Technology vs. Customer Service

By Kathryn Magura

Forget the whole chicken vs. egg dilemma. The conundrum I face on a daily basis is balancing the conveniences technology provides with customer service standards that cannot be sustained.

What do I mean? Well, in my work we provide a lot of technological ways for students to connect with each other, our office, and request services. I love finding new and innovative ways to utilize technology to enhance the customer service on a college campus. In fact, that very sentence used to play a prominent role in my Twitter bio.

But what are the consequences for providing so many ways to utilize technology for customer service? A challenge I have found on a frequent basis is managing expectations when technology allows for the perception that things can be done with ease. For example, we allow new students to select their own rooms on campus – similar to how you select your seat on a plane. We have gone so far as to allow students to invite roommates into held rooms, and even change their selection multiple times. So what happens when our servers get overloaded with requests due to high volume of traffic? We get calls of complaints on how terrible our product is. I think the juxtaposition of customer service via technology follows a statistical bell curve of when the technology provided enhances the services provided, and when they are a detriment to it.

I also see this playing out in unrealistic expectations of response messages. I have had students email me at 8pm at night and then have a parent call me frustrated at 8am the next morning due to lack of response. How is it reasonable to think a request after standard business hours will or even should be addressed so quickly if it is not an emergency? I’ve seen this scenario get so bad for some colleagues that they feel the need to put an out of office message up from Friday at 5pm until Monday at 8am.

So how do we find the balance? An approach I take is through conversation. When our servers are overloaded and our product becomes slow, I explain to frustrated customers what is happening and why, and then I make a plan for improvement in the future. When someone is frustrated with the lack of response, I try to educate what a typical work shift is, and what our standard expectation of response is. Thankfully this seems to diffuse the situation in most cases. I also start asking the question of if the service that is currently providing more of a challenge than supplement to quality service is necessary. Do we need to provide this fancy and shiny technology piece if it ends up making our customers unhappy?

How do you find balance?

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Technology vs. Customer Service

The Important Things in Life, according to Leslie Knope

Parks and Rec_Leslie Knope quote_meme

Leslie Knope (Parks & Recreation) is one of the greatest fictional female characters, right up there with Buffy Summers, Alana, Khaleesi, Storm, and Eowyn. And even though she is a fictional character, she provides great advice on an assortment of life needs, from waffles to politics, to friendship.

The quote in the meme I created above is one that popped out at at me this week: “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.”

Feel free to substitute “waffles” for whatever is your favorite culinary treat. In fact, grab that favorite treat right now (fruit? fruit flavored products like Gushers?), and mull that quote over a bit.

How often does that statement apply to you?

If you’re reading this blog then likely you work in student affairs (or else you’re just my #1 fan, aka my cat Loki) and our field is rather notorious for mocking this idea of “work/life balance” and how it doesn’t exist. Perhaps you make it work. Perhaps you don’t. Perhaps it just depends on the day and your caffeine intake.

Regardless, take this blog post as your official notification that it’s A-OK to ‘punch out’ outside of standard work hours and live – whether that includes people, pets, your favorite book, or your serious relationship with Netflix (notice: watch Daredevil, it’s amazing)

Technology and social media is amazing. It provides opportunities for us to connect and build relationships in authentic ways. When great outlets like #sachat on Twitter and numerous student affairs groups on Facebook exist, we can easily connect with folks across our profession.

However…this has it’s faults as well. I can only speak for myself but many times over the last couple years I have become very involved in the social media world of student affairs, having great dialogues and ‘meeting’ brilliant people as I learn from so many perspectives. Social media became part of my professional identity, and with that it encroached into aspects of my personal identity.

Where does personal identity and professional identity end? Does it end in our current world of social media? I believe there are many answers to those questions, and they’ve all been debated before in the Twitterverse. What do you think?

Essentially, it can be fairly easy to become overwhelmed with all things student affairs, between our long work weeks, stressful work, social media, social groups, and more. It’s like we’re stranded on a desert island, surrounded by a sea of glitter, conduct reports, theories, and event planning checklists.

So take a break, friends. Student affairs isn’t a 7/11, open all the time and dedicated to smothering you like an old-fashioned grandparent wondering why you haven’t birthed a litter of children yet at the ripe old age of 29.

Have some waffles. Spend time with people/things you care about.

Remember – work is third.

(and possibly even further down the list).

The Important Things in Life, according to Leslie Knope

A Reflection on Authenticity

By Kathryn Magura

I talk a lot about authenticity. To me, a core tenant of a person’s integrity is reflected in their authenticity. Authenticity in who they are at home, at work, with friends, and most importantly when no one else is watching.

I am also a big fan of most social media platforms. I am frequently an early adopter for new social media options, and love being able to connect with people all over the world around common topics. That said, I think people quickly forget their authenticity when provided the opportunity to hide behind social media and the internet.

A few months ago I wrote about why I think Student Affairs professionals should care about Gamer Gate. There is sadly a lot of evidence on how women are treated deplorably online in ways men are not. Heck, the actress Ashley Judd made news recently about how her Twitter bullies had gotten so bad, she was seeking legal options.

Back in the world of Student Affairs, there was a lot of discussion last week, lead in part by this post by my co-editor Niki, about the dark side of Student Affairs professionals who hid behind the anonymity of the social media platform Yik Yak at the recent NASPA conference.

What is it about social media and the internet that allows people to think they can say what they want without consequences online? Where is intent vs. impact in the thought process? Would you say the things you say online (anonymous or not) to someone’s face?

Those who know me well have heard me say that I try to always be my authentic self online. If you look at my Twitter feed, or see what I post on Facebook or Instagram, you see the real me. If I ever feel that I am misrepresenting who I am as a person, I will part ways with that social media platform.

We talk a lot about digital identity and how your online presence follows you everywhere. How help people see that authenticity matters in the digital world too?

If you aren’t sure if you should post about that event, or make that comment about someone’s photo, try this tip I learned from my colleague in student conduct: Think about whether you would say those things if your grandmother was watching. If the answer is yes, proceed. If the answer is no… well, turn off the damn computer.

A Reflection on Authenticity

Perspectives on March Madness Bracketology

By Rachel Luna

NCAA basketball March Madness is upon us.  And that means even the casual fan becomes a bracketologist.  Whether you are a serious student of statistics like our friends at FiveThirtyEight, a prognosticator based on your psychic abilities, or you ascribe to my personal strategy of mascot prowess, there are many ways of approaching the tournament.

Check out a new perspective on the NCAA March Madness this year, like with this visual representation of the teams in a radial bracket.
Check out a new perspective on the NCAA March Madness this year, like with this visual representation of the teams in a radial bracket.

Atypical Basketball Brackets

A quick internet search will get you the NCAA men’s and women’s teams displayed in a traditional (read: boring) bracket.  Here are some more unique perspectives:

  • Radial bracket by @MykCrawford
    • I’m really digging this visual representation of a tournament bracket.  The artist has updated this site with odds from FiveThirtyEight, which you can see as you scroll over each team.
  • Accessible bracket via @terrillthompson
    • A great example of accessibility in practice, this site presents the standard NCAA bracket information in a clean and functional way using web tools and coding standards that make it more accessible for people “using non-visual interfaces such as screen readers and those who are physically unable to use a mouse.”
  • Emoji bracket via @WashingtonPost
    • This site features the emoji version of each school’s mascot, which you can also download and save to your device.
  • Academic performance bracket (women’s and men’s) via @InsideHigherEd
    • There’s a little more emphasis on the “student” part of “student-athlete” with this bracket, which picks winners in the men’s tournament based on academic performance indicators, such as the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) and the Graduation Success Rate.
  • Tuition bracket (2014 version) via @Awl
    • This bracket breaks it down by dollars, looking at the cost of annual tuition at each competing institution.  The 2015 version of this hasn’t been published yet, but fingers crossed it will come soon.

Non-Basketball Brackets

Sports isn’t your thing?  No worries, here are some non-athletic brackets that might strike your fancy:

  • Female authors via @KristenAbell
    • Double high five to our friend Kristen for creating this bracket which supports both reading and women.  I for one can’t wait to see how it plays out.  Voting is live now!
  • March Magic bracket via @Disney
    • Disney fans on both US coasts face off in this second annual contest by voting for their favorite attractions in each park.

What’s your bracketology perspective?  Share your strategies and tips in the comments below or tweet me @RachelHLuna.

Perspectives on March Madness Bracketology

Retrospective Perspectives

By Kathryn Magura

Ever come up with a title for a blog post you like so much that you feel like maybe you should quit while you’re ahead? Yeah, me neither… Just kidding, I’m pretty proud of this one. But what the heck do I mean?

This week I’m working remotely (shout out to my awesome University for allowing me to do this. I know I am fortunate to have the ability to flex my time this way.) and taking care of my niece and nephew while my brother and sister-in-law get a well-deserved vacation. Before you send me an “Aunt of the Year” mug, I should be transparent by saying the prospect of spending so much time alone with my niece and nephew stressed me out big time.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my niece and nephew. At ages 11 and 8 respectively, they are at a great age to be engaging yet independent. My fear stemmed more out of the unknown for what was to come. What would we eat? How would we stay busy after school? What if they don’t like having me here this long? What happens if I let the rules slide a little?

I got lost in the “what if’s” game when I should have focused on the precious opportunity I was being afforded. I have a great niece and nephew who love spending time with me. I have a great job and colleagues who are willing to step up and allow me to take this time to be with family. What a gift all around!

As this post goes live I will be about halfway through my week of time with my favorite kiddos. As I continue to reflect on the time we have spent together so far, and how needlessly I worried as we approached our week together, I am reminded of how I feel when taking on a big new project or job. It’s a big risk to get out there and try something new and unfamiliar, but most of the time the rewards far outweigh the potential costs. Even if things don’t work out exactly as planned (and trust me, some of us plan a LOT), we truly are better for getting out there and giving things our best shot.

Retrospective Perspectives

Reflections from #LeadOnCA

by Rachel Luna

This week, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Lead On: Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women with 5,000 mostly female folks who gathered at the intersection of technology, leadership, and gender.  I attended this event as a volunteer resume reviewer and was also able to participate in the general sessions.  I’ll admit it was odd for me to be in a space so focused on gender as this is an aspect of my identity I don’t often have the opportunity to explore with as much depth and concentration.  Here are some of my takeaways:

Conversations I appreciated

Leadership as a ‘lady thing’

“We’re going to talk about lady things, like leadership and taking over the world in 2016,” said Kara Swisher as she kicked off the opening session.  The conference theme was “Lead On” and this sentiment was palpable in everything from the hashtag (#LeadOnCA), to the background music (“I’m every woman” and “You’re gonna hear me roar”).  Of course, the main draw for the conference was the keynote lineup, which included Hillary Clinton, Jill Abramson, Dr. Brene Brown, Candy Chang, Kara Swisher, and Diane von Furstenberg.  Their stories are remarkable not just because they are women but also because they are leaders.

Opportunities and encouragement to be change agents

Top: My colleague Kathryn Ward writes on the "Before I Die" wall.  Bottom: I contribute my goals to the community art installation at #LeadOnCA.
Top: My colleague Kathryn Ward writes on the “Before I Die” wall. Bottom: I contribute my goals to the community art installation at #LeadOnCA.

It wasn’t all talk at this event; leadership was in action in a variety of ways.  For example, conference participants shared goals and contributed to their own “Before I Die” wall, inspired by Candy Chang’s work.  The exhibit hall, which at most conferences is all about commercialism, featured a couple community engagement efforts, namely partnerships with Family Giving Tree (where attendees stuffed 500 backpacks with school supplies and encouraging notes for children in need) and Dress for Success San Jose (which collected donations of handbags and jewelry).  “What you do doesn’t have to be big and dramatic,” said Hillary Clinton, encouraging participants to make change.  “You don’t have to run for office,” she said with a figurative wink and nod but no official announcement about her intentions.

Conversations I wanted more of

I’ll admit I spent most of the day fulfilling my volunteer duties in the Career Pavilion, meaning I only saw the keynote addresses and attended one workshop.  So conversations like these could have happened in other spaces, but I found them glaringly lacking from the general conference dialogue and social media backchannel.

Breaking out of the gender binary

Everywhere I turned, there were examples of dualistic gender thinking.  In general sessions, female attendees were celebrated while male allies were thanked for their presence.  Every statistic was presented with just two options (ex: 70% of Google’s workforce is men and 30% women).  An announcement that some of the men’s restrooms had been converted to women’s facilities elicited a big cheer from the audience, and I couldn’t help but think why some couldn’t have been converted to all-gender spaces.  The result of these binary practices: our nonconforming community members were unacknowledged and rendered invisible.

Gender + any other aspect of diversity

I know this was a “conference for women” so it is expected we’d talk a lot about gender, but could we please acknowledge some other aspects of our identities?  While listening to the main stage speakers, I noted less than a handful of comments that directly addressed aspects of diversity other than gender.  And of those comments, most came from women of color.  By not addressing intersectionality, the female experience was painted with the same (white, middle class, well-educated) brush.  “Leaning in” and trying hard were touted as the keys to happiness and success while dynamics of privilege and power were unexamined.

Random things that got me thinking

TableTopics

  • The items in my participant swag bag included two office supplies and four body/cosmetic products, including one item for children (sunscreen). I wonder how these giveaways were determined and what conversations happened around those decisions.
  • A Nursing Mother’s Room was available for attendees.  Although I did not utilize this space, I tracked it as one of the event’s inclusion efforts and was glad to share its location with the woman who was balancing her pumping equipment and bottles on the edge of the bathroom sink.
  • An emphasis on making connections was built into conference process and content.  Intentional spaces for informal conversations were available in the exhibit hall and general session area, Twitter handles for all speakers were included in all conference materials, and almost every major speaker described women supporting women as essential to success.  In these ways, networking was framed with a relational perspective as opposed to a transactional one.
  • All the resume reviewers were volunteers from local colleges and universities.  It was nice to see higher education professionals recognized and sought out for their expertise in career support and guidance, especially in the business-driven environment of Silicon Valley.  I even consulted with someone who currently works in corporate HR and said she brought her resume because she valued the advice of career services professionals.
  • One last thing: shoutout to Kathryn Ward who also represented Samuel Merritt University as a resume reviewer and drove us both around the Bay Area that day!

Have you attended a conference like this?  What were your takeaways?  What would you like to see at a “conference for women”?

Reflections from #LeadOnCA

5 steps to avoid design malpractice

by @jessmsamuels

PowerPoint presentations can be extremely boring.We have all sat through incredibly dry, mind-numbing, and visually unappealing presentations.
Common mistakes include:
  • Presenters jam pack slides with text and then read from the slides.
  • If there are images at all, they are usually pixelated.
  • The font size and colors make it hard to read.
A graphic designer friend of mine, Robbii Wessen, would call these types of presentations “design malpractice.”
Presentations are suppose to convey ideas, and what many people fail to realize is that design is incredibly important to making sure your audience absorbs your message.  With the right design you can direct them where to look and you can help them remember the most important facts.
Recently I had the privilege of listening to and viewing a class presentation about the CEO of Amazon that took all the right steps.  As a graphic design buff, I can honestly say it was one of the best PowerPoints I have ever seen.  I want to share with you the top 5 reasons it won my heart.

 

1. Theme
The designer of this PowerPoint, Lydia Hardy, clearly took her design inspiration from the Amazon logo.  Using black, white, and yellow exclusively throughout the entire presentation created a visually appealing theme.  The text, images and blocks of color repeated over and over in each slide, and made it easy to know what to read and what to focus on.
Presentation 1

 

2. Design consistency
This happened to be a group presentation. Every other group in class did what you would expect –  created a PowerPoint that was inconsistent in style and the amount of content per slide.  Having been in one of these groups myself, what I don’t know yet is how Lydia’s group created a process that resulted in such a consistent design. From my experience group members often differ in how much content they think should be on each page, so this result required great leadership skills.
Presentation 2

 

3. Simplicity
Selecting simple black silhouettes for the images on each slide gave the audience a specific image to focus on while the group was speaking.  Similarly, she made a few words on each slide pop in a bold yellow font.   This made their group presentation much more memorable.
Presentation 3

 

4. Focus
Lydia worked with her group to select 3 bullet points or a single quote for each slide.  Each group member had more to say than what was illustrated on the slide, but the images and words focused on the major themes. This worked really well. When there is too much text the audience wonders whether they should read or listen. When it’s too little text they wonder if the presenter has forgotten to forward to the next slide.
Presentation 4
Presentation 5

 

5. Integration of Infographics
In addition to bold images, Lydia used infographics to relate information that the group was presenting.  This is a visually interesting way to illustrate numbers and percentages.
Presentation 6

 

Immediately after the class ended I went directly up to Lydia to ask her for a copy of the presentation in order to share it with this blog.  I hope you were as inspired as I was by seeing her presentation – if so, there will be a lot less design malpractice in the world.
5 steps to avoid design malpractice