Even When They’re Not Right, How Do You Provide Excellent Customer Service?

From beginning to end, in our college unions and activities programs, we are ultimately a service industry.  We answer questions at the welcome desk, help student organizations plan events in the reservations office, maintain safe and clean facilities, and plan events ourselves for our students.  However, regardless of how we interact with our customers, how do we ensure we are providing the absolute best services possible?  We focus on first and last impressions.

Whether we call them customers, clients, patrons, guests or any other terminology, in the end we are addressing the same topic…creating a culture of service excellence.  The key to this is keeping it simple.  Let’s look at a very simple and straightforward service model.  In this model the customer is in the middle, everything we do, decide and say should come from the lens of the customer.  How are our services and programs perceived?  Are we making it easier for our students to successfully program events?  Are our facility hours convenient and efficient for when our students need us to be open?  Do we have overly complicated systems and processes?  These are the types of questions we should be asking.

Overlapping each other are the two fundamental components of the model: 1) the service environment and 2) service delivery.  First, when evaluating our environments, remember that everything speaks.  It is vital to play close attention to details, they say everything about our organizations.  From the trash left behind for hours on the couch in the union to the exposed wires running across the stage at the concert, the little things send big messages.  Second, how we deliver our services is what our clients are always on the look out for, so surprise them.  Every interaction is an opportunity to create a WOW moment.  Wow’s do not have to be big, they just have to have emotional impacts and most of the time you’ll never know how much of an impact you had.  This is where we can go the extra mile from what is expected of us.  If a lost parent asks for directions, don’t just point them down the hall, get out from behind the desk and walk them there.  That is how you make lasting impressions.

Finally, surrounding all of these components are the processes we have in place to create our environments and provide our services.  In particular, this area focuses on setting our employees up for success.  Proper selection, training, accountability and recognition of our staff so that they can be experts in providing excellence in customer service should be the focus.  This is also where we should evaluate how easy (or challenging) we make it for our patrons to interact with us.  Try mapping out the processes for each of your areas from the perspective of the customer.  Would you want to continue to work with the office, the staff, the system?

The last piece of customer service information I’d like to share is the Hierarchy of Customer Expectations.  At the very base level is Accuracy.  At the very fundamental level, our guests expect us to have the right answers (or to know where to find them).  Just a step above this is Availability.  We must be easily accessible and visible (clearly identified locations, uniforms, name tags, etc. can all help with this).  Yes, research has proven that most people are willing to wait a little as long as they are able to be assisted when they do finally find someone, this is why it’s not the very basic level.  These two areas are dissatisfiers, meaning that they are expected.  If we do not provide these two basic elements, we will lose the faith of our customers.

The top two elements are the satisfiers, which if we provide, will provide those WOW moments discussed earlier.  The first is creating Partnerships, does the customer feel you truly care about them?  Is your attention 100% on them, or are you looking over their shoulder to see who’s waiting next?  Prove to them you’re in it with them all the way by creating a tunnel vision focus with them.  Finally, at the top of the pyramid is giving Advice.  This is not becoming a therapist, I’m talking about helping them realize something they didn’t know before.  This might be as simple as suggesting the best place to sit in the theater because of line of sight views to the stage or recommending flameless candles when they read about the no open flame policy for their end of the year banquet.

The absolute best thing about customer service is that it’s free.  Simple and free, who could ask for anything more, yet many days we still struggle with doing these fundamental gestures for those that walk our halls and attend our programs.

Customer Service is one of the skill sets within the ACUI Core Competency of Management and everyone of us must understand the basic knowledge, skills and abilities required to be successful.  These include:

  • Understanding of key elements of customer service
  • Understanding of basic hospitality and catering services practices
  • Understanding of best practices related to customer service delivery
  • Ability to provide quality customer service
  • Ability to train others in methods and practices of quality customer service
  • Ability to effectively manage conflict and/or customer concerns

Hopefully this post gives you a starting point for discussions with your staff and ways to evaluate your current practices (the ideas presented here have been adopted from Dennis Snow, a former trainer with the Disney Institute).

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