Focus on Customer Experience to Increase Student Attendance
Focus on customer experience and you will witness an increase in attendance of literacy students. As administrators, instructors and staff, we focus on education and performance measures and not on the student's experience. The standard paradigm is that instructors must employ various strategies to increase reading skills or math skills, which will thereby increase various performance measures. Behind the scenes are administrators, who shape the process, and staff, who set and keep the process in motion. Admittedly, administrators, instructors and staff struggle with complex concepts to produce high-ranking Program Evaluation Reports and forget the simple task of providing an excellent customer experience to each student.
The customer experience includes customer service and customer care. Customer service is the advice and assistance provided to students and customer care is the personal interaction conducted with every student (Morgan, 2018). It is important to note that the customer experience does not start in the classroom. Rather, it starts with the administrator who is willing to accept the challenge and change the climate and culture within the Adult Education Department. Let us not forget that Adult Education is a service industry. Adults can acquire knowledge, skills and abilities from many sources. Today, a primary source is the Internet. One can sit in the comfortable confines of their home, view video instruction and be self-taught. Fortunately, society is structured under a belief system that the best education is provided in a school environment. As a result, through no effort on the part of the Adult Education Department, adults seek local education centers for assistance. This is the reactive service model.
Today, there is a shift toward building a proactive service model. This model encompasses 1) speed and convenience of routine transactions and 2) personalized high-value interactions for more complex decisions (Sorrentino, 2019). Thus, the adult literacy program must function accordingly. Classes could be filled to maximum capacity, have an increased attendance rate, reduce local illiteracy, or influence other Adult Education offerings, e.g., training for trade and technical careers.
Believe it or not, we are selling a product: education. And in doing so, the successful Adult Education department is the one that will present the best experience to the customer, i.e., the student. You want the student to have a positive and memorable experience with each person he or she encounters in organization. It is about how someone has treated you that matters and that is the essence of life. It is not about the information received or the teachable moment that occurred. Rather, it is about the positive customer experience that builds your brand as an Adult Education department for current and prospective students.
Brand loyalty is the concept that will make or break your existence as a successful program. The customer experience that each student encounters is in your control. You have the power to create an educational experience that instills a desire in the student to return day after day and to advocate your services to others in the community. Social media posts, positive or negative, are out of your control, but the customer experience encountered by each student is not. Consistent, positive interactions will build brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is the key to the emotional, physical and psychological connection of each student that fosters a successful posture. And, successful students are integral to the data that populates the Program Evaluation Report.
Fellow Adult Education colleagues, as we prepare for another academic year, I appeal to your powers of persuasion to make lasting connections. Take the time to engage in customer service and customer care trainings for all personnel in order to define a positive customer experience. We exist in a survival of the fittest environment with a myriad of outcome calculations and performance measures that are attached to the funding dollar. A positive customer experience will capture the student and embed in their memory. This connection makes the student feel special. Ultimately, repeatable positive connections drive and sustain brand loyalty.
As a literacy program, determine collaboratively the policy, procedures and actions that will guide every step of the student's experience. Script it. Distribute it. Execute it and then, supervise it. As inspiration for your new perspective, the following is offered. These ten commandments were first published in the book, An Attitude for Excellence: Get the Best from Yourself, Your Team, and Your Organization, by Dr. Willie Jolley (2018) and subsequently reprinted by Forbes.com (Hyken, 2018).
The Ten Commandments of Superior Customer Service
Commandment No. 1 – Thou Shalt Serve with a Smile: The best people in customer service take joy in helping others. They serve with a smile. Jolley cites an old Jewish proverb that states, “A person who cannot smile should not open a store!” He sums up the attitude we should all have when taking care of others: “It makes my day to be able to help make your day.”
Commandment No. 2 – Thou Shalt Go the Extra Mile: Does going the “extra mile” really take that much effort? Often times it doesn’t. It’s just doing something extra. It can be as simple spending an extra minute or two with a customer who might have extra questions or need help. Maybe you offer to deliver something, rather than making the customer come to you. There are many ways of doing a little something extra that will make the customer feel appreciated.
Commandment No. 3 – Thou Shalt Greet, Speak and Be Real Sweet: Don’t miss an opportunity to interact with your customers. As you walk through your establishment, a nod of the head, a smile or a friendly, “Good morning,” are simple gestures that show you are acknowledging another person.
Commandment No. 4 – Thou Shalt Say Thank You and Please – A LOT: This is a simple one our parents should have taught us. It’s good manners. And, being polite results in more than just being polite. It’s a sign of respect. Respect creates confidence, and confidence leads to trust.
Commandment No. 5 – Thou Shalt Be Willing to Apologize Quickly: This is a big one. When you’re wrong, don’t just admit it, apologize. This isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength. You’re confident enough to accept what has happened. What happens afterward is what’s going to count. That’s when you fix what needs to be fixed. Jolley mentions my friend Bill Cates, who shares his take on apologizing. “Say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and say it quickly. It should be the first thing out of your mouth. Why? Because it costs nothing to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s not admitting fault, but simply expressing that you feel sorry that they were inconvenienced.”
Commandment No. 6 – Thou Shalt Anticipate: Don’t just respond and react to what customers want. The best people and organizations study their customers and plan in advance for what they need. A simple example is a server in a restaurant who is always there with a pitcher of water just before you drink your last sip. I refer to this as proactive customer service.
Commandment No. 7 – Do What Is Necessary, Not What Is Comfortable: You know the old expression: Don’t take the easy way out. There is a reason they refer to it as easy. Because it is. If you are focused on your customer, you will do what’s right and necessary, not what’s easy.
Commandment No. 8 – Thou Shalt Take Responsibility: In customer service, taking responsibility means you own it. You never express those terrible words, “It’s not my department.” It may not be, and you may not be the one to ultimately resolve the issue, but to the customer, you have presented yourself as the one he or she can count on. It may not be your fault, but now it’s your problem (to solve for the customer).
Commandment No. 9 – Thou Shalt Lighten the Lines: Who likes to wait in lines? No one! So, why would you make your customers wait? By the way, the word “line” is a metaphor for making the customer wait unnecessarily for anything. Don’t make people wait in line, and don’t put them on a long hold. It’s disrespectful to the people who are willing to spend their money with you. There was a bank that knew its lines would get long at lunch hour, so it promised the customers shorter lines and would pay money if its customers had to wait longer than five minutes. That gave the customers confidence that the bank would be easy and quick to do business with, even at busy times.
Commandment No. 10 – Thou Shalt Practice the CANEI Principle: CANEI is Dr. Edward Deming’s concept that stands for Constant and Never Ending Improvement. It is about trying to be better at everything you do. Adopt an attitude in which you strive to be better today than yesterday. Is that even possible? It doesn’t matter. If each day you try your hardest – an effort to be the best you can be – nobody can fault your effort and drive.
Hyken, S. (2018, November 4, 06:00 a.m.). The Ten Commandments of Superior Customer Service. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2018/11/04/__trashed-3/#2d5bea6d1f21
Jolley, W. (2018). An Attitude of Excellence: Get The Best From Yourself, Your Team, and Your Organization. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.
Morgan, B. (2018, March 5, 10:38 a.m.). Customer Experience Vs. Customer Service Vs. Customer Care. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2018/03/05/customer-experience-vs-customer-service-vs-customer-care/#49537a4167a2
Sorrentino, F. (2019, March 26, 09:57 a.m.). From Customer Service to Client Experience: A Shift to Determine Winners and Losers in Business. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/franksorrentino/2019/03/26/from-customer-service-to-client-experience-a-shift-to-determine-winners-and-losers-in-business/#3039f969594e