Dee Anne Bonebright

That’s not what I expected…

why-is-there-a-metallic-taste-in-my-mouth-1I was so excited to be taking a friend to a new neighborhood restaurant that I had discovered. We had a great cocktail, some good appetizers and then the entree arrived – and it was terrible! What to do? Often, as a native Minnesotan, I would have just said nothing and only left a 15% tip but I decided to ask for the manager. Nervously I told him how much I enjoyed the restaurant but the seafood creole dish we had ordered was bad. And, he listened! He didn’t argue or question my taste or understanding of how seafood should taste. He apologized and said he would ask the chef to pull the dish for the night. Then he told us how much he appreciated our business and hoped we would give them another chance. He also comped our meal and gave us a gift certificate.

Despite our best intentions we can’t always provide the customer service we want and our customers expect. How we, and our people, respond determines if we can recover. In my story I have gone back many times to the restaurant and encourage friends to visit when they are in St. Paul. At our colleges and universities how we respond to our students and their families when we don’t meet their expectations will influence how engaged they feel while on campus, how welcomed they feel and how connected to us they feel after they leave.

Forbes posted an article that highlights three key actions that my restaurant manager took and that we need to help our people take when we don’t provide the service our students expect.

  1. Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness: be clear that you are taking their issue seriously and that you genuinely understand their concerns. Don’t try and explain or defend and don’t feel like you have to agree – just understand.
  2. Go Over the Complaint with Your Customer: explore and listen. Remember that you may have a lot of information that customers don’t have – and don’t care about. Your goal is to understand their point of view.
  3. Fix the Problem and Then Follow Up: take action and confirm the next steps happen. Ask what the customer hoped would happen and how you can do something now. People don’t expect miracles; they want to be listened to.

Let me know if you are in St. Paul and want to try a new restaurant. I know a place that cares.

Todd Thorsgaard

Do you understand your customers?

diverse customersLast week while I was facilitating a retreat, one of my colleagues mentioned how our blog theme for the month complemented the customer service training she was using with staff at her college. The training program is called, “At Your Service: Working with Multicultural Customers.” While we usually don’t promote training programs on this blog, I thought that this one was worth a mention.

Created by the University of Minnesota’s Extension Service, the program helps participants understand the significant role that culture plays in any service encounter. For example, did you know that customers’ wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings are shaped by their culture?  If you accept this premise, it naturally follows that in order to truly serve your customer (i.e., student, parent, community member, colleague, boss), you need to look at the following questions through the lens of their culture.

  1. What does my customer want?
  2. What does my customer need?
  3. What does my customer think?
  4. What does my customer feel?

Taking this one step further, you can also ask:

  1. What is important to my customer?
  2. What are they trying to accomplish?
  3. What are their goals?

Understanding the answers to each of these questions and then helping your customer reach their goals or accomplish what they want, can go a long way to providing stellar customer service no matter what culture they are from.

Anita Rios

 

 

Is the customer always right?

customer always rightI imagine this isn’t a revelation to anyone who has ever worked with another person – no one is ALWAYS right – not even the customer. On the other hand, we know that customer satisfaction in higher education is the greatest predictor of retention and completion. (Schreiner, 2009) And a core component of satisfaction is the service students perceive they get from their college or university. Our students, our customers, may not always be right. But their success, and our success, is dependent on the service we provide and their satisfaction with it!

Neal Raisman,  author of Embrace the Oxymoron: Customer Service in Higher Education defines customer service in higher education as how students perceive their return on investment in:

  1. Financial rewards – will they find a field of work or service that provides security?
  2. Emotional rewards – do faculty and staff treat them with respect and consideration?
  3. Associative awards – do they feel accepted and a part of the institution?

The day-to-day interactions that your people have with students, whatever their role, will determine first how accepted students feel, and second how respectful the overall campus experience is for each student.

Laurie Brown, a communication and customer service consultant, encourages leaders to focus on the following seven attributes of customer service when coaching and developing people to meet emotional and associative expectations:

  1. Accessibility – is it easy for students to navigate the institution and processes?
  2. Availability – are people and services available when needed?
  3. Affability – are students greeted warmly and with genuine concern?
  4. Agreeability – do your people have the skills and support to find creative solutions and not say “NO?”
  5. Accountability – are your people empowered to take action and coached to be responsible for solutions?
  6. Adaptability – is your institution staying current and responding to the issues that are relevant today and tomorrow?
  7. Ability – have you continued to develop your people so they can serve students?

No one is ever always right, but we can always help our students feel accepted and supported!

Todd Thorsgaard

Hiring for great customer service

interview 1While most of us in higher education are not hiring customer service representatives, all of us have an element of customer service required in our roles. Whether we are providing direct services to students in admissions, advising, financial aid or in the classroom, or providing services and resources to our colleagues or bosses, it can help to hire people with the right customer service skills, knowledge and abilities.

While browsing for good resources, I happened upon a set of great customer service interview questions from happyfox.com. I’ve skinnied down the list and adapted them a bit for higher education below. What I like most about them is that they help you zero in on the qualities you are seeking, such as honesty, engagement, attitude, engagement, etc.

Honesty and Communication:

1. Have you ever had to communicate a bad news to a student (or colleague, community member) who was affected by your service? How did you do it?

2. Give me an example of a time when you have successfully handled an irate student, parent, faculty or staff member?

Engagement:

1. Do a role play as a customer support agent who is trying to manage a customer when facing a performance hiccup during a solution demo.

2. How do you sense the mood of your customer (student, parent, colleague, etc.) while communicating with her?

Attitude:

1. What is that one skill you possess that will influence the success of our college/university?

2. Why do you want to be a member of our team?

Passion:

1. What do you enjoy about working as a __________? in a college/university?

2. How do you think you can help our  team become more efficient? Where would you start?

Knowledge:

1. What do you do to keep yourself updated with industry best practices?

2. What do you think is key for contributing to both your personal growth as well as the institution’s growth?

Empathy:

1. What is that one quality in you that helps you understand a customer’s problem better?

Creativity:

1. How much fun do you have in your job and what can you do to make your co-worker’s job fun as well?

2. What was the best mistake you did on your current job and explain why that’s the best?

What interview questions have you used to hire for great customer service?

Anita Rios

Listening as customer service

Last weeklistening I attended the 2016 Minnesota summit on preventing campus sexual violence. It was a difficult topic, but very energizing to be with 300 people from 57 different campuses who are engaged in this work.

One thing that I heard repeatedly was the importance of investigating complaints through well-informed listening. Paul Schnell, the Chief of Police for Maplewood, talked about false assumptions that can get in the way of an investigation. For example, some police officers believe that most reports of sexual assault are false, whereas research shows that the level of false reports is only around 5%. We learned about the neurological response to trauma that results in fragmented memories and non-linear stories. You can imagine the difference that assumption could make when listening to a survivor. Is the person doing as much as possible to describe a traumatic event? Or is she making things up as she goes along?

I was struck by the knowledge that just being well-intentioned isn’t enough. A good investigator understands the psychology of trauma and is knowledgeable about the proper techniques for interviewing survivors.

The same thing can be true in many of our leadership roles. Listening with good intentions is a start. But informing ourselves about our customer’s needs, background, and context is often essential. I’ve experienced that in my own life as a team member on a large project. The difference between talking to a sponsor who had read the report and had meaningful questions was striking when compared to another sponsor who tended to say versions of “nice job, keep up the good work.” While she might not describe it this way, my impression is that the first sponsor treated business interactions as a chance to provide service to the other person – to understand their needs, acknowledge key issues, and use her expertise to strategically address them.

When you experience well-informed listening, how does it make you feel? What lessons can you apply to customer service?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Are you my customer?

are you you my motherDo you remember the children’s book, Are You My Mother?  The story of the young bird asking, over and over, the critical question, are you my mother? I believe that leaders in higher education need to push their organizations, and their people, to ask a similar question over and over. Are you my customer? And we can learn from the young bird to not restrict who we consider a customer, even internal customers!

The traditional structure and hierarchy in higher education often identifies groups as faculty or staff or administrators. And even further, we tend to divide ourselves into colleges, departments, bargaining units and divisions. Then you can add in shared governance. All of these push us to not view fellow employees as customers who have legitimate needs that we can serve. Over time this approach makes it harder for each group of employees to actually do the job we are all here to do, deliver a high quality education to our students in higher education, or in general, to provide a high quality product or service to our external customers.

As Martinez, Smith and Humphrys highlight in their book, Creating a Service Culture in Higher Education Administration,excellent external customer service is achieved through a team of people who deliver excellent internal customer service.”  The starting point is to ask the following three questions about our own colleagues and co-workers, even if they are in a different bargaining unit or on the opposite side of campus!

  1. Who are they?
    • do you rely on their work to do your job?
    • do they rely on your work to do their job?
  2. What do they want?
    • what information, resources, data, documents, materials, or support do they need from you to do their job?
    • what do you have that can help them serve the students they work with?
  3. How have they changed?
    • are you meeting their current needs?
    • how have their customers changed?
    • what is different in their work?

Asking these questions, and truly listening to the responses, will build the foundation for collaboration and enhance our institutions ability to provide the high quality education we all want to deliver to our students.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Where to start? The middle perhaps?

trumphillaryNow that I have your attention, lets talk about customer service in higher education.

Based on the current presidential campaign in the United States the middle ground appears to be an impossible dream! However, I want to share an article with you today that encourages us in higher education to seek out the middle ground on customer service, even if we have some concerns about labeling students as customers.

Ricky L. Boyd, director of the Shaw Air Force Base Program at the University of South Carolina, reviewed the research on the pros and cons of customer service in higher education and suggests that we “all agree to disagree” (my words) and focus on the “basic tenets of the customer-service paradigm that could and should be utilized in higher education settings.” (Boyd, 2012) His work isn’t revolutionary but he does a nice job of translating the usual corporate-speak of customer service to a more familiar higher education language.

Tips for the Middle-Ground of Customer Service

  1. Treat students with dignity and respect (a basic human necessity and right.)
  2. Give students clear directions on how to solve their problems and issues (students are in school to learn – not to go on unnecessary wild goose chases to find answers for operational issues.)
  3. Be responsive to students and their families (being true to your word means a lot!)
  4. Give timely answers to student’s questions and regular feedback on their progress.

Boyd also translates Ken Wallace’s 15 Principles for Complete Customer Service to seven principles that appeal to a middle-ground approach in higher education.

  1. The success of the institution is dependent upon providing high-quality service to students – students affect the bottom line.
  2. Employees need to be reminded that every single one of them (faculty, staff, administrators, front-line, back-office, etc.) is in the business of serving students. Students deserve to receive assistance to meet their legitimate needs.
  3. Perception is reality. We need to understand our students and what is important to them.
  4. Each student is unique and has unique needs.
  5. Treat students the way you would want a member of your family or a good friend to be treated.
  6. Do it right the first time.
  7. Solicit feedback from students in all areas and truly listen.

All in all, it seems like this middle ground will be easier to find than our political middle ground. Our colleges and universities have an opportunity to help students get the most out of their academic experiences. It will take deliberate planning and action to expand customer service from just the student services functions to the work that everyone on campus does.

That is something I can vote for!

Todd Thorsgaard

Calming the crazy

TSASince 9/11, one of the most annoying, but necessary, things about air travel is going through long security lines and being treated like you are a potential security threat. Still, most of us are now accustomed to removing our jackets and shoes, going through body scans, and sometimes getting patted down by dour-faced TSA agents. In fact, it’s become normal and acceptable that TSA agents are less than friendly as they focus on processing thousands of people in airports and ensuring our safety every day.

So, imagine my surprise when I was in the Dallas airport returning from a business trip last month, and my experience was vastly different. I handed a TSA agent my boarding pass and ID and she gave me a big, warm smile and said, “Good morning! How are you this beautiful day?” Her attitude and smile was contagious. I smiled back and said, “I’m doing well. And I really appreciate your friendly smile.” Her smile widened into a big grin and she said to me with a knowing look, “Honey, it calms the crazy!” At that I laughed and went through the rest of the security line, noticing that all the TSA agents there were different than I had experienced elsewhere. They were doing their jobs competently and efficiently, but they were all smiling. They took extra care to interact with people in positive ways. And most importantly, people flying out that day responded in kind. The mood was lighter in that line and people seemed much more tolerant and patient.

On my flight home, I was pondering that experience and wondered: What kind of leader do they have, that they were approaching their jobs with such positive attitudes?

As Todd said last week, one of the behaviors that contributes to exemplary customer service is demonstrating a positive attitude. The TSA agents at the Dallas airport were doing that in spades.

Positive attitudes can do wonders when we interact with customers, no matter what business we’re in.  A simple smile and warm greeting, like the TSA agent said, can “calm the crazy.” It can also leave our customers with a desire to do business with us again and to recommend our colleges and universities to others. So, for me, it begs the question: What can we do as leaders to ensure that the staff and faculty we lead in our colleges and universities demonstrate a positive attitude when working with students, community members, colleagues, or any other potential customers?

Anita Rios