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The Government Experience

I was recently appointed to a committee in the city I live in. A friend who works for the city thought I might be interested and asked if I wanted to be on it and I decided to accept his offer. To get appointed to the committee, though, is an official process. Because it is a process that involves an individual interacting with another organization, that means it involves customer service.

First of all, I filled out a couple of forms that my friend gave to me and mailed them in. After a couple of days, I received a letter in the mail announcing that I had officially been appointed by the city’s mayor and that I would be hearing from the city soon. Sure enough, a few days later, I received an email from the commission’s secretary (the City Commission is in charge of the committee) announcing the next meeting time and date. She explained where I needed to go and who I needed to see.

On the day of the meeting, I went to City Hall and up to the appropriate floor. The secretary I had exchanged a few emails with greeted me and introduced me to a few people that were already there. I was offered a bottle of water and we talked about random things to help break the ice. Everyone was very friendly and introduced themselves.

The first meeting went smoothly and a few days after it, I was sent an email asking if I had gone to get sworn in. I forgot to do that, so I called the city attorney’s office to schedule the oath and the legal orientation. The phone system was unclear and didn’t list the name of the person I had to contact, so I dialed 0 and asked the operator for the appropriate person. I was connected and was able to schedule an appointment (with some difficulty) with the appropriate person in the city attorney’s office.

I went back to City Hall on the appropriate date for my legal orientation. I met a different secretary and was introduced to the appropriate city attorney. He went over the handbook, answered my questions, and explained that he was available if I had any questions. The 20 minute session was very helpful in explaining fairly complicated procedures and somewhat ambiguous laws. After that, he handed me a memo and told me to go down to the clerk’s office to get sworn in. I went down to the first floor, found the clerk’s office, and was sworn in. I was officially a part of the committee.

From this, we can learn that there a few things that are helpful to do:

  • Keep communication consistent and frequent enough.
  • Make it clear about what each person has to do at each step.
  • Be friendly: engage with new people, introduce yourself, offer to help, etc.
  • It’s okay to physically hand people something like a memo and send them to another person, as long as it explains what everyone has to do.

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Christoph Guttentag from Duke University – Part 3 of 4

Logo-1This is the third portion of a four part interview with Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke University.

In this part of the interview, Christoph explains the aspects of the admissions process that he thinks Duke excels at, discusses some of his office’s customer service policies and strengths, and talks about alumni interviews and how that ties into the admissions process.

Click the link to read on. Part one of the interview is available here. Part two is available here. Part four is available here.

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Technical Upgrades

Though you shouldn’t have noticed any problems or issues, we’ve gone ahead and upgraded Service Untitled to the latest and greatest version of WordPress (an upgrade was overdue). Most of the improvements are on the backend, but we now have a “related posts” feature that you can view above the comment fields (by clicking on the post title or where it says comment).

As always, if you experience any issues, please let us know.

Surveying Your Service Providers

A lot of companies spend a lot of money on surveying their customers. These companies are doing the right thing (surveying your customers is great), but chances are, there is a group that they’re forgetting to survey: their service providers.

Employees, especially frontline service providers, know a lot about your customers. They are on the phones every day and as a result, have a tremendous amount of experience working with your customers and understanding their experiences. The employees know what customers are calling about, what they think causes the issues, and what customers complain about. If you’re surveying your customers, you probably know a lot of this already, but employees always have a unique, and interesting, perspective.

Surveying your service providers also has the additional effect of making employees feel like their opinions are valued (which is hopefully true). You (as a management team or as a company) taking the time to ask about their opinions, experiences, and insights makes them feel like they have a voice and that their suggestions and comments will hopefully be implemented, or at least considered.

So what do you ask your employees? I always recommend asking them a mix of specific and broad questions. The specific questions are ones where your want their opinion about how to deal with a particular problem or challenge you’re facing. The broad questions are so they can provide you with their feedback and ideas about other possible issues you might not be aware of (or might not realize how important they are). You have to word the questions so they don’t threaten anyone or make it seem like you’re trying to catch someone in any type of trap.

Sometimes it’s helpful to have the surveys conducted anonymously (if you choose to do a written / online survey) or by a third party (anonymous or not, if you choose to do them as interviews). It all depends on what type of information you’re looking for and how your company is setup. It can be a bit awkward for employees to give honest feedback to managers or supervisors (or to a third party if they know the feedback won’t be anonymous).

Some companies do this more regularly. They run the program as more of a job satisfaction and quality evaluation. If you systemize the process and do it consistently across departments and teams, it won’t be as intimating. All too often, “reviews” or “evaluations” have this negative connotation that imply something is wrong. You should work hard to avoid or eliminate that association. The goal of surveys, evaluations, interviews, etc. (of customers or of employees) is to get feedback – feedback that you can use to improve.

Christoph Guttentag from Duke University – Part 2 of 4

Logo-1This is the second part of a four part interview with Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke University.

In this part of the interview, we discuss the expectations that come along with the $75 application fee and how the early decision program plays into the application process at Duke.

Click the link to read on. Part one of the interview is available here, part three is available here, and part four is available here.
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A New Way of Doing Fast Food

Earlier this afternoon I was in the mood to indulge myself with something I knew isn’t good for me. To cure my craving, I visited a Chick-fil-A not too far from where I happened to be at the time. It isn’t the one that is very close to my house (that one is in a mall), but a standalone Chick-fil-A, much like a traditional McDonald’s or Burger King.

After navigating my way to the appropriate line at the drive through (I went in the wrong entrance, not Chick-fil-A’s fault), I saw a new way of handling the drive through process for fast food restaurants.

Chick-fil-A still had the same line that stretches around the restaurant 16 times with 1000 cars in it, but they made more productive use of that line. There were essentially “stations” with various people about every 20 or 30 feet. They were as follows:

  • When I first pulled up, a man welcomed me and gave me a printed menu that was very thorough (I knew what I wanted, but it definitely explained everything).
  • You pulled up about 20 feet and another person, this time with a small clipboard, showed you another menu (this one had pictures) and asked you what you wanted. You gave him your order, he wrote it down, and then he handed you a small white piece of paper with your order on it.
  • The next station was where I gave a lady with a two-way radio my white sheet of paper. She called in the order and told me how much it’d cost. I was then instructed to pull up to the window.
  • At the window, you pay and you get your food. It’s all ready for you (none of the scrambling they do at McDonalds) and based on your space in line, they obviously know how much you owe and what you’re getting.

The result is a much faster process than the typical method utilized by fast food companies (you know, the one with the speaker and illuminated menu). It’s also a better experience – there’s no yelling, you’re kept fairly busy the entire time, and there’s little wait time. Chick-fil-A got me through the line in about 5 or 6 minutes, probably a third of the time it would have taken McDonalds. As a result of that, they’re not only making their customers happier, but serving more customers.

The most important aspect of this example is that it is yet another illustration of how there is always room for improvement – even in processes that seem to be perfected, and at the very least, have been around for a long time.

For more reading on Chick-fil-A, see this post.

Christoph Guttentag from Duke University

You read the title correctly. My most recent interview is not with an executive at a technology company nor with a leader at an organization particularly know for its customer service. It’s with a leader from academia.

Christoph Guttentag, the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke University runs the admissions department at one of the nation’s leading universities. The challenges that Duke has encountered and overcome are almost identical to the type of challenges that any sort of technology, retail, or consumer company has experienced and tried to work through.

The point of this interview in particular is to not only inform you about the fascinating process behind college admissions, but also to show that all types of organizations, large and small, for profit and not for profit, experience and hopefully, overcome, the same type of challenges.

In the first part of this four part interview, Christoph and I discuss his professional background and how Duke manages the more than 20,000 applications it receives on a yearly basis.

This interview is one worth reading. Christoph is an extremely interesting guy with an equally interesting job. Click the link to read on.

Other Parts of this Interview: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

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What does it mean to be customer-focused?

On Friday, I wrote about what it means to have a customer-focused strategy. Today, I was asked to broaden the scope a bit and talk about what it means just to be customer-focused. I defined customer-focused strategy as:

Most simply, I would define “customer-focused strategy” as a view on business that puts customers at the center of business decisions.

That, along with several of the other examples and ideas I mentioned in the post on Friday, capture the essence of what I would call customer-focus. But what makes a customer-focused company? It’s a term we hear periodically and can’t think of any sort of successful company that wouldn’t like to describe itself as customer-focused, but what does it actually mean? And most importantly, when is it actually put into practice?

Customer-focus is quite literally and quite obviously, focusing on the customer. That means thinking about them when decisions are made, policies are implemented, and employees are trained. It spans across the whole business and is a cultural thing as much as it is anything else. Customer-focused businesses think about what they can do to make customers happy (as opposed to get the most money out of them, signup the most accounts, etc.) all the time and think about how they can make the customer experience better.

The best companies actually put that view into practice, though. It’s pretty easy to talk about (and to want), but it’s difficult to actually do it. I’d say that customer-focus and customer-focused strategy go hand in hand. The companies that are customer-focused (the ones that actually do it, instead of just say it) are already depending on a customer-focused strategy. If they’re doing it well, they’re most likely seeing that strategy work for them in all areas (happy employees, happy customers, financial success).

How do you define customer-focus? Do you think I’m pretty close or totally off?

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