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

#HonoringWebFolk with shoutouts and thanks

By Rachel Luna

Inspired by a grassroots effort from author and web expert Molly E. Holzschlag (@mollydotcom), today is “Unsung Leaders of the Web Day” as folks are invited to shout out messages of thanks.

Who are the unsung leaders of the web in your community?

  • Was there a digital ambassador who helped you get on board with web technology?
  • Do you have a great IT support team?
  • How about an awesome content manager?
  • Can you send a virtual high-five to your favorite bloggers?
  • Who is that person in your life you can always go to with web tech questions?
  • Who do you count on to be the innovator and push the envelope of the web?

Check out the #HonoringWebFolk hashtag on Twitter and add your own acknowledgements.  Perhaps you can extend the spirit of this movement beyond social media and take the time to show these folks how much you appreciate them with a hand-written thank you card or even a face-to-face conversation.

#HonoringWebFolk with shoutouts and thanks

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

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

How we listen determines who gets heard

By Rachel Luna

Despite living only about 15 miles from my office, I usually spend about 90 minutes in the car each day thanks to SF Bay Area traffic.  Radio stations with the same few songs do not hold my interest very long, so I’ve turned to podcasts and audiobooks for education and entertainment during my commute.  Some of my favorites include This American Life (and its breakout hit Serial), The Moth, Radiolab, and TED Talks (audio version).

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on my consumption of these media.  From where I sit –  listening to public radio on my smartphone as I drive to my full time job – I represent many privileges, such as education level and socioeconomic class.  Add on lenses from the hosts and reporters I choose to download, and even more aspects of power and privilege influence my media.  All this leads me to ask: What stories am I choosing to listen to?  Who is telling these stories?  How and why are they being told?  What am I doing with the knowledge and insights gained by listening to these stories?  What role am I playing in perpetuating media and power dynamics?

Amidst the popularity of Serial, there was quite a backlash and back-and-forth response about the show’s treatment of racial and cultural dynamics.  Last week Chenjerai Kumanyika published this piece about race and voice in public radio.  Subsequent conversations from NPR’s Code Switch with the #PubRadioVoice hashtag further explored the intersections of race, culture, and media content.  One commenter on the #PubRadioVoice hashtag said that people of color are seen as “interesting subject matter” as opposed to potential audience members.  When the same types of people control the storytelling, certain stories might be left out, told inaccurately, or have harmful impacts.  Homogeneity in the media is problematic for both process and content.

So how can this be changed?  Part of the solution is in empowering diverse voices and promoting multiple platforms for storytelling to create more multicultural content.   But new content is not itself sufficient for change.  As a listener, I need to check myself and look beyond popularity on iTunes to find these multiple perspectives.  I have to intentionally seek out voices that represent perspectives outside of the mainstream.  So far I’ve had more luck finding diverse content in the audiobook arena than with podcasts.  Most recently, I’ve listened to a few texts written and read by the authors, including Maya Angelou narrating I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Khaled Hosseini narrating The Kite Runner.  The synergy of the authors’ words combined with their own voices results in an authentic listening experience like no other.

A popular quote about stories says, “Those who tell the stories rule the world” (attributed to either Hopi Native American proverbs or Plato, depending on the source).  I believe a more complete perspective includes, “Those who listen to the stories choose the rulers.”

For those interested in the tech aspects, I use iTunes and BeyondPod to manage my podcasts, depending on the device.  For audiobooks, I turn to local libraries in the cities where I live and work.  Although I sometimes borrow the actual CDs, I am lucky that both of my local systems have OverDrive, an app that lets me download audiobooks directly to my mobile devices, so most often I don’t even have to leave my car to check out new titles.

How do you hear stories from people of a variety identities and cultures?  What audiobooks or podcasts do you recommend?  Comment below or tweet with me @RachelHLuna.

How we listen determines who gets heard

Getting rid of cable.

By Jennifer Keegin

As of December, my husband and I pulled the plug on our cable. We decided to take the plunge, save some money and figure out if we could handle living without a DVR.

We’ve been Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming members for awhile, and having a small kid at home – we usually catch most movies via Redbox or Amazon rentals anyway. So we tacked on Hulu Plus and watched to see what happened.

For one, our bills from Time Warner are now a more manageable $57 and the only new addition is the $7.99 a month for Hulu Plus. Here some thoughts about each:

– Amazon Prime. We bought the Amazon Fire TV box and it allows us to access Netflix, YouTube and some other apps that we’ve discovered like Pluto.TV that have channels you can view with like all Katy Perry videos, all Fail videos, or all puppies all the time. It’s actually pretty cool and you can view it online here.

– Hulu Plus. This is where I miss the DVR like crazy. Yes, I can watch my shows on Hulu. But its the day after. AND some of my favorite shows aren’t on there. Downton Abbey – NO. Mad Men – NO. So that’s the downside.

– Speaking of PBS…We did buy an antenna that allows us to get like 7 channels and PBS is one of them. So I still get my Downton Abbey…but I have to watch it live. 😦

– For kids. My little girl goes through phases. First we found shows she would watch in the morning via Hulu. Netflix is always her app of choice in the evenings. But now, she’s back to watching PBS shows in the morning. Hulu is not as used as much for her. AND her new favorite thing is watching “blind box” toy openings on YouTube. So YouTube is the new hotness in our house.

So far we have been ok with the change, but it would be nice to still have the DVR. Oh well. I can deal.

Getting rid of cable.

To the Complicated Women of Student Affairs: Thanks for Having Me

by Niki Messmore

 

For most of my life I’ve thrived from exposure to ‘strong women’ archetypes. At a young age I witnessed sexism (even if I didn’t quite have the words for it then) and I was in need of seeing someone like me, a girl, be a willful and fearless figure. It helped, of course, if they were awesome at martial arts (Buffy! Xena! My childhood heroes, forever).

As I grew older, female representation in non-stereotypical jobs and in the media became increasingly important. Our society is saturated with men overwhelmingly in positions of authority, from the leadership team of my alma mater while I was a student there to the fantasy books/films I love (…at least Tolkien gave us Eowyn…). It is sometimes very difficult  to imagine what is possible for my life when society dictates that my possibilities are limited.

Student Affairs shocked me when I entered graduate school. Surprisingly, even after being a highly involved student leader and service-learning staff member at my alma mater, I still held this lofty idea that student affairs was all about social justice – one of the core components of our field. I learned quickly that was not completely true.

That’s not to say that the field is not down with social justice, but it’s more so with words than action. Ultimately, student affairs is a profession that operates within institutions that were birthed through injustice (after all, who were the only folk to attend colonial colleges?). It’s difficult to move past that, especially when there are social attitudes that affect higher education. We don’t operate inside a vacuum. Not only does systemic oppression affect the profession, but the profession is made up of individuals who each have unique life experiences influenced by systemic oppression.

Still, I was surprised to learn that even though women make up the majority of student affairs employees, the majority of leadership positions are white and male. It’s frustrating to have this gap between our espoused goals and our enacted goals. And this is just one example of how the student affairs profession does perpetuate systemic oppression rather than tear it down.

This is a difficult truth to swallow when one desires to advance to leadership positions over time and has a love for something that isn’t always seen as women friendly, i.e. technology.

That’s why it is so important that I see other women-identified individuals who take leadership in the profession. Fearless women who challenge themselves and their peers. Intelligent and savvy women who bring new ideas into play and think outside our standard processes. Strong women who balance so much in their lives. Vulnerable women who share their successes and failures. Authentic women who call it like it is. Really, as Maggie Gyllenhall said at the Golden Globes, what is important to see is “complicated women“.

Complicated women-identified folks. (because recognition of the gender spectrum needs to be made)

I’ve had the pleasure of blogging on SAWTT since September 2013 and the opportunity to become introduced into this amazing group of women leaders in blogging and beyond. I am so excited to join Kathryn Magura as Co-Editor, and thankful for Kristen Abell for giving me this opportunity.

I look forward to working with SAWTT crew in this new role and learning more from this wonderful community of complicated women-identified folks. If you’re interested in blogging or just want to chat, tweet me up at @NikiMessmore.

To the Complicated Women of Student Affairs: Thanks for Having Me