I am reading a book about customer service right now. My intention is to report some observations on the text as a whole at some point. However, I saw an illustration of one of the points made in an early chapter today. The book had noted the veracity of “time flies when you are having fun” pointing out that a well designed wait that is 30 minutes long can actually seem shorter than a poorly designed wait that is only a third as long. Because human perception is involved, you can ruin a relationship with a customer in the latter situation even though you significantly reduced their wait time.
Our campus is in a situation with many strikes against it. Budgets have been cut so staffing is down but enrollment is up adding an additional 1500 student to our commuter campus. Alas, the heretofore un(der) used overflow parking is now inaccessible due to long delayed construction projects.
There wasn’t much to be done about the parking unfortunately, but someone got organized this year and had information tables distributed about the campus with all sorts of hand outs and big coolers of water. There were also large color campus maps that someone slapped up on the sides of buildings so people didn’t have to seek out kiosks to figure out where they were.
I looked around wondering why no one had thought to do this before. People had always volunteered to serve an hour or so on the welcome committee but it was never this organized or welcoming. People stood around smiling, answering questions and engaging people who looked lost. Now there is a table identifiable as a source of information from a distance that is stocked with information—and most importantly after trekking in from that parking space in the hinterlands you stalked for 30 minutes–water to drink.
While I walked around comparing what I was seeing to previous years, I realized that tweaking your customer service up a level or two doesn’t just help your relationship with those you serve. It also sends a message to other employees about the commitment of the organization. Memos about improving service are useful and identify areas for improvement. In this case, there were no memos that went out about how things were going to be done better—it was just done.
I am obviously someone whose business it is to think about improving customer interactions so I notice such things. But I have to believe that others noticed the improvement, how it fit in the context of other recent changes and what it all says about the direction of the organization.
I also had some insight into the issue of providing volunteers with opportunities to feel they are doing important work. I have never really had much desire to volunteer for welcoming slots before. Today when I witnessed the increased effort at hospitality, I had a desire to participate next time around. (Just have to remember not to schedule sending the brochure to the printer, interviewing a ticket office clerk and starting internet sales on this day next time.) In previous years, my impression of the job was that it provided a pleasant first impression of the institution and directions to buildings. With the addition of tables, maps and water jugs, suddenly it seems like an important contribution to relieving anxious new arrivals.
We are planning a volunteer luncheon/training in a few weeks so perhaps I am in a receptive mindset on the subject. We have been thinking about how to design the volunteering experience so people have a greater feeling of doing something of value. We have been discussing increasing volunteers’ scope of responsibility and authority. I believe we also have to consider if these duties will allow them to feel they are providing a service patrons find valuable. Though certainly, people volunteer for different reasons and more authority may be a bigger motivator than being useful.