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Happy Staff, Happy Life: How a Great Staff Experience Leads to Better Customer Service

The EvoLLLution | Happy Staff, Happy Life: How a Great Staff Experience Leads to Better Customer Service
College and university staff are uniquely positioned to have a massive impact on their customers, not just in a single moment in time but across their whole lives. It’s critical for that experience to be positive, and it’s the responsibility of institutional leaders to create an environment that drives these positive experiences.

Most everyone has heard the quote, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Well, the same can be said about the work environment. Ensuring a pleasant work atmosphere, providing a sense of staff fulfillment and showing genuine care and concern in the work setting filters to your staff which then filters on to your students, parents and others that may interact with your department on a daily basis.

With ongoing budgetary constraints, we cannot simply offer increased pay when staff satisfaction takes a downward turn. In fact, often our message to staff has to be the difficult notice of “no pay increases again this year,” so finding creative and impactful ways to motivate each one of your staff can become difficult. First, it is most important to investigate why that downward turn took place. Maybe there is a rumor about lay-offs, maybe it is just a stressful time of year, or maybe the leaders are sending the wrong message. Taking an annual survey of your staff can provide insight into those trends as well as give leadership ideas for additional motivational opportunities. By following up on those survey responses, your staff will see their input was valued and it will help to solidify the sense of being part of a team.

Today’s workforce comprises some of the most diverse generational gaps in history so it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the right motivational factor for each staff member. Being creative and listening to your staff can help alert you to areas that you could make a positive impact, sometimes without even impacting your bottom line. Some examples would be providing flexible work hours, encouraging participation in community service or professional organizations, changing their title, building their position duties around their skillset or interests, keeping them challenged, and encouraging cross-training. There are numerous, zero-cost (or low-cost) ways to motivate and share your appreciation for the value each staff member adds to the department. It is also important to acknowledge your staff members’ personal wins and losses and allow them to share what may be impacting their mood. This also gives leaders an opportunity to let that staff member know they are a vital part of a team and that their contributions matter.

The food service industry can be the perfect social environment to witness how a positive staff experience can impact the moods of customers. Happiness is contagious when you are in a small area such as a restaurant, or in the case of higher education a lobby or office. If you witness an extra act of kindness, you naturally want to join the experience. It is equally important to identify and address any negative interactions so that the wrong message isn’t what is spread. However, addressing a negative situation can be especially daunting and may set the tone for how your staff responds in the future. Whether you are the customer experiencing that positive, or negative, interaction, or if you are just a witness, it is easy to see the pervasive effect a single interaction can have. Managing that experience can determine how your department is viewed by those customers for years to come.

So how do we get to that point?

Start at the beginning by hiring the right people. Ask interview questions that would generate an attitude based response such as, “If a person were to begin yelling at you, what would be your response?” Look for clues in their body language and responses that might indicate how they would react on a bad day, personally or professionally. Another good scenario to ask about is, “If you had run out of gas on your way to this interview, how would you respond?” This question can be particularly effective since the applicant must consider what their own culpability would be for not planning well.

In higher education, we are uniquely situated to impact our customer’s lives at a very pivotal point. We often will not know the background of each customer so providing a consistent level of positive customer service can be one of the best ways to build a long-term relationship with that family. Having staff that stay keenly aware of their surroundings and always show genuine care and concern comes from that staff being on the receiving end of the same from leadership. Every fall we have numerous opportunities to see a family’s joy, sorrow, pride, apprehension, and every other emotion these family members will experience in sending their child off into the world. Having leaders and staff members take an extra moment or two to acknowledge the significance of this moment in their lives can be vitally important. The most important message my office strives to send is that our university is now an extension of that family and we will treat that student as our new family member.

Happiness can be contagious and with some of the more difficult or stressful situations we encounter in higher education, we need to do everything possible to ensure a positive experience for our staff and customers. Although it would seem impossible for your entire staff to come to work every day with bubbly enthusiasm, just finding a smile, a thank you, a “great job” can often begin the “pay it forward” mentality that spreads across your department and becomes a positive experience for your customers.

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