Taking the HEAT
HEAT, the first thing is most importantly is hearing the customer out. Why are they upset? One thing we try to teach though is don't interrupt that customer. Because Dale Carnegie tells us in "How to Win Friends and Influence People" anytime you interrupt someone who's upset you've just added four more minutes onto their rant or their vent. We want to teach you how to work smarter not harder. So think about it if you take the time and actually listen and instead of interrupting them three times which means those are nine minutes you're never getting back you want to really look at that nine to 12 minutes and go, "How could I have done better to listen?" So hear them out.
The second step we want to do is empathize. And how we do that in customer service is we repeat back what we think we've heard. "So you're upset because your classes got dropped this semester is that what I'm hearing?" And what you need to do is walk them into confirming or denying that's why they're upset. Because what if they say, "Well, I'm upset about that but I'm also upset about this." We might've gone ahead and solved the wrong problem and that happens way too often not just in higher ed but any industry. We just assume we know why they're upset. So empathize, repeat back what you think you heard so you can get that confirmation or deny.
So then, we move onto the A. The A Is the apologize if needed. We don't throw apologies out there willy nilly because then they don't really have a lot of value and let's be real we don't apologize for policy. So if it's a FERPA violation I can't apologize to you for why I cannot give you that information so I'm going to apologize if needed. Another big thing with the A we like to include is the ask, include the ask. What would make this right? How can I make this up to you? Maybe it was your phone call wasn't responded to and I need to say, "Well, how can I do this better?" If they said, "Well, I need this and this," that makes it easier. I can do that. So, we've heard them out, we have provided empathy, we've included the A with the apology if needed in the ask.
And then we bring it home with the T take action. Think about it. They've heard, they've empathized, they apologized, but now it all comes down to how much they do to take action. So we want to encourage people to take action and that means not saying, "That's not my job." Unacceptable. It's someone's job so we want to find out as service providers whose job is it and how can I walk them through that? And then the big thing is to walk them through to the thank you so that they say, "Wow, this was exactly what I needed." But what we've also got to remember taking the heat is we can't leave someone else to do it. Because think how upset they're going to be if you promise them it was going to be taken care of and then it doesn't. Now they're going to be even more mad when they come back to the second person and you're setting your team up to fail when you do that. So we've got to really empower people to everyone no matter what level, frontline all the way up to our VPs take the heat.
Building a Service Initiative
Advice that I would give to anyone starting a service initiative on a college campus is number one, build your army. Get the people together who believe in what you are trying to do and they can see the vision of where you're trying to take this. Use those words like retention, pretty big to why we do this in higher ed. But also look at words that you don't want to use, like the word customer. That doesn't go over big and higher ed. Until people understand who our customer is, you can't really use that word. So I give that as advice.
I also use the word of define what is service at your institution. For us it's a big makeup of how you treat people, the training that goes into how you treat people, holding people accountable for how they treat people. So it's a bigger program than just putting a fake smile on it and saying, "Yay, we're just going to make everything okay by telling people yes." You can't do that.
So another big piece of advice is expect some resistance. Even though in the last five years we've seen institutions from there was maybe 10 when we started to now there's close to about 80, that's a huge growth of other institutions providing a service initiative. It's still new, though.
Sometimes service excellence initiatives on campus start organically. They start from a grassroots place from the ground up. And what that means is a foundation starts here, but we need to get the message to folks at the top that say how important this is. I think as with anything, when we're working with vice presidents and presidents at universities, we need to give them solid rationales for why we need to promote certain efforts. That's often through data. So any time at down here we can collect information from perhaps our observations, from surveys that we've taken through other places on campus about how students or faculty or staff feel about our customer service efforts. Anything that we can share with people at the top to understand why this is so valuable and most importantly why this can impact retention; those will be the selling points to really get a service excellence program off the ground on your campus.
The Golden Rule vs. Platinum Rule
The Golden Rule and the Platinum Rule, that is definitely something if you are teaching, learning, or setting out the vision of service excellence in higher education, you have to know that. So the Golden Rule, we all know that, right? It's "Treat people the way you want to be treated," but it's 2018 now, soon to be 2019. We have to understand that the world is so much more diverse and inclusive. Not everyone wants to be treated the way you want to be treated. So you have Golden Rule, treat people the way you want to be treated, and then there's Platinum Rule, "Treat people the way they want to be treated." That takes a lot more work. And the only way you know how people want to be treated is to ask, develop a relationship, find out how they want to be treated. You might have two different clients, two different customers or stakeholders who come in, and one wants to get in and get out, the other one, Chatty Cathy, wants to tell you all about her 14 grandkids and all 12 hip surgeries. So you've got to treat them each how they want to be treated. Get this one in and out, take a little more time with this person. So you can't treat everyone the same because not everyone's the same. And I think the more that we realize that, especially in higher education, we've got to understand that people deserve to be treated the way they want.
Supporting Frontline Staff
Universities can support their frontline staff first by acknowledging that their jobs are really hard. They are the first point of contact for angry parents, angry students, upset faculty, people who are just frustrated because they'd been transferred from place to place to place to place. So by acknowledging that with frontline staff, that's the first step.
The next step is working with them to understand what makes being on the frontline frustrating and how they can better support them in order to make their experience better to provide better experiences for the customers.
Scripting can enhance customer service by giving consistent and clear messages. So it's one thing for you to ask me a question and me to answer it. The key there is, if a student or a parent asks the same question, we want to make sure that they're getting a consistent message across the institution. That will really enhance the experience of the parent or the student. And really actually give them more confidence in the institution, because we're giving the same message.
So by scripting messages ... And it doesn't necessarily mean that every single word is written to the letter. But if everyone has the same spirit in an answer, that can be really valuable. At one of our information desks on my campus, we've begun to compile a list of frequently asked questions.
So what I do is I have my student workers jot down those frequently asked questions, and then actually I ask them to write down their answer. And then periodically I'll go back and review those with them. And that's another way that we can help with scripting. Because I can then say, "Wow, that was a really hard question that a parent asked you and you answered it really well." Or I can say, "It was a really hard question that you got and you probably could have answered it in this way."
So it's not only important to talk about, what to note what the questions are, but also to note what the responses are. So that we can gain that consistency across campus.
Understanding Internal vs. External Customers
We have in higher ed, internal and external customers. Even though that word customer doesn't always go over so well, we have to define who they are. Because what's been my experience is when I first started leading these trainings at Coastal Carolina University was people thought our customers was just faculty, staff, and students. We serve such a bigger gamut than that. So what I did is I used a business model and came up with it that we have internal and external customers.
And how we teach people to understand the difference between that is your internal customers is anyone who provides a product, program, or service for someone to participate. The external customer is anyone who has the opportunity to participate in our programs, products or services. So when you just look at your external customers, most people think, it's our students, students, their sister, their brother, their mother, their father, their guardian. It's other universities that we collaborate with. It's the media, it's alumni, it's the community. It's the high schools we recruit from. There's over 18 different classifications within just internal customers that we've been able to identify. Then you have your external customers who ... I mean your internal customers rather who are providing that service, your faculty staff, your board of directors, your vendors that you outsource. And that's also you have your alumni that also fall into that category. So it's interesting to see if we really break down who our customers are in higher ed, it is way more than just faculty, staff and students.
While we may not want to call students customers, sometimes people say that they don't want to call students customers because we have to hold them accountable, and we don't hold customers accountable. And I disagree with that. We actually, of course, we need to hold students accountable. Sometimes we actually have to expel students. So just because we call them a customer doesn't mean that we can't hold them accountable. It just means that how we interact with them on a day to day basis is through respect and through really holding them in high regard in terms of working with them through a situation in the best possible way.
Training for Diversity
We can look at messages of diversity and inclusion when thinking about customer service by really looking at what messaging we have across the campus, and I often think about our written materials, our promotional materials. Are all the students on the promotional materials, are they all of one color or do they show a variety of diversity on those written materials? Also, is there a safe zone sticker or is there a pride flag somewhere in somebody's office that a student who's coming to your campus can say, “Oh, they really value who I am and who I want to be?”
On my campus in particular, we have a number of deaf and hard of hearing students and we always think that it's important for people to have some level of sign language, whether that mean hello or thank you or welcome, anything can really be important. We had a information desk at one point on campus and I was observing the information desk from a lot of different perspectives, and a deaf student came up to the desk to ask a question. It became very apparent to me that we weren't doing a good job with our messaging because the student actually had to write the question down and then hand it to the desk worker, who then wrote the response and handed it back. At our school, that simply wasn't acceptable to me, so especially because we have technology that students can type questions and then students can type questions back. So we included that technology to help share the message, again, that we are inclusive, even on our own campus where all of these students are, we are inclusive and we do promote diversity and we do respect all people.
Assessing Customer Service
Assessing customer service efforts, especially in higher education can be a really controversial thing. In higher ed, we don't like to be assessed, right? We're all about assessing students. But, there are ways that we can assess how we're doing. I often think that in a classroom at the end of a course, professors often have an end of course survey, and they get feedback afterward.
Everyone should have that opportunity, whether you're in the classroom or not. One way to assess customer service is to invite a student, or a staff member, or even a parent, to go and visit an office. Or, to engage in an office through email with a question or a concern, and then report back on how that experience is.
Some of us are familiar with the term secret shopper, so I'm at the mall and somebody may came up to a sales associate, and then rate the interaction afterward. It's really the same strategy. I've had it happen to me. After the fact, it can be terrifying. But, it can really be enlightening in terms of how I can enhance my service presence moving forward.
First impressions in customer service are huge. We can all think of walking into a space, any space for the very first time, and what we felt when we were in that space. That's what we want to look at every single interaction on campus. When a new person, when a student walks into a space, what do they see, what do they hear, what signage is there, what messages are we sharing? Maybe there's a safe zone sticker on a computer. Those are the kind of things that we really want to pay attention to because again, those are passive ways that we can employ really good customer service methods.
People, when they think of customer service, they often think of face to face interaction or interaction over the phone. They don't often think about the passive ways that we can provide customer service. Signage is the perfect example of passive ways that we can offer customer service. So when I'm walking down a hallway and I'm looking for the restroom and I don't see any sign or any indication of where that is, that's a missed opportunity to provide service excellence. So through signage, by telling people where things are, how to get to them, it can really reduce anxiety in customers, and it can also enhance the experience for them.
Answering Repetitive Questions
When staff hear the same question over and over, it can get really tiring. The key is for staff to realize that while they may have answered the question multiple times, the person on the other end has only asked it once. So they have to approach every single time as though it's the first time. Another way to approach questions is to look for underlying meanings for a question. We always hear that there's no such thing as stupid questions. It's actually not true. There probably are stupid questions.
At Disney, the number one question at Disney World is, "what time is the three o'clock parade?" It's at three o'clock. The key there is to dissect that question to really understand what the customer is looking for. So in that question, "what time is the three o'clock parade," they're not asking for the time. What they really want to know is, where should I stand? Are there places to avoid? Am I going to see Cinderella if I go over here versus if I go over here? What is the underlying meaning? If people can take the time and pause to really identify what customers are asking, the questions can be really much more productive.
Redefining the Customer is Always Right
We've heard that outdated, antiquated expression, "the customer is always right," for way too long. It's not true. The customer is not always right. But what we like to teach is that, we want to make every situation right. That way, it empowers that employee, that staff member, that faculty to be able to say, "OK, the customer isn't always right, but it's my job to make the situation right. So how is that applicable in my specific job duty?" I think that's important for all of us in higher ed to understand that, we can't stay outdated. We can't stay in that antiquated mind thought that the customer's always right, because that's not true. There's FERPA, the parent calls, we can't just say yes and go ahead and give that information out. That's not right. So to make the situation right, that means we have to learn how to say no, but how to say it in the right way that helps that student, that parent, that visitor to understand why they're not right, but how we can make it right.