How to Protect Your CE Unit’s ReputationBill McClure | Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Education, University of Massachusetts Amherst
The CE unit’s positive reputation is an important factor for success and staff satisfaction. However, unknowingly we sometimes sabotage our best efforts to enhance our CE unit’s reputation, successes, brand, staff members’ skills and mission. Bad things sometimes just seem to happen.
How? We fail to ensure our website is up to date and provides information that prospective students want. We don’t develop new programming. We forget to train our front-line staff to be effective in communicating with students and faculty by phone and/or email. We don’t strive for positive marketing and PR. We don’t assure that our staff members remember to interact with each other and external people with politeness, courtesy and helpfulness. We lose our focus on quality student experiences and high-caliber customer service. We assume all is fine. Ultimately, we sometimes keep doing the same thing over and over.
So how do we take charge to assure our reputation is not ruined leading to other unsatisfactory results?
It’s first important to understand reputation. Reputation is defined as “an opinion about an entity, typically as a result of social evaluation on a set of criteria.” There are many factors that influence reputation from both inside and outside of the unit. Most of these factors represent pros/cons or opposites. Some examples are: facts and gossip; real and false data; common opinion (“it is said that …”); subjective and objective options; reactions, lies and truth; and direct observation and assumptions. The following chart shows the inter-relationships among these factors and where they originate, inside or outside of the CE unit.
How can we avoid committing errors that can have a negative impact on our CE unit’s reputation? The following are some points to consider:
- First and probably most important is strong and effective leadership that has a positive vision and seeks change for reasons to improve and not simply change.
- Phone etiquette is important especially for our front-line staff. They set a positive direction for each call because the first person to speak with a student or faculty member usually sets the tone of the interaction.
- Positive student experiences are valuable. Eighty-nine percent of consumers in the U.S. have stopped doing business with an organization due to a poor customer experience.
- Positive comments during both internal and external conversations are valuable, such as: “could you” rather than “if you had only”; “I can offer you” instead of “unable to”; “let’s see what we can do” versus “can’t do”; or “have you considered” instead of “you should”. Upbeat and proactive words create positive settings and increase potential to resolve an issue.
- Pay attention to the needs of staff members and how they focus on their work. They need to possess knowledge about the unit’s programs and courses, practice with online products, and learn to use mobile devices; they should be given the opportunity to offer in-house presentations to the staff; all policies and procedures should be kept up-to-date; all meetings should be focused with agendas; and leaders need walk around to where the staff work. Face time is important;
- Web-based and online is the way we work now. The CE unit must fully engage online with others. The human aspect should be encouraged, tone should always be positive, responses speedy, and opportunities created for increased interaction.
- Empower, engage and energize the CE staff so that they are motivated, incentivized, task oriented and ready to give their best.
- Surprise and delight students, faculty and campus staff. Go the extra step to meet their needs and expectations. Dividends will be earned.
- Simplify processes, procedures and practices. CE staff members must fully understand these so that they can more effectively interact with others.
- Encourage the byline of “be so good they can’t ignore you” and set the standards appropriate for success.
- “[Higher education] needs to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor. Getting a sense of humor requires big values, a little humility, straight talk and a genuine point of view.” In other words, doing important work with students, faculty and the campus doesn’t mean we have to be the proverbial wet blanket. Lighten up!
This is a partial list of actions that help to establish the foundation for a positive unit reputation, renew awareness, and do what is right. Developing and maintaining a positive unit reputation is challenging, and that reputation can turn negative with just one misstep. CE leaders need to be attuned to this topic and strive to lead their staff members with the goal of meeting student needs and being part of the campus’ strategy. Thus, a positive reputation.
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 “RightNow’s Annual Research Shows 86 Perent of US Adults Will Pay More For A Better Customer Experience,” Business Wire, January 11, 2012. Accessed at http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20120111005284/en/RightNow%E2%80%99s-Annual-Research-Shows-86-Percent-U.S.
 Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searles and David Weinberger, “The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual”, 1999.
Author Perspective: Administrator