Tag Archives: service

is higher ed still a mouse-in-the-maze model?

I remember my first college orientation, where a comedian compared the now-antiquated model of registration (where we went from table to table to get classes) to a bunch of mice in a maze. Except now the cheese was old and stinky and everyone just wanted to get out of the maze. Oddly, that comment, coupled with a recent observation by Michael Fienen, rang very true on higher ed’s continuing challenge to do a better job in serving students.

Fienen’s observation, on a particularly ornery day for the knowledgeable Pittsburg State web guy, wondered why the term “request more information” appears so often on web pages. Does this infer we’re hiding information from visitors and there’s some veil we have to let them behind? Not necessarily. Generally, “request more information” means “join our database” by requesting some kind of print material. From the inside, this all has to do with justification of return on investment (the dreaded ROI) for everything from personnel to software packages, the ability to establish benchmarks and determine the inquiry-admissions-yield funnel.

And if you read that last sentence without falling asleep, you may have wondered: What is the least bit customer-friendly about treating students as bits of data to justify our existence? If so, you’re 100 percent right.

One advantage of social media — that it’s a third space where students can learn more about, and build an affinity with, institutions — could make old-school bean-counters bristle. Thus all the sabre-rattling about Establishing ROI of Social Media to Justify Its Existence. “How many Facebook questions did you answer last month?” “How many people follow us on Twitter?” “Do we know how many viewers of our YouTube videos were prospective students?”

This all ignores one very simple, very human thing: Social media customer service helps students with questions, information-gathering and decision-making in a way they find convenient. But it doesn’t create numbers of inquiries to the Admissions Office via email. It doesn’t fall into the neat funnel that says this student asked for a viewbook, called the college, applied, attended an open house and enrolled. And from the moment they requested more information for the first time, how many different forms did they have to fill out, approvals were required and parts of the bureaucratic maze did they have to run through for the “privilege” of attending the school?

Quite simply: This week, we had an interaction via social media that may keep a serious, motivated student from withdrawing from school. Some folks’ first reaction may be to wonder where to chart that datapoint or how to include this in the ROI of our social media plan. My main thought is that we may have helped improve someone’s life.

Don’t get me wrong: I know most people in higher education have the best intentions. But I worry that when we build a forest out of data, ROI and “best practices,” we forget how beautiful the trees are. And that, without each tree that really does require some kind of care, there is no forest.

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before the rise of silos: jimmy moreland and 1950 education.

I was reading the other day about the death of Jimmy Moreland. It came as no surprise, as he passed away nearly 60 years ago, but it showed me how much different higher education was in the bygone era. And perhaps, in some ways, better.

Moreland died young in 1950 after 15 years teaching, recruiting and advising at Oswego. Er, sorry, make that Jimmy. He asked everyone to call him Jimmy. He was a revered English professor, a chief recruiter, advisor for 300 to 400 freshmen, and even director of public relations. In his spare time, he advised the fledgling Hillel club and volunteered in the Oswego community.

Jimmy “taught his classes, not from a textbook, but rather from his great wealth of knowledge,” the student body president recalled. The president of the alumni association valued how Jimmy’s “informal talks in the co-op, in the halls, on the front steps or anywhere that a group of students would gather helped to mould the thinking and philosophy of students and teachers alike.” Jimmy “imparted a great love of learning, he imparted some of his own goodness, he imparted his own unbounded curiosity and optimism to his students as they learned with him in his classes,” said then-president Harvey Rice. “As freshman advisor through the years he, more than anyone else, helped youngsters to find their bearings away from home. His friendship won them, his understanding comforted them, his love sustained them.”

In short, Jimmy wore a lot of hats well, and he never looked at his watch and declared his day done, knowing any time he saw a student provided an opportunity to connect. He recruited students, advised them, taught them, excelling in all areas. There were no silos, cubicles or boundaries to what we would, and could, do to serve students.

In contrast, recent trends in higher education bend toward staffing many specialists, while spurning the benefits of being a generalist. When we develop a mentality we can only help students with x but not y, we see them less as humans than checkmarks on a report. Anyone who knows me would attest I’m one of the busier folks around, but I never mind helping one of my students with something that falls outside my so-called job description. Why? The Golden Rule. I appreciate all the people who helped me as a student, treated me as a person and not a category.

I can’t see Jimmy poring through the pages upon pages of policies, procedures and precedents we’ve foisted upon higher education governance. If he had a mission statement, it would likely simply read: Do the right thing. Maybe we’ve made this business a lot more difficult than it should be. You see how one man, one incredible man like Jimmy Moreland could follow his head and his heart and serve as educator, inspiration and friend to thousands of students, and you wonder.

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thursday travelogue: tantalizing toronto.

When visiting Toronto the hardest thing to do (other than find parking) seems to be getting the bill at the end of any escapade. It’s as if the city’s denizens don’t want you to leave.

We recently visited to catch Canadian rocker Matthew Good performing in Massey Hall, and found we could quickly fill any down time with any number of fascinating options.

Pantages Hotel: This urban chic hotel is not cheap, but in off-peak periods not particularly expensive either. Location is outstanding — across from Massey Hall, about a block from the Eaton Centre — and the service top-notch. When we visited, the elegant martini lounge had a piano-drum duo, with the pianist displaying a diverse, dazzling, almost dizzying repertoire.

Massey Hall: I can see why Matthew Good recorded a live album there. Not a bad seat in the house, and amazing acoustics. Good performed a great show here, as did opener Mother Mother, who are well worth checking out. The lineup shows Massey Hall is not just a place to catch live entertainment, but a venue musicians want to play.

The Irish Embassy: This charming pub and grill is easily in my 5 favorite bars anywhere. The food is excellent, selection of beverages pleasing and staff almost always outstanding. One server faltered toward the end of our third (yes, third) visit of the weekend, but overall good times ruled. Also interesting that on Friday we found ourselves a table away from a friendly couple also going to the Matthew Good concert.

Eggspectations: True, it’s a chain, but the Eaton Centre location is a top-shelf breakfast joint. Outstanding food (quality and quantity), attentive service and reasonable prices.

Fran’s Restaurant: We visited the site on Victoria Street, a seeming extension of the Pantages Hotel, where the eatery serves up first-class diner food. If you want to fill up for a busy day, I highly recommend the Fran’s Big Breakfast. (Now if only someone could improve its Flash-driven Web site.)

Eaton Centre: I’m not a fan of malls, but found the Eaton Centre reasonably tolerable even the weekend before Christmas. Maybe it’s because Canadians are more polite? An amazing array of shops and restaurants, although the Richtree Market was far too busy on Saturday for us to wait in the long line for dinner.

Toronto ranks among the most exciting, diverse and cosmopolitan cities in North America, and always worth a visit. Just don’t expect the locals to want you to leave too soon.

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finding great food, service and spectacle.

The place isn’t for everyone. It’s loud. It’s chaotic. It’s a bit confusing. But if you drop all pre-conceived notions of staid, orderly eateries, the Guu Japanese restaurant in Vancouver’s West End may be one of the most entertaining meals you’ll ever enjoy.

Fig. A: A traveler enjoys his meal and the never-ending show.

Fig. A: A traveler enjoys his meal and the never-ending show.

The moment you enter, the hostess shouts hello, which is repeated by the uber-busy chefs in the very visible kitchen and the busy-as-bees wait staff. Every order and course delivery is shouted from one worker to another to another with the repetition taking on a comical rhythm. Side dishes of witty banter — albeit hard to understand unless you speak Japanese — break out among co-workers in the course of their job, and it’s very apparent they’re having fun.

Get beyond the seeming disorder and you’ll see the frenetic movements of the staff are more like a well-choreographed ballet. Three chefs work the long narrow kitchen dashing back and forth but with little wasted motion as the delicious dishes come together. The servers dart in, around and under people quickly delivering the various courses of meals. Service proves quick and exceedingly friendly. Visiting on a rainy Wednesday night, Guu projects a buzz of energetic activity where no table is open for more than a minute.

And practical business lessons are apparent if you pay attention. It’s a user-driven experience where you can order whatever you want whenever you want, with the attentive wait staff allowing (encouraging) you to re-order, add to an order or share plates all the time. The food is creative, delicious and well-priced. Staff members clearly have defined duties, but hustle to help in any area whenever needed. Whoever developed Guu’s restaurants — four dot the Greater Vancouver area — understood what Tom Peters calls spectacle: businesses with a performance component providing great customer service. Beyond the enthusiastic greeting, the staff always smiles and provides an infectious exuberance. It’s hard to imagine the atmosphere not putting you in a good mood.

Chances are you’ll leave a Guu restaurant energized, full and talking about it. Moreover, you’ll want to return … and wouldn’t you like that to be true of any place you go?

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bringing wow! back.

I was having a Viraligious© experience, reading a blog entry about Amazon exceeding customer expectations, when I thought of Tom Peters’ book The Pursuit of Wow!: Every Person’s Guide to Tupsy-Turvy Times, and why we’ve come expect poor service today. We endure long lines and disinterested big-box retail employees for perceived low prices. We become accustomed to long waits and indifferent operators in outsourced helplines. We anticipate our interactions to underscore our low view of customer service.

Why? We may as well champion mediocrity if we aren’t trying to achieve, or even inspire, excellence. If service is as poor as we perceive, shouldn’t we be all the more determined to provide exceptional service? Making customers happy represents a point of differentiation, a value-added that colors experiences in an all-too-grey time.

What about the world of higher education? When I do something nice for a student, they are sometimes shocked. Why? Are expectation-exceeding experiences really that rare for college students? Don’t we have the power to change that perception, to create Wow! on a regular basis?

Consider a prospective student who applies to several colleges, including yours. What if, in return for her considering your institution, you provide some kind of Wow! experience? Representatives of student clubs contacting her with the benefits of getting involved? A current student offering to be there, any time, to answer her questions? Some kind of premium, discount or opportunity (where legal) if she commits to your college by a certain date? If you exceed the expectations of prospective students, while other institutions treat them like American Gladiators contestants, what would that do to your conversion rate? Wouldn’t you love to have young brand evangelists before they’ve even enrolled in classes? There’s no better advertisement, after all, than a satisfied customer.

Is Wow! dead as a concept? Absolutely not. Whether you supported him or not, no campaign inspired more Wow! than Barack Obama. Gizmos like Apple’s iPhone and the Blackberry Storm provide sufficient Wow! that people want to pre-order the pricey products. Any Web surfer can stumble across a site, video or blog that injects a moment of Wow! into their day. Inspiring Wow! doesn’t have to be difficult nor expensive nor time-consuming … it just means thinking about what makes people happy.

So what have you done to make someone say Wow! lately?

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