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?

Technology vs. Customer Service

Open Thread: The Art of Apology

by Kathryn Magura

I screwed up. I unintentionally made someone upset. When I realized this, I had two options: 1. To ignore it and hope it would blow over, or 2. Apologize. I am a firm believer in the power of a genuine apology, so it would have been hypocritical of me to do anything other than own the situation and apologize.

As I went about correcting the wrong I had made, I started to think about the art of apology. What makes an apology authentic? Why don’t people apologize more when they make a mistake? In my experience, an apology can do wonders to resolve a situation – especially when emotions are involved. But alas, people so infrequently utilize the art of apology. Why is that? Pride? Stubbornness? I’m hard-pressed to believe that people are oblivious to the ways they hurt others. Have we just gotten to a point in our society where we don’t give a damn about each other?

When I feel wronged, I usually feel much better if someone makes an authentic apology. I don’t even need to have things turned around in my favor to feel better, I simply need someone to take ownership over the fact that I now feel hurt by them either directly or indirectly. If I am receiving customer service, I don’t necessarily want “Joe Person” on the phone to apologize (unless Joe hurt me. If he did, we’re now at odds), but I do want him to empathize with my situation and help me find resolution. Similarly, if I’m talking to a parent who is upset about something their student is experiencing on campus, I’m going to own the situation even if I’m not actually responsible for it. That person feels enough about this experience to call and complain, and I owe them the courtesy of hearing them out.

So how do you all feel about the art of apology? Are you willing to apologize to others? Why do you think we don’t apologize more?

Open Thread: The Art of Apology

Receiving and Responding to Student Feedback

by Kathryn Magura

Working in housing operations, and having a high standard for customer service, I often struggle with determining how best to solicit feedback from residents. I hear the complaints, and occasional thanks for services provided, but how can I seek out feedback on a consistent bases? Do we have enough avenues to provide feedback on our services? When we receive this feedback, how do we respond?

When I was in college, we had comment cards in all the campus dining centers, that allowed patrons to provide feedback on the food. Now we have electronic feedback forms and surveys to solicit feedback on services, but is that enough? Furthermore, once we have the feedback, what is our duty or responsibility to respond to it?

To add more complexity, most of us have embraced social media as a means to connect with students. What do we do when we receive feedback or criticism in such a public forum? Do we even have an option to not respond?

I am a firm believer in the need to seek out feedback on the procedures we have in place, and make improvements if they are not working. If students are confused by our room change process, something must be done to clarify the process. Our world is fast-paced, and like it or not, students expect responses quickly. If we seek out their feedback, we owe them some sort of response. Even if we can’t fix the issue the way they want (no, I will not move your roommate somewhere else so you can have a single), acknowledging they have valid feelings about the matter is a sign of respect.

In my department, we are expected to have a link to our web feedback form in our email signatures. This allows customers to provide honest (and anonymous, if they choose) feedback about our services. While many people do not even notice this tagline, others welcome the opportunity to pass along their thoughts on how we are doing as a business. Allowing for easy access to provide feedback helps build trust with customers.

One thing I will caution is if you solicit feedback, you better have the means to respond to the feedback in a timely manner. Acknowledging the feedback has been received, and addressing it appropriately will continue to build on the relationship established. Even if they end up taking their business elsewhere, it’s important to end the relationship in as positive a way as possible. Maintaining integrity in the relationship will be invaluable to our ability to persist with future customers.

So how do you solicit feedback? Once you have the feedback, how do you respond to it?

Receiving and Responding to Student Feedback

Moments that Matter: Why I Work in Student Affairs

by Kathryn Magura

Tell us about a special moment with a student that highlights why you work in student affairs.

When I saw my blog prompt for this week, my mind immediately began spinning with memories of how I have assisted students over the years. I serve over 4000 students in our residential communities on campus, and push myself to find new ways to serve them daily. I also supervise 40 students, who I strive to mentor as they navigate their college experience. What story will I pick??

It would be easy for me to say “I can’t pick just one!” But that is a bit of a cop-out, in my opinion. As student affairs professionals, we all have that moment that happens when things just sort of click, and we determine, “YES!! This is why I do what I do!”

For me, my most recent stories revolve around helping parents help their students. I work hard to build collaborative partnerships with parents, and strive to see them as allies (rather than enemies) in the educational process. If I can help a parent understand our policies, and how they can inform their student of the consequences of violating these policies, then I have succeeded in my job. My newest charge has been taking angry parent phone calls in my office. I almost see these conversations as a personal challenge: If I can turn this conversation around, I can do anything!

One day this past spring, I had the opportunity to take one of these parent calls. It was about a week after our cancellation deadline for students who were planning to return to campus for the next year, and the student in question had missed the deadline. The result was the assessment of our $2000 cancellation fee for breaking the contract. Naturally, as the person footing the bill, the parent was not too happy with this fee.

When I took the call, I checked our online Customer Service Log to catch up on the story. Side note: if you don’t have a way of tracking customer calls, I strongly encourage you to find/develop one. Knowing the story behind the call eliminated the need for the parent to rehash the story. I was able to provide a synopsis of the situation as I understood it, and then provided an opportunity for the parent to add clarity as needed. As I listened without interrupting (this is my #1 rule for customer service: shut up and listen), I could hear how the parent was frustrated with the process as well as with the student for missing a known deadline. The transition to college life can be difficult for a parent who is navigating the experience along with their student, especially when they are physically removed from the environment. This parent was clearly struggling with helping their student understand deadlines, but was also frustrated with some confusing information received from my office.

After the parent finished venting to me, I acknowledged how the information received from my office was confusing, and apologized (rule #2 for customer service: know when to apologize). I clarified some pieces of the puzzle for the parent, and then asked some questions about how the first year of college was going for the student. This is when the parent really opened up to me about some concerns felt regarding the student’s study habits and lack of solid friendships. Furthermore, the student was canceling the housing contract because they had a lead on a potential house off campus with some people the student met online.

At this point, it was clear to me that the cancellation fee was just a symptom of a greater problem. Knowing this, I was able to say, “Before we move on, I want to let you know that due to the conflicting information received from our office, I am going to waive the cancellation fee.” For me, it was important to set some context before offering resources. I knew that this cancellation fee issue would be a sticking point that could prohibit progress. Removing the cancellation fee changed the whole tenor of the conversation, and allowed us to take the conversation in a different direction. I was able to build trust with the parent and offer some resources available to the student on campus. I was also able to alleviate some concerns about the housing situation by offering the opportunity to contact our office in August to explore potential on-campus options, should the off-campus situation fall through.

My goal for that conversation was to build opportunities for future interactions, which provided me my “A-HA!” moment of why I work in student affairs.

So now it’s your turn to share. What experiences have you had with students that articulate why you work in student affairs?

Moments that Matter: Why I Work in Student Affairs

Utilizing Technology to Enhance the Customer Service Experience on a College Campus

by Kathryn Magura

Hi, my name is Kathryn, and I believe college students should be treated like customers. Yes, I have a Masters degree in Higher Education Administration, and yes I am aware of the developmental changes college students are going through as they matriculate through their college experiences. That said, I believe that more students (and their families) see the higher education process as a business, and therefore have more demands on those who serve them at institutions of higher education.

If you haven’t given up on this post yet, let me explain. I have strict standards regarding customer service. Each customer brings their unique perspective and needs to the interaction, and it is my job as someone serving them to be aware of this, and treat each customer with the respect and dignity they deserve. From my perspective, college students are paying an exorbitant amount of money to attend my University, and deserve to be treated with the dignity of someone who has chosen my services over my competitors. Furthermore, if students do not like the services I am providing, or the ways in which they are treated as my customer, they will take their business elsewhere.

If you have read my bio on the blog, you know that I have a passion for finding ways to use technology as a way to enhance the customer service experience for college students. I am fortunate to work at a University that facilitates this passion by allowing me to try new ways to serve customers. I have been part of a team that created an open source housing software management system, developed systems to allow new students to select their own rooms, and found ways to use iPads for room inspections. I thrive in an environment where the needs of students outweigh the desires of those who serve them. It is my responsibility as an educator to ensure that my customers are cared for, even if they are 18 year old students fresh out of high school.

The point I am trying to make here is that it should not serve in conflict with Student Development Theory to treat students like customers. Students have a multitude of universities to choose from, and treating them like customers may just make the difference that helps them choose your university over another.

Utilizing Technology to Enhance the Customer Service Experience on a College Campus