At Brockport Auxiliary Service Corporation (BASC) at The College at Brockport, customer service is critically important to what we do. It aligns to our mission of supporting the strategic initiatives of the college, which are all about student success, and our vision of providing a positive experience each and every time we interact with the campus community. In addition, in our increasingly value-focused higher education environment where auxiliaries are often times not the low-cost provider nor the innovator with highly unique products, customer service is a way we can differentiate and add value to our campus communities. In many cases, we’re interacting with students, faculty, and staff multiple times a day via the key services we provide. This allows us a unique opportunity to get to know and build connections with our customers, and ultimately provide a higher level of service. In fact, at BASC our motto is, “Serving you best by knowing you first.”
I’m pretty sure we can all agree on the importance of customer service to our business. The tricky part is figuring out how to consistently deliver that great service across business lines every single time and to have truly engaged employees who care about their work and their customers and strive for continuous improvement. That is what BASC set out to achieve a little over a year ago. But we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel; there are lots of great customer-focused organizations. And as timing would have it, I was working on my master’s degree in strategic leadership at Roberts Wesleyan College and learning about many of these companies when my colleague Mark Gardner and I embarked on the creation of a plan for our own organization.
The plan we put in place is not unique, nor does it hold some secret key to success. It is, however, holistic, incorporates the successful thinking and practices used by other customer-driven organizations, and requires broad commitment and hard work for implementation. I am proud to work for an organization that has made this initiative a priority and has dedicated the time and resources necessary to achieve success.
Our plan adopts the common philosophy held by many, that a customer-centric culture means thinking about our customers in every decision we make, and understanding that in doing so we must put our people first, recognizing that they are the key to our organization achieving success. As Stephen George and Arnold Weimerskirch state in their book titled Total Quality Management: Strategies and Techniques Proven at Today’s Most Successful Companies, “New model believers hold that employee satisfaction is a leading indicator of customer satisfaction, and that loyal employees develop loyal customers.”
The successful companies we’ve studied have more than customer service programs per se, they have a customer service culture — it’s just the way they do business. With our goal to foster a similar kind of culture, we’ve put a number of best practice strategies in place to move us in this direction. These include some of the topics in George’s and Weimerskirch’s book: leadership, training and empowerment, recognition, continuous improvement, goals and measurement, and communication and reinforcement.
Throughout the year, for each of these strategies we’ve implemented a number of tactics at both the corporate and unit level. As a leadership team, we’ve talked about key philosophies in a people-first culture, like how as leaders it is our responsibility to role model the behaviors we expect in others, and to ensure that we have the systems and processes in place that allows our team members to be successful. Learning from tools available via the National Association of College and University Food Service (NACUFS) Customer Service Institute, our leadership team recently developed an employee promise as a way to publicly state the importance of our people in accomplishing our mission and vision. We’ve also created service standards that we’ll use as a basis for training and evaluation.
One of the training and empowerment tactics we implemented was the creation of a Connection Specialist program where employees volunteered for an additional 16 hours of training that included learning about what motivates them, understanding today’s generation of students, learning how to recognize others’ behavioral style and adapt accordingly, discovering the power of a positive perspective, hearing best practices from an industry leader in customer service, sharing ideas for customer appreciation, and participating in situational analysis and role playing. The training included numerous guest speakers and a field trip, and really elevated the importance of customer service training to that of other training programs like ServSafe. Employees who completed the 16 hours received a certificate, a special nametag denoting them as a Connection Specialist, and were included on a framed certificate in their unit identifying them as a Connection Specialist.
We held a couple employee contests throughout the year including “Caught in the Act of Caring.” Team members could get “caught” caring about each other, our customers, or our company. Nominations could come from anyone within the organization or customers. Once “caught,” team members received an immediate card explaining what they were being recognized for and a pin. In addition, they were entered in a drawing to win a monetary award.
A Continuous Improvement Team (CIT) was formed to keep the initiative moving forward and was comprised of 11 members representing different levels and units from across the organization. This group initiated several improvements throughout the year, including helping to shape the Caught in the Act contest, reinstating our Secret Shopper program, recommending the creation of a BASC weekly e-newsletter, and developing a consistent student employee recognition program.
Scoring Our Success
We chose to measure our success in achieving our goal by using two metrics: employee net promoter score and customer satisfaction scores. Employee net promoter score gets at how employees feel about working for your organization and whether they are likely to be an ambassador or a detractor. And of course, customer satisfaction scores measure how your customers feel about your services. In addition to these company metrics, each of our teams is developing a goal related to customer service to get everyone engaged in the process and moving in the same direction.
Throughout the year, we’ve consistently communicated about our customer service initiative and have celebrated our successes. We’ve shared stories about excellent service like the one about our cashier Diane who received a beautiful bouquet of flowers, card, and team photo from the Brockport football team. We came to learn that Diane had been baking the team cookies for each home game. We shared Fran’s story of connecting with her internal customers by handcrafting cards for their birthday or other special occasions. We shared Lisa’s story of how she was invited to attend a recognition ceremony for a student whose parents lived too far away to attend. The more we shared these positive examples, the more we seemed to discover all the great customer service happening around us.
As we’ve learned from others, creating a customer-centric culture is not something that happens overnight. It is not an item on a to-do list that can be checked off once completed. It takes persistent hard work, dedication, and constant reinforcement. We’ve made great progress towards our goal this past year, but there is much more we can accomplish. As we engage more people in the process and demonstrate the importance of setting our team members up for success, we are excited about the future and about fostering an environment where our people enjoy their work and take great pride in their ability to make a positive impact in the lives they interact with each day.