Temple Times Online Edition
    AUGUST 26, 2004
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Student Affairs takes measures to improve customer service

Taking the lead on President David Adamany’s call for a University-wide commitment to customer service, the Division of Student Affairs is partnering with an outside consultant to evaluate its efficacy in meeting the needs of students, faculty, staff and other customers.

The division has retained Service Advantage International, a company with a track record of measuring and improving customer service for Fortune 500 businesses, to arrive at a comprehensive assessment of its customer service practices. Based on that data, SAI and Student Affairs will develop a “best practice model,” a blueprint for quality customer service to be implemented throughout the division.

“The Division of Student Affairs must be spearheading this effort because we need to be a model of good customer service to the rest of the University,” said Theresa A. Powell, vice president of Student Affairs. “We’re the ones with most access to students, so we must take the lead on this. My goal is for students to feel comfortable using our services and for families to continue to feel happy and satisfied about having their sons and daughters as Temple students.”

Beginning this fall, SAI will monitor the division’s customer service practices using mystery shopping, intercept interviews and focus groups.

Mystery shopping uses anonymous students trained on a set of customer service standards, such as staff timeliness and responsiveness, to rate how each of the division’s 11 departments attends to customers, be it by phone, in person or via e-mail.

SAI is training Temple students to conduct intercept interviews on site, immediately after a customer visits an office. Interviewers will follow a preset list of questions to obtain data about the quality of the service provided. SAI will also facilitate student focus groups.

“These programs have been adapted specifically to the cultures of the division and Temple University to provide us with the best possible data,” Powell said. “What SAI is providing is not some canned program. I very much anticipate seeing the results of these studies.”

In addition to SAI’s reporting of accumulated data for each department that will be available at the start of the spring semester, directors can access up-to-date feedback throughout the fall to address any trouble spots where customer service may be lacking.

“We’ll be able to examine how units are doing throughout the year, so they’ll have real-time data to address any concerns immediately,” said Michael Stokes, director of the Russell Conwell Center and a member of the Constituent Services Committee, an intra-division group formed by Powell as another method to strengthen customer service. “For example, directors may discover that some part of their system is nonresponsive to student needs or does not address a particular concern. This information will allow them pinpoint and solve the problem right away, rather than waiting for all the results to come in.”

According to Stokes, the division’s partnership with SAI is a progressive move both within the University and throughout higher education.

“One thing that has not traditionally happened in higher education is a systematic evaluation of customer service,” Stokes says. “Some schools may use anecdotal evidence, but this will be a first in terms of having hard numbers to judge how we’re reaching and serving students. We already know we do it well, but now we’ll have the tools to measure it.”

Student Affairs’ dedication to customer service extends beyond its collaboration with SAI, however. Since Adamany mandated quality customer service throughout the University with the introduction of the Performance Development System in July 2003, Powell has created several ancillary methods to elevate customer service.

This month, another outside vendor, GoalQuest, began sending e-mails to freshman and sophomore students and their parents to prepare them for the Temple experience. A typical message appears to come from Temple and might offer pointers on developing good study habits, applying for financial aid or coordinating move-in with one’s roommate.

“GoalQuest wasn’t a service we chose with customer service specifically in mind, but it meshes well with our emphasis on serving students and their parents,” Powell says. “It reaches out to students before they even arrive on campus.”

The division’s Constituent Service Committee has also developed point-of-service surveys to judge how well each department meets customer needs. Other initiatives include an annual fall survey of students, the celebration of National Customer Service Awareness Week in October and a customer service newsletter and Web site (www.temple.edu/studentaffairs/custsvcs).

Powell envisions these initiatives as necessary for excellent customer service. She believes such care can counteract one of the University’s inherent customer service inhibitors: its size.

“This is a way to reaffirm our longstanding commitment to serving students, parents and our other customers,” she said. “We are providing them with as much information and support as possible so they feel connected to the University. We have a large campus, but when you feel connected, it becomes a much smaller, more personal place.”

-Ted Boscia